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January 26, 2009

By Chris Korbulic

Into the New Year: Butte Creek Falls First Descent

Sometimes an adventure comes together when just the smallest spark of an idea ignites the imaginations and motivations of a good crew. I think we’ve all seen it happen; one comment leading to an experience impossible to capture in words. Our trip to Butte Creek started and ended in just this way. My offhand question asking if Ryan Scott , Cody Howard , Scott Waidelich , and Lana Young wanted to go look at some waterfalls put us on the snowy Oregon roads early one morning on the way to an epic day of kayaking.

We hit ice about 3 miles from the Butte Creek Falls trail head and had to leave Cody’s van stranded on the side of the road, unable to make it up the final hill. Once loaded and on the road again we were all a little anxious about the time it took to deal with the icy roads and the coming hike through snow. There was a small window of sunshine that seemed to lighten our loads on the snowy road and renewed our excitement for the day. Sledding the downhill parts didn’t hurt our motivation either!

Arriving at the creek to see perfect flows and a beautiful winter landscape legitimized all the trouble we had endured to get there. I had never paddled with a foot of fresh snow on the banks and several inches outlining the limbs of the old growth forest, weighing them into graceful arcs. Maybe inspired by the frozen beauty of the winter landscape, I led the charge downstream floating off the initial 20- foot waterfall, landing nicely and paddling away excited for the imminent huge horizon line downstream. I watched Cody and Scott follow with good lines then continued around the corner surprised to see a truly impressive horizon line.

I expected to be impressed by the downstream view, but I was amazed and immediately got out to trudge through the snow to get a better look at the falls. I walked past the lead in, seeing two logs hanging over the line, making it impossible to run with confidence and safety. This necessitated a seal launch off the icy sloped bank just above the main falls. I stood by a tree closest to the lip, not willing to expose myself to the ice-covered climbing required to get to the edge-of-the-world horizon line. I knew I liked it and walked to the front, bottom, and any side view I could manage, trying to scout as completely as possible in the extraordinary conditions.

After discussing the line with Ryan and Cody, making sure safety was set, and taking a final look from the front of the falls, I put my hands in my PFD and walked back to the top of the falls. I warmed my hands and stretched, put my boat in place for the seal launch, and took one final look from the safety of the tree. Once in my boat, I felt the inevitable flurry of heavy heart beats, checked only by confidence in the relative safety of my line. Once again calm and focused, I pushed off the icy rock and into the freezing maelstrom of Butte Creek falls.

I’ll let the photos tell the story from there, and big thanks to the whole crew who came out to paddle, document, and hold a rope. It was a great day, and a descent I have been looking forward to since first seeing photos of the falls three years ago.

Thanks also to Aaron Courter , a local hiker/photographer for these images, and to Scott Waidelich for the last photo from the bottom.


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