Santiam, Little North (Opal Gorge), Oregon, US
|Usual Difficulty||IV-V (for normal flows)|
|LITTLE NORTH SANTIAM RIVER NEAR MEHAMA, OR|
|usgs-14182500||400 - 3000 cfs||IV-V||01h33m||1590 cfs (running)|
This stretch has been run down to 200 cfs and up to 5,000 cfs by locals. Neither extreme is recommended. The Undertaker has been run at least once around 5,000 cfs. As flows surpass 1500 cfs, it becomes more and more important to portage the Undertaker on the right, as the left side eddy turns into a channel that feeds back into the rapid. If you are paddling this run at 2,000 cfs or above, it is recommended you have run the gorge before or are going with someone who has.
The cfs gauge is far downstream so while 700 cfs might be a decent flow from snowmelt, it is sometimes a boat-abusing level in the winter. There is a stick gauge at the Elkhorn bridge. 5' is the minimum enjoyable level by most accounts. 6' is a perfect first time flow. Be careful if flows are rising, this stream can come up FAST.
From Three Pools to the gorge entrance is class II+, tall walls mark the obvious entrance to the gorge. There is a class IV rapid leading to a point of no return, it can be run left or far right at the top, at the bottom in converges to a boulder ledge. Boof off the right or left side of the center boulder (usually underwater creating a hump), left always goes, right is water dependent.
The next rapid is the first Un/Un called Mystery. At med to low flows be 6" off the left wall, let your nose drop and set your angle at 1 o'clock. It's narrow so mind the walls, the narrowest part is about 195 cm wide so mind your paddle too.
Just downstream is a small ledge run right of center.
Below this ledge is the heart of Opal Gorge, a calm stretch of bottomless water with 200' walls on either side rising straight out of the water. This is a special place, that makes you appreciate being a kayaker.
After you have soaked it in, prepare to portage Undertaker. This rapid is portageable on the right at all flows. Under 2,000 cfs you can portage left for a quicker, more exposed portage. Around 2,000 cfs and up getting out of your boat on the left starts getting dubious as the channel funnels back into the rapid, so if in doubt portage right.
Next is Tombstone, run either side of the rock, driving with purpose back to center to avoid minor pitons. The left channel is more commonly run.
Next is Unicorn, the longest rapid in Opal Gorge. Follow the main current through some soft hydraulics down the center, this is not challenging to do but the current does slope left into some small boulders throughout the rapid.
Beautiful Henline Falls enters below on the right next to a trail, marking Henline Rapid. At medium flows much of the water funnels center which is not the place to be, lines exist right and left. If no one in the group has done the run, scout this rapid.
Next is Sierra Slot, run the right slight driving left. You will likely plug this 4' drop, and possibly roll but it's a safe pool below and the hydraulic is not the type that holds people.
Class II-III exists for 1/3 mile between here and Fishladder/Elkhorn Falls. This drop should be portaged left where a small rock outcrop can be seen from above along with a bit of a horizon line. It does get run every now and then, but is far from recommended. Over 3,000 cfs a line opens up on the right.
It's class II-III from here to the take out bridge. Some boaters choose to continue through another mile of class I-II to Salmon Falls and end their day there.
Salmon Falls is a 25' falls that can be scouted and run left, or take out on the right.
Logistics: From Highway 22 mile 23.2 turn onto Little North Santiam Road (this turn is at a flashing light on the west side of the Highway 22 bridge across the North Santiam). Head up this road paralleling the river and at mile 12.7 turn into Salmon Falls recreation area. This is one potential take-out (above the falls). Alternatively you can find a spot upstream although riverside access is posted as private property. To reach the put-in continue up the road to mile 16.9 where you come to Y. Turn right onto Forest Road 2207. Follow this road down 0.7 mile to Three Pools which is the put-in. Alternatively continue on up FR 2207 a short way to the bridge across the river.