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Glad I wore my Big Boy Pants

Big Quilcene
Class: IV-V      GMap
2 - Rainbow Campground to fish hatchery (Lower)
Trip Date: 1/17/2011
Written on: 1/28/2011
Written by:

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Lower Big Quilcene
800 cfs
Class IV-V
3.5 miles
"I got some good news and some bad news" I yelled from 30 feet up the hillside, "the good news is we can get down to the river, the bad news is there is a trail". Jon, Adrian, and I had been hiking down the creek bed for the past 20 or so minutes, dragging, carrying, and tossing our boats around in an effort to gain access to the Big Quilcene river. By this point we had nearly reached the river, in fact we could see the Big Q from where we stood, but a waterfall, big logjam, and a walled in gorge stand between us and the put-in. So in an effort to find a better access to the river I had hiked up to the top of the ridge and hiked down to where we would be able to get into our boats. After a tough scramble up the steep sliding slope I topped out and realized we were standing 30 feet below a well maintained trail. From here I threw a rope down to the guys, hauled up their boats and started the easy walk down to the rivers edge.
The Big Q has been on my list for quite awhile for two reasons, 1) it's a class IV+ on the Olympic Penninsula, 2) it's close to home, and 3) it's a run I haven't done before. Jon and Adrian are practically neighbors so we all agreed that it sounded like fun.
Due to the huge flood event all the rivers were really big, including the Big Q but it wasn't above the recommended flow just on the high end of things. But the river level was falling so that made us all feel like it wasn't unreasonable to go kayaking.
Once at the rivers edge we drank some water, took a breather, then saddled up to prepare for the bigger rapids on the run. The first mile of the trip was fast moving class III rapids, there weren't many eddy options, and the eddies that did exist were on the inside of bends of the river. We picked our way downstream, catching as many eddies as we could in order to slow the pace down and prevent ourselves from running rapids blind.
After about a mile or so we came to the first horizon line and the beginning of steep cliff walls. We all eddied out on the right and went into scouting mode. From river level we could scout the first move but couldn't see very far down stream, maybe 60-70 feet or so before the canyon wall obscured the rest of the river. The entrance to the rapid was on the scary side, the left slot was a no go, all the water slammed into a big rock that forced the water to the left into an undercut rock. The right side wasn't looking much better, it had a reasonable line with unreasonable consequences, the slot had a tongue that lead into a rock that parted the current, half going left into the main current and downstream, the other half going right into a cave filled with wood. On top of all that, there was a piece of subsurface wood crossing the channel, it wasn't going to be a big issue, but it could change everything.
After scouting at river level we took a slog up to the canyon rim to see what the river looked like down stream. From the rim as far as we could see the river was clean, no wood, no class VI rapids, nothing that looked unreasonable to run. It was going to be fast, pushy, and a bit of a scramble, but it would all go, the only issue now was that first move in the rapid. Not even the first rapid, but the first move.
Jon moved efficiently back to his boat, but Adrian and I hovered on the rim looking down into the cave and the wood, and all that water. "I don't like the looks of that thing" I said to Adrian, we seemed to agree. Back down at river level I took another long hard look at the entrance, Jon was ready to run it, Adrian was on the fence, and I wasn't convinced that it was worth running. We couldn't set safety for the cave, once someone made the move into the main flow they were on their own, and if the last paddler got locked into the cave they were on their own for awhile until the rest of the group managed to run back up stream, and it turns out the only way to get out of the river is over 150 yards downstream. We all stood around trying to come to a consensus about what would be the best thing to do, I didn't want to pull the trigger on the rest of the group but I just wasn't comfortable running a rapid that I couldn't set safety for. After looking at a couple of options for setting cave safety I eventually told the group that I wasn't comfortable running it and was going to portage, due to the continuous nature of the river we all opted to portage the drop in order to stay together.
From here I scrambled up the steep slope with a rope and hauled the boats up to the rim. This process was a little complicated mostly due to the fact that every time I tried to throw the rope down the hill it would get hung up on a tree or bush or other obstruction requiring that I re-coil and re-throw the rope, adding frustration and exhaustion to the trip. After getting all the boats up the hill the boys joined me on the canyon rim.
"I'm sorry guys I just didn't like the looks of that thing" I said. "Jed, it was the right thing to do, don't worry about it" Adrian replied. The thing that holds me back the most as a boater is that little voice in my head that says "ehh, I don't really like the way that looks", but I guess that there are some things that we can't change about ourselves, but maybe that's for the best.
We hiked our boats down to the rivers edge again, Adrian opted to seal launch from a flat ledge on river right so he could run a few more drops in the river. Jon and I walked down stream a bit further. Once I got my boat to where Jon's was I realized that Jon had gone further down stream to scout another horizon line. Adrian dropped in upstream and I pointed to the right in an attempt to signal the eddy on the right in hopes that he would catch the eddy and not get swept over the horizon line. He caught the eddy fine, a few moments later Jon came back with news, "it's a big rapid but it looks like it's good to go, you go down the left the whole way and there is a big pool at the bottom".
From our eddy up stream we jammed down to the river right eddy and I clambered out to take a look at the big boy. "Crap" I thought, "that's a big mean looking bastard". The line was like Jon said, down the left over a couple of ledges with powerful looking reactionaries coming off the left wall, then a powerful looking seam that pushed into a massive reactionary bouncing off of the right wall. This reactionary was a big boy, basically the whole river was bouncing off a slab of basalt on river right. I peered through the trees to try and make an assessment about how I felt about this rapid. As I did this Adrian dropped in to probe this beast. Initially he got hung up in some twigs against the bank, he weaved his paddle through the spiderweb of branches, regained control of one of the most important pieces of gear, and dropped down the cascading series of ledges. He screamed down the seam and plugged into the massive reactionary which flipped him with the quickness, he rolled up in the pool and gave us the "all clear signal". Jon was ready now, he peeled out into the current and had a similar line minus the tree tango, he was also flipped over by the prodigious reactionary wave.
Now I was standing atop the rapid by myself. "Crap. That's a big rapid". I looked at the drop for a bit more, trying to digest everything that it had to offer me. There was a moment that I thought "I should walk this", but I suppressed that thought because I knew I was fully capable of living in harmony with this mass of water, boulders and gravity. This is why it's fun, this is why we're here, because it's a little scary, but that sensation you feel at the bottom is unmatched. The Dynamic nature of the river is what draws us back, so with that said, I took several calming deep breaths and stepped into my boat, snapped on the skirt and tried to be in harmony with all the forces out of my control.
I moved the bow of the boat into the current and made my move towards the thread of current that I was fixated on, I dropped over the first ledge and the current pushed my bow right where it needed to be. I leaned against the wall of water on my left that threatened to flip me over and took a few strokes towards the seam. Once on the seam I rocketed towards the big reactionary wave, it flipped me over with the influence of an authoritarian dictator. I set up to roll and not a moment later I hit the back of my head and shoulder blade on a rock. "Crap". I rolled up to the voice of Jon yelling "your all good bro, your all good".
"Ow, crap, ow, crap, this hurts a little" I was fine but definitely a little shook up from hitting my head, it's still a sensitive subject after my last head impacting experience. I paddled into the eddy and Adrian was already on shore scouting around the bend in the river. Downstream looked like it was going be nothing but fun class IV whitewater as far as the eye could see. Looks good to go, we all mounted up and I peeled out into the current after taking a few moment to warm back up in the pool. Once we were back in the current is was go-go-go for the next mile or so. It's all a big blur except for three distinct features, the first being a big pyramid rock that I boofed real hard on the left side, the second being a hole I surfed in just downstream of the sweet boof, and the third being a scary looking pourover with some weird reactionary coming off the left side of it.
The hole I surfed could have been a real bummer. I came off the boof and it was pushing me left towards a broken ledge on river left. There wasn't enough time to try and completely avoid it so I tried to get a good few strokes off of it, which I did, but it wasn't enough. The hole slammed my stern and pointed my bow straight in the air, I tried throwing the bow down but it wasn't quite in time. I flipped over and immediately felt the hole pull me into it, I set up for my roll and grabbed the green water. I rolled up, but unfortunately still in the hole, the horseshoe shaped hole was pulling on my boat from three sides, I was pretty well locked in. I side surfed for a bit, in control, but not going anywhere. After a few moments of this I looked upstream to see Jon bearing down on me. "Crap". Jon managed to move to the left enough that he boofed onto the bow of my boat instead of onto my face. This was a stroke of luck because it pushed me around in the hole enough that now I was facing upstream and had a chance to back paddle out of the hole. As I was doing this Adrian also got pushed by the river to the left and also boofed onto the bow of my boat further assisting my exit from the hole, but nearly taking my reservation in the hole in the process.
After this experience I was a little shaken but by now we were past the steepest part of the run. The rest of the run was class three. We boogied our way downstream moving through the Olympic Peninsula and soaking the special place that we had happened upon.
The excitement wasn't over yet though, we had two log portages that we had to deal with, both of which I opted to walk around and Jon and Adrian opted to wiggle under. The first one went fine, but in the process of going under the second one Jon got tangled up and flipped over and his paddle flushed downstream without him. Adrian and I were out of our boats but couldn't get to it in time and Jon had to hand paddle his way after it. A short ways later Adrian and I caught up with him near the fish hatchery weir. I'm always weary of man made obstructions, particularly at higher flows. Adrian scouted and it was fine, it had a flushing tongue left of center. From here it was just a matter of finding the take-out.
Downstream there is an "electrified fish weir" that we didn't want to run, because quite simply electricity and water do not mix. We took out just upstream of the second weir where Katie was waiting for us. After a tough takeout we were finally at the car, the run wasn't long on length, but it took us awhile to get to where we wanted to go. So far this is one of the better trips I've taken in the last few months, it had everything, excitement, quality rapids, things that scared me, a exploratory feel to it, scouting, hauling boats up cliffs, and moments that reminded you why whitewater is so fun. The river is a dynamic medium, and it's fun to dance with it from time to time.

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