Northwest Creeking Comp 2018
The Northwest Creeking Competition is an annual race for Pacific Northwest whitewater kayakers. The event is put on by Next Adventure, Alder Creek, Ninkasi Brewing as well as a slew of community and paddlesports industry partners. Creek Comp, as it is affectionately called by boaters, is a community staple for Portland area and NW boaters. The event has a special place in local boaters hearts. Racers compete over two days on the waterfall section of the East Fork of the Lewis river and a section of nearby Canyon Creek of the Lewis drainage. Both rivers contain high quality whitewater sections that many paddlers begin to learn their creeking and waterfalling skills on. The proximity to metro centers and easy access make them easily runnable and after or before work laps are common if water levels are favorable. Sunset falls also has a viewing platform and a campground making park and hucks very easy.
Saturday morning six friends and I loaded up my astro and drove out from Portland. Due to work and other obligations we had decided an early start that morning was best. Heavy rains all week also had us watching the water levels. If either run reached the high water mark the races would be moved or cancelled. We knew Canyon Creek would be cancelled. It’s limit was 1000 cfs (cubic feet per second) and the gauge was reading well over 2000 cfs that morning. The East Fork was reading around 2600 cfs and rising. Its cut off was 2800 so we were actually quite excited. It was unlikely to be cancelled and that flow was a fun higher water level which made the moves more intersting and the run much faster and more challenging to race.
The last several years have seen low water flows on both runs. This year mother nature had opened the floodgates quite literally and NWCC returned to a high water form not seen for some time. We arrived at Sunset Falls Campground to find that as expected the Canyon Creek race had been cancelled. The East Fork of the Lewis race was still a go, but due to an sketchy arrangement of wood in the crux gorge, the was race move upstream to the alternate race course.
The original course had racers start in the eddy above Sunset falls and paddle downstream for 1.5-2 miles through several class III-IV rapids. The most difficult of those came shortly before the finish. The new course contained significantly more flat water and class III and less class IV overall. The ending of the alternate course would require the racers to run Sunset falls and touch a cone on the river right bank. This actually added a new and fun aspect to the race as picking and executing a line in the right channel of sunset is usually reserved for after race shenanigans. Now it would become "the" fast line. The center line, which launches you out almost automatically, would still be a great option for finishing the race.
After a safety and racers meetings shuttles begin to run and the race begins. The only requirement to create a race class is three racers. There are over 120 racers in short creeking or river running kayaks, longboats (+10ft long whitewater kayaks), rafts and inflatables kayaks. It isn’t hard to convince someone to race against or with you. Once paddlers have registered and shuttles begin running they need only be ready in the eddy to put down a race time. You can put down as many race laps in as many craft as you like so long as you have the energy and the shuttle is still running.
Since the main course had been shifted strategies for the race had to change. After chatting with other boaters we estimated the fastest times would be around 15:00 min. While not as challenging as the regular course or other races of similar time lengths it would be grueling fifteen minute slog due to long stretches without continuous rapids. With that in mind some friends opted to race in duo kayak, a two person whitewater boat, instead. Others decide to race only one lap due to the length of the course. Several of us decided to play it by feel and race till we decided it wasn't fun any more.
The first race to go was the kayak mass start. Twenty plus boaters racing downstream en mass first one to the finish wins. This years boater cross saw a somewhat tighter grouping though the top 3, the only paddlers who are ranked in this specific event, were a considerable distance ahead. Boater cross is also the most visually satisfying part of the race series for a spectator. The course always runs through Sunset falls so for the finish of the mass start spectators were treated to boater after boater cranking across the finish line, sometime passing each other as they ran the falls.
After finishing boater cross I decided to head back up to the start and try a longboat lap. I've taken a shine to paddling the longboat after spending time in it for last falls Green Race. It didn't disappoint and allowed me to take 2nd in men's expert. Feeling pretty good about the lap I went up for one more, finishing out the weekend with a short boat lap in my Prijon and pulling 15th.
I've been paddling at creek comp for several years, usually volunteering, sometimes working, and always racing. The best part of it over the years has always been catching up with and competing "against" (see with) my friends. The people who I have spent countless hours debating river levels, studying lines, hiking, driving and paddling with.
After the time trials are done Next Adventure graciously feeds the entire horde of paddlers. A huge group of volunteers helps put together and run the event every year as well as serve food. Because of the nature of the event and the size of the NW paddling community Creek Comp is one the best places to catch up with old friends, make new ones, and just see what paddling culture is about. I'm always excited to see the size and depth of the paddling community here in the NW and this years event didn't disappoint. That dinner line is harder to walk though than a family reunion. You see people stopping every few feet to catch up with friends, or jockeying a spot in line with a new one. Spirits are high and everyone tucks into a well deserved meal. After dinner there was an awards ceremony and well stocked raffle, which we missed catching up with friends.
With Sundays race cancelled we headed back to Portland after making vague plans to kayak with a group of friends the next morning. While sleeping at home has its advantages it does hinder knowing the complexities of a kayaking plan made at Creek Comp. Mostly because due to the size of the event and after party, your paddling partners may need extra motivation to meet you in the morning. Thankfully our crew rallied and after a few hours of doing what we do best, driving, hiking, and debating lines we found ourselves heading to small but new section of whitewater few of us had paddled before.
After two thwarted attempts to access the put in of NF Siouxan we decided to hike in and run the bottom quarter mile of it. That stretch contained a rapid named Smokin Aces, a steep and pushy boulder garden. We hiked our boats down and found the rapid was much larger than we had expected but still had viable lines. We spent a good while scouting before we finally decided to put in. The rapid was clean and paddled better than we expected with everyone having clean liens through it. It was a great end to the weekend. Being able to combine racing, catching up with friends, and a little personal exploratory boating. On to the next river!