|I guess names aren't important here, so I'll call myself Joe and my accomplice on this particular adventure 'Ed'.
Ed's a pretty well-known hair boater around these parts, and I'm no slouch myself, but neither of us had ever run Upper Trout Creek in the Columbia Gorge. We had talked to Jason about it (the guy who runs this site) and he said it was short but good. He also said (quote) "you'd better be on your game if it's crankin', I had a Very Bad Day up there one time at high water.."
I suppose I should also mention that I hadn't been boating much, like for months, because I had been pretty busy with work and stuff. Anyway, I felt like this would be a good opportunity to 'get back in the saddle' before heading back up to the Little White with Jason and the posse in the spring... So, I went out, dusted my boat off, and went over to pick up Ed.
It had been raining quite a bit, and we figured there would be water in the creek. Of course, we had no idea that the run was very, very high, because there's no gauge and we didn't bother to call anyone to see what the water situation was, because: how would they know?
It was a bit of a drive for us to get up to Washington, and by the time we got to the creek it was getting a little late. We looked at the creek and there was all kinds of water in there, but it wasn't up in the trees or anything. I think Jason later mentioned a gauge rock under the bridge, but I don't remember seeing any rocks; it must have been under water.
Of course, we were oblivious to all of this, so we drove up to the put-in and dropped off our gear. We only had one car, so Ed volunteered (since he had the best shoes) to drive my trusty Dodge Colt back down to the take-out and jog back up. After awhile Ed reappeared, plenty warmed-up after a 3-mile jog up the hill. We started down the creek and everything was pretty mellow. It was pretty much class II for a mile or so below the put-in, and we were starting to wonder what all the fuss was about when the creek took a right and dropped out of sight with tremendous roar.
Now, Ed doesn't really scout any drop under 10 vertical feet, so he just kept right on going, and I followed him. Almost immediately I discovered that it was much louder upside down, so I rolled up, was still under water somehow, shot out, hooked an eddy, and started paying a little closer attention to the god-awful tantrum this creek was throwing. Downstream it was just a churning mass of white froth and brown water, with no end in sight, water flying everywhere.
Of course Ed was just sitting there, calm as can be, and when I made the eddy he peeled out and dropped out of sight. Now, ordinarily this style of boating isn't that big of a deal to me, but it was painfully clear to me that my rusty skills were no match for this creek, which was positively SMOKING, which must have been why I started sweating like that.. all the heat generated by the water and debris screaming by at 150 miles per hour...
Nevertheless, I peeled out and started after Ed, playing defense like I never have before (or hopefully ever will again). I flipped again, and again, heck, I think I was upside down more than I have ever been in some of those rapids, and to make matters worse I was starting to feel an certain urgency in my nether regions, if you get my drift. Finally after a few drops (who am I kidding, it was just one big drop..) I lost track of Ed and I knew I had to stop and relieve myself or I was going to have an unpleasant surprise waiting for me at the end of the run.
So I grabbed a tree and got out, hiked up into the forest, and stripped off all my gear so I could get my drysuit off. Meanwhile, Ed had latched onto a tree downstream and was wondering what happened to me. After a few minutes when I didn't appear he started bushwhacking back upstream. Fifteen minutes later I was back in my gear, feeling much better, and Ed had finally located my boat on the bank. I told him that I wasn't feeling too solid, but he just clapped me on the back cheerfully and said: "Just follow me.." with a big ol' patented "come hell-and/or-high-water" Ed-grin.
Well, if anything things got worse below that. The creek definitely got harder and narrower, jesus this thing is steep and now I remembered what Jason had said about high water on Upper Trout, having a bad day, and getting pounded as I missed line after line; I was really struggling now, getting pushed around like crazy, fighting my way out of holes, and I was certainly hoping that the take out was somewhere around the corner because the clock was ticking for me and don't think I didn't know it.
No such luck. It just kept going and going. Soon I realized I couldn't see Ed anymore, and after running a couple of drops blind I got out and climbed up on a boulder to take a look.
From my lonely vantage point all I could see downstream was another big horizon line, and no sign of Ed. Awww man... Not good. I thought Jason said this thing was short!
I must admit I wasn't having a good day. The rapids were big and hard, there was an assload piled on top of a shitload of water, and I knew if I made the slightest mistake the least I was going to lose was my boat... tick-tock, tick-tock.. just a matter of time now. I was tired.
To make matters worse, the sun had gone down, and I only had a sliver of daylight left. I portaged a few drops, not willing to run them in my current state and without any backup, so I moved downstream pretty slowly as the daylight faded away and darkness crept in.
After a half-hour or so I finally rounded the corner, and the take-out bridge was just visible as total darkness fell. I had paddled the last part in the dark, because it wasn't as intense as the stuff upstream, more like big-water class IV, not such a big deal.
There was no sign of Ed at the take-out, and I was very concerned at this point. Once I got changed I went through the my meager list of options and figured it was one of two things: Either Ed had swam (very unlikely)or he had pinned and I had boated over or past him in the semi-darkness, not knowing it.
I felt sick.
Not willing to give up hope entirely, I went out and hung my paddle from the bridge with my throw rope, then drove my car to the edge of the creek and turned the lights on the paddle so Ed could see it as he came downstream. That accomplished, I settled down to wait.
"Well, I guess Joe's dead." Ed thought as darkness fell.
Unbeknownst to me, Ed and I both came to the conclusion that we were mutually dead at approximately the same time. He had been sitting up in an eddy for the last half hour, waiting for me to appear, and I never had.
It was now completely, utterly, profoundly dark (no moon, heavy forest canopy) so Ed threw his boat on his shoulder and started hiking out.
Now, Ed was in kind of a hurry, because he was worried about me and wanted to start a search. In fact, he was in such a hurry he hurried right into a tree in the darkness, knocking himself silly and scattering his gear all over the side of the hill.
Meanwhile, I decided that I was not going to leave the drainage without Ed. Dead or alive, or all concussed-up from a tree, I was going to find him. What's amazing is that I couldn't hear Ed screaming obscenities at the tree that had leveled him; he told me later that tree was positively wilted when he was done with it!
Just about then a forest ranger drove up, asked if she could help. Turns out she was in the area dealing with a rescue situation with some other paddlers, and now she had stumbled into our little fiasco. I guess it was her lucky day!
Meanwhile, Ed had recovered from his tree-crash and had nearly stumbled his way up to the road. It was very, very dark though, and he was being a little more cautious now that he knew the trees were looking for trouble.
After driving up and down the road for awhile I had started to lose hope when a police rig pulled up and out pops Ed, looking unusually alive for how dead he was supposed to be. "Hey Joe!" He said with a grin. "How'd ya get past me?"
I guess we'll never know. For those of you familiar with this narrow little creek, it should tell you about how high it was that we could boat right by each other!
I guess all's well that ends well, I suppose. We were both pretty exhausted at this point, so we threw the boats on my car and headed home.
A mile or so down the road I heard this ominous creaking noise and without much more warning the boats flew off my the car. We hadn't strapped them on that well, but well enough that the straps ripped my rack clean off the top of my car; it made one heck of a mess all over the road.. Yeah, that seemed just about right.
We gathered up our gear, threw the rack in the back with the dog, and I tied our boats directly to the roof of my car. It was a long drive home, and not a little uncomfortable, considering that my tail was between my legs...