Solo on the Salmonberry
a one paddler adventure

The lush and scenic Salmonberry river flows through a remote valley in the northwest coastal mountains in Oregon.   A now washed out railroad line runs the length of the river, but only two roads cross it, lower Nehalem river road at the take out, (now also washed out at the Salmonberry bridge), and Beaver Slide road, a fork of a fork of a 4wd road in the middle of nowhere, the put in.  Ten river miles separates the two, but there must be at least sixty road miles between them, requiring two four wheel drive vehicles to make the shuttle.  This appalling class V shuttle has thwarted every trip I've tried to plan on the Salmonberry in the last few years.   Somehow interest in the run (shuttle) always seems to evaporate at the last minute.   Most of the whitewater guys I know are class V maniacs and the thought of all that driving for a meager class 3 run just doesn't seem worth it.   I can't blame them I guess.

With a strong pulse of southern tropical rain after an appalling cold spell, I decided it was time to run the Salmonberry at last and I'd do it alone if I needed to.  I woke up that morning and predictably my group of six had dwindled to none so I grabbed my creekin' gear and set out in the truck.

Believe it or not, this is the inside of a GAS STATION.  The quick stop on Hwy 26 and Hwy 53 is a cultural experience not to be missed.  In addition to your chips and soda, here you can pick up an AK 47, a replica ninja sword, and a copy of Barely Legal for that long drive.  It is perfectly appropriate that this place is run by a scary russian guy.  The first time I stopped here ten years ago a huge dog ran out and BIT ME, seriously.  Like I said, not to be missed. 

Driving to the put in I looked at the pile of gruel I'd assembled for the days rations, 3 snickers bars, a bottle of coca-cola, a bag of kettle chips, 2 bottles of gatorade, and a 22 oz guiness stout.   You'd never suspect that I own an organic farm.  There is something about whitewater trips that just turns you into a degenerate.

This is the current state of the takeout.  The salmonberry bridge and adjacent railroad was annihilated by the floods in 2007.

Crude, but effective, my setup for the long hike up the tracks.   My kit includes a waist mount tow tether, a waterproof headlamp, a bottle of gatorade, two snickers bars, and a breakdown paddle in addition to my normal stuff gear.

But first I made sure to leave my doors unlocked.  Last week I parked on a major highway and someone still smashed my window and made a mess of my car.  Remember, no matter where you are, leave your car unlocked.

After about a half mile I was starting to question bringing a 50lb creek boat.  I like the CFS because it resists pinning, which is my big fear on solo trips.   Add another 10 lbs of gear and the whole thing felt like it way prying my shoulders off.   To make things better I stopped and set up the boat how I'd seen guys do it in the Class V videos, that is, preposterously high on the back.   I pinned all the gear to the floor in front of the seat.  Getting into the pack was ridiculously difficult and resulted in some larry moe and curly action, but once I got it up, the whole precarious package balanced the weight well, and I was able to start chugging the miles.  Note, if you try this at home be forewarned, if you stumble, even a little, you're going down baby.

I actually enjoyed the hike along the tracks, I have a lot of injuries from playing too hard and even then it wasn't that hard.  I got really close to a mother and baby elk, I saw some cool broken railroad stuff, and I got to scout the whole run.

Typical rapids and scenery.

This unlikely house looked pretty rough, but what interested me was that it was on the other side of the river.  Materials had to be hauled by train and then ferried across on a cable trolley.  I guess they wanted privacy.

The tracks had some pretty bad washouts, but everything was easily walked and none of the trestles I came to seemed damaged.

This was the hardest spot, I had to detour into the woods for a bit.

Mostly it was stuff like this,

...and this.

The scouting was helpful and I tried to remember the lines anywhere it that it seemed to matter.  Most rapids contained big rocks to dodge. 

I have no idea what this sign means.  I think next time some stoner mentions 420 to me I'm just going to lean over and cryptically whisper, 'no man, 812.'

This thingy has seen better days, whatever this thingy is.

The river had very little wood in the main channel, this strainer is on a small braided channel in the middle of the run.  You wouldn't go over there anyways.

Walking along abandoned log cars, probably not the smartest idea.

Another cute little house miles from any sort of road.

This is, um,  a giant tea kettle?


After hiking three hours I came to this cool tunnel...

...and on the other side was this cool rapid.

I spent a long time looking at this.  The rock in the middle is about 12 feet tall for scale.   The rapid is long and studded with visible rocks, the entrance upstream had a strong hole to punch which led into the bouldery stuff.  You could work right quickly and try to pass on the far side, or you could commit to this side in which case you'd want to run it just next to that rock fin to catch the outflow.  If you accidentally got left of the nearest rock at the bottom left in the photo, you'd drop into a strainer of metal railroad tracks!  Too close to the big rock was a six foot drop into a hole that was had water feeding it from downstream.   What if there were railroad tracks in there?  This is one of those things I'd run in a microsecond with other people around, but I was alone and my spidey sense was tingling and I didn't see any reason to chance it. 

I wished I'd gotten an earlier start, I was only two miles from the top of the run when I decided to turn around right below the tunnel rapid.  Up here the bedrock was appearing and it looked like there were lots of fun rapids I was going to miss.  I played it safe and put on with plenty of daylight left.

This rapid about a half mile below the tunnel rapid was the only thing I looked at a second time.  Honestly, I'm pretty sure you'd have to drop over the ledge sideways to get stuck, but again, why chance it?  I punched a hole up above, went right around the ledge, and then punched another couple holes down below, one of which gave me a surprise tail stand.  I think this is the class 4 called chew-chew, but it didn't seem that bad to me.

The middle section flattens out to class 2 for a few miles with some good scenery, and some not so good scenery.

When you see this bridge it's time to wake up, the lower section is not like the middle section.  Between this bridge and the next there are moves to make, boulders to dodge, holes to avoid, and there was one tree pinned diagonally in the middle of the river, it was easy to miss, but I knew it was there.  Wood moves a lot on these rivers, always scout!  This is about two miles of fast continuous solid class 3.  This is not a good place to swim.

The end of the fun lower section, I really wanted to try this rope swing but it landed too much in the current.

The takeout, I'm glad I had the rope, there was no possible way to hike the boat up this mud cliff, and no way around it because the river dumps into the nehalem here.  I scrambled up the crumbly cliff, and pulled the boat up after me.

A beer well earned.  This was a fun intermediate run combined with an interesting hike.   I was glad to do something new and adventurous instead of just another day on the same 'ol.  Packing the boat cross country would be a nightmare, but on the tracks it wasn't nearly the horror that I expected, although next time I will certainly bring a playboat instead of a creek boat.   The advantage to hiking was the ability to do the whole thing with one car, to be able to scout the whole run, and to avoid a shuttle that takes half as long as just walking the tracks.   I did this thinking that it would be just a one time deal, but just for this special little river, especially if you are with friends, I say, "Why not walk it?".

I ran this with about six and a half feet on the wilson gauge, something like 3800 cfs.   I think more water would be better, seven feet on the wilson 5000 cfs is probably a good flow.