By Chris Korbulic
4.17.11, ~2:30 p.m. Toketee Falls, on the North Umpqua River in southern Oregon, has only had more than ~75 cfs five times in the last year, because of an antiquated hydro-power diversion. I was planning on paddling somewhere else when I woke up in the morning, but looked at flows after a night of rain and saw the gauge above Toketee at ~250 and going up slowly. I thought it would just be nice to see it with a little water, but doubted it would have enough to run. But when we drove over the bridge above the falls, I knew there was much more than 250cfs, and ran the trail down to the falls to see it… with the perfect flow.
The river drops into a tight volcanic gorge above the falls and is plagued with caves, undercuts, and wood hazards. I lowered my boat and climbed down the steep and loose volcanic walls below the first three drops in order to run the last three all stacked but with one eddy between each, which I used to slow down and keep control. The last three falls were ~ 8, 15, 65-plus feet.
The Line: Seal launch into strong, surging current directly below a 15-footer and above two massive crisscrossed old growth logs. Ferry from river-right all the way across the river--around the logs--then ferry behind them to pull into the semi-eddy behind the logs on river-right again. Pull into small river-right channel to boof tight 8-footer--stay out of hole and off the wall--then ferry to river left eddy above next drop. Boof 15 feet river-left into cave/eddy between last two falls. Note: EPIC view in the cave. I had to try four times to exit the cave to get high enough on the boils between falls to get to the middle line off the big one. Hold it halfway, tuck, then go REALLY deep and get pummeled by the falls. I cartwheeled a few times and felt the falls hitting the bottom of my boat then my back then boat then chest… then resurfaced intact.
Gear: I used a strap around the cockpit rim to hold my skirt on, and think it would have blown for sure without the strap.
First D: This was the first descent. I think Toketee Falls has been on the collective conscious of paddlers for a few years, at least, especially with big falls being run more and more often, and it has been on my mind for about six years. I know in southern Oregon it has been talked about a lot for a long time, and I’ve even heard paddlers from the east coast and a Kiwi or two talk about it. It’s a very well-known tourist attraction, but definitely has some mystique in the kayaking community. I grew up a little over two hours from the falls and looked at it a few times, always thinking “some day,” but never found it with the right water level.
‘Survivorman’ style Photography & Safety: I ran and kind-of shot it. I set the cameras up and asked innocent bystanders to push the buttons when the time came, and they nailed it. Also, my friend Jared Sandeen set safety in the pool for me.