First Descent of the North Fork of Rough and Ready Creek

by Zachary Collier

Rough and Ready Creek is a tributary of the upper Illinois River. I fell in love with it after my initial visit in 2011 and subsequently returned three more times to paddle this uniquely special creek. My most recent expedition with NWRC guides Nate Wilson and Ryan Saevitz involved carrying our gear for a day and a half to paddle it’s remote upper reaches.

The North Fork of Rough and Ready Creek

The North Fork of Rough and Ready Creek | Photo by Nate Wilson

The most challenging part of running this upper section is being there when the conditions are right. You need to go in the winter after a warm, heavy rain so there is enough water in the creek and little or no snow along the high elevation access trail.

The Hike In

Like most rivers and creeks in and around the Kalmiopsis Wilderness our trip started with a lower body workout and a bushwhack down to the river. We began our hike at the Forest Service Port Orford cedar gate. The first part of our route was a road which runs into the Chetco Divide Trail.

Hiking in towards the Chetco Divide Trail

Hiking in towards the Chetco Divide Trail | Photo by Nate Wilson

The trail traverses a broad stony ridge between the Baldface and Rough and Ready Creeks watershed in the U.S. Forest Service's 2004 proposed South Kalmiopsis Wilderness Addition.

At about mile eleven in our journey we camped in a snowstorm along this ridge and just south of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness boundary.

Camping on the ridge that separates Baldface Creek an Rough and Ready Creek

Camping on the ridge that separates Baldface Creek an Rough and Ready Creek | Photo by Nate Wilson

The next morning we woke up to blue skies and headed north into the Kalmiopsis to see Rough and Ready Lake for our first time.

Rough and Ready Lake

Rough and Ready Lake | Photo by Nate Wilson

Then we headed back to our campsite and headed east towards Rough and Ready Creek.

The final hike down to Rough and Ready Creek

The final hike down to Rough and Ready Creek | Photo by Nate Wilson

Our downhill hike to the creek took us through remnants of the Biscuit Fire punctuated by Port Orford Cedars and serpentine Darlingtonia fens. The wetlands are one of the rarest habitat types in North America. The presence of the Darlingtonia californica is indicative of a constant flow of cool water. We finally reached the creek in the late afternoon. We inflated our kayaks, packed our gear, and started paddling!

At put-in for the Upper North Fork of Rough and Ready Creek

At put-in for the Upper North Fork of Rough and Ready Creek | Photo by Nate Wilson

On the River

We immediately enjoyed the character of the creek. There were many fun, boat-scoutable rapids and when we chose to scout it was always at river level. After an hour or so on the river we found a beautiful camp on a big bench on the left.

Getting ready for day 3 in the South Kalmiopsis

Getting ready for day 3 in the South Kalmiopsis | Photo by Nate Wilson

We put on the next morning knowing that a narrow and steep canyon was coming up in less than a mile. We enjoyed some fun Class III rapids before the creek walls narrowed and the gradient increased.

Entering the steepest section of Rough an Ready Creek

Entering the steepest section of Rough an Ready Creek | Photo by Nate Wilson

While paddling the second rapid of this steeper section the serpentine rock tore a six inch gash in my prototype AIRE expedition Bakraft kayak. This 10 lb kayak made from an experimental material was loaded down with me and 80+ lbs of gear making it tricky to get to shore so I had to repair it on a rock island.

Repairing my prototype AIRE Bakraft on Rough and Ready Creek

Repairing my prototype AIRE Bakraft on Rough and Ready Creek | Photo by Nate Wilson

One of the great features of AIRE boats is field repair is very manageable on cold rainy day. I put some Tear Aid over the gash through the inner bladder and sewed up the outer fabric. After an hour long delay we were paddling again.

The gorged up section downstream was full of many great back to back Class IV rapids which ended with the biggest rapid on Rough and Ready Creek, Darlingtonia Falls. J.R. Weir and I ran this rapid when we hiked up from the bottom on my second visit to Rough and Ready Creek. It was nice to know where we were with precious daylight running out. After a quick scout Nate and Ryan had beautiful lines down the left side.

Nate Wilson paddling over Darlingtonia Falls

Nate Wilson paddling over Darlingtonia Falls

Below here we came to the beautiful Island Rapid which was quickly followed by the confluence with the South Fork of Rough and Ready Creek.

The Island Rapid on the North Fork of Rough and Ready Creek

The Island Rapid on the North Fork of Rough and Ready Creek | Photo by Nate Wilson

We took a quick hike up the South Fork before paddling the remaining way to our car.

The Place

We see something new each time we paddle the mainstem of Rough and Ready Creek to the take out. More ancient Port Orford cedar and Darlingtonia decorated springs dot its banks. The bare branches of wild azalea and rare willow - their base and roots submerged most of the winter - poke above the clear waters of the creek.

Kayaking along Darlingtonia californica and Port Orford Cedars

Kayaking along Darlingtonia californica and Port Orford Cedars | Photo by Nate Wilson

The landscape of Rough and Ready Creek and the surrounding South Kalmiopsis is uniquely special with a plethora of rare plants that have adapted to the lack of nutrients in the soil. The most visible during the winter months are:

The U.S. Forest Service has found Rough and Ready Creek eligible to become a National Wild and Scenic River. If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating watershed and the nickel mining that threatens it, please visit KalmiopsisRiver.org’s Rough and Ready Creek page.

Thank You

I want to thank all the people who have been part of previous explorations Rough and Ready Creek: Dan Martin, Kevin Ely, J.R. Weir, Lori Turbes, Daniel Wakefield Pasley, Nate Wilson, Chrissy Wilson, Colby Elliot, and Ryan Saevitz. Each of the previous trips laid the groundwork to make this trip happen.

De Facto Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area

Thank you to AIRE, Lifeproof, and Big Agness for providing gear necessary to make this trip possible.

Comments



Author

Zachary Collier

Owner of Northwest Rafting Company, Zach Collier combines international guiding experience in places like Siberia, Bhutan, and Chile with a natural business acumen for systems and logistics. Whether he’s on big water or in the back office, Zach strives to ensure NWRC offers exceptional whitewater and wilderness experiences for guests and guides alike.

Connect with Zach:   Facebook   Twitter   Instagram

Related Posts

The World's 13 Best Multi-Day River Rafting Trips

/ Saturday, April 5, 2014

Rafting and Kayaking through the Middle Fork's Impassable Canyon

When guides banter around the campfire, conversation usually turns to the biggest, baddest river trips in the world. Although everyone has their favorites, the list of legendary rivers is almost always the same. Presented below is a list of those trips. 1. Middle Fork of the Salmon River (Idaho) The "Middle Fork" is the best river trip in the world due to it's 100 miles of continuous Class III and IV whitewater, clean water, great camps, world class fishing, hot springs, and plenty of wildlife. It...

Chetco River Expedition 2013

/ Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Kayaking in the Magic Canyon of the Chetco River

We are proud to be home from the first commercial trip down the Chetco River in over a decade. Before the Biscuit Fire in 2002 Allen Wilson ran trips down the Chetco, and this spring NWRC was issued a permit to follow in his footsteps. Our trip started at the Babyfoot Lake Traihead on the eastern edge of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. We were all thankful that the Siskiyou Mountain Club had spent the past few years clearing this section of downed trees that had fallen after...