The Lower Chetco Gorge

by Zachary Collier

This week the NWRC crew and friends explored the lower gorge of the Chetco River. On our last trip to the Chetco River we took out just above the lower gorge so we were excited to return and see the famous Candycane and Conehead rapids. We chose to run this section in September when the water is low (90 cfs) so we could easily portage these rapids, if necessary.

Packing our gear at Tolman Ranch on the Chetco River

Packing our gear at Tolman Ranch on the Chetco River

We put-in at Tolman Ranch. After rigging our kayaks with overnight gear, we headed downriver. We spent the afternoon marveling at the clarity of the water and getting accustomed to our loaded kayaks. Our friend Allen Wilson, a former guide and outfitter on the Chetco, led us to a beautiful sandy camp nestled in the rocky gorge.

Daniel taking a photo just before our first night camp

Daniel taking a photo just before our first night camp

The next morning we packed up our gear and headed down to the rapids Allen has named SB #1 and SB #2. On the way, we stopped at a great spot Allen calls Slide Rock, where a large slippery rock creates a great slide plunging you into the river. Cares melted away as we jumped and slid into the river like 8 year old kids.

Ryan going for a swim at Slide Rock

Ryan going for a swim at Slide Rock

We met up with J.R. in the middle of SB #1. He had paddled and portaged upstream to meet us for our second day, and anyone that knows J.R. knows that he's great to have along for long, technical rapids with many fun drops.

Colleen in the entrance move of SB #1

Colleen in the entrance move of SB #1

Ryan and J.R. running the bottom of SB #1

Ryan and J.R. running the bottom of SB #1

We stopped for lunch after SB #1 where we could scout SB #2. The top part of SB #2 was fun and technical, and the bottom part had a fun drop perfect for taking photos.

Danny in the bottom part of SB #2

Danny in the bottom part of SB #2

Below here we paddled a few miles of great rapids (and of course enjoyed more stunning scenery) before we reached the steel bridge.

Tim running one of the narrow rapids before the Steel Bridge

Tim running one of the narrow rapids before the Steel Bridge

This is where we had taken out on our previous Chetco trip, so I was anxious to paddle past the bridge and into the lower gorge. We quickly reached a few easy rapids before coming around a corner to see a huge horizon line and Candycane rapid.

Candycane Rapid

Candycane Rapid

Candycane at low water is essentially an irrigated pile of beautiful rocks. Since there was no route through, we decided to carry our kayaks around on the right bank. This is a beautiful and powerful rapid that we all took time to explore.

Just below Candycane is Conhead rapid - named after a huge cone shaped rock that blocks the river channel forming the rapid. We were able to kayak most of it, but had to portage the bottom part around the rock.

Tim running the entrance to Conehead Rapid

Tim running the entrance to Conehead Rapid

The narrowest part of the Chetco gorge is just below Conehead, and we found a great camp on the left bank that allowed us to hike back up and spend more time in the gorge. That night, the camp was full of wildlife. We saw and heard animals all around us, not used to having overnight guests in their forest. This amazing place really felt alive, and our exciting day of exploration made us feel equally so.

Testing some lightweight camp stoves

Testing some lightweight camp stoves

The next morning we woke up, had breakfast, and headed downstream for the last few miles. All of us felt like we were getting better at maneuvering our fully-loaded kayaks through the tricky rapids.

Sometimes low water means we have to get out and push

Sometimes low water means we have to get out and push

We took out at the confluence with the South Fork of the Chetco where we ended the trip with an impromptu ducky war competition. We were all sad to say goodbye to this special river, but hopefully it was just see you soon.....

Team Chetco: Tim, Diana, Allen, Daniel, Colleen, Ryan, Zach, and Danny

Team Chetco: Tim, Diana, Allen, Daniel, Colleen, Ryan, Zach, and Danny

Author

Zachary Collier

Zach is the owner of Northwest Rafting Company and has led groups throughout the U.S. as well as Siberia, Bhutan, Nepal, Honduras, and Chile. His passion for wilderness shines through how he runs both his trips and his company. He's as confident on the oars as he is on the chess board, while he delivers a truly memorable experience in the most amazing places on the planet.

Connect with Zach:  Google+  Facebook  Twitter  Instagram

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