Lower Rock Creek

By Chris Amelung (March 2008)

What a Day

I can only describe today as an adventure. I can’t say I would do it again under similar conditions, but I must say that Lower Rock Creek is truly an incredible place. It’s ruggedly beautiful and I cannot express in words how incredible that canyon is. I’ve hiked it before and while it was amazing then, seeing it today with water cascading from all sides was truly an experience I won’t soon forget.

Jason Bales and I boated LRC today.

Before we continue, you need to understand something. Jason and I both started kayaking in the Fall of ’93. In fact, my first time on moving water was on Halloween weekend when Chuck took Jason and I to the Black. By the Spring of ’94, we were running the Saint regularly and started running some local creeks. Around that time, we learned about the 1st descent of LRC and ever since then, we’ve been waiting to run this creek. Yes, we’ve been waiting 15 years.

So, as you can imagine, when Jason and I were standing at the take-out of LRC, even though the Saint was at 11′ and rising, and even though stouts was much bigger than our recent run on it, and even though turkey was huge, and even though Mud had so much more water than when Chuck and I first ran it, even with all of that… we were looking at the LRC.

I truly thought the LRC was runnable today. I think Jason has a little more common sense than I do because he wasn’t quite as sure but the lure of the LRC was just too strong for common sense.

Jason brought a non-boating friend along, so the shuttle was super easy. We left one car at D bridge and Jason’s friend, Chris, dropped us off at the put in and picked us up at the take out. When he dropped us off, we told him to meet us at 4:30. That would give us 30 minutes to hike in, 2 hours to run the creek, 30 minutes for scouting and still leave us enough time to meet Chuck for an Upper Saint run. Or so we thought.

I now know why this creek is so infrequently run. Its not just about the water. It took us an hour and fifteen minutes to hike to the creek and we were hustling. Its a long, long walk.

Once we finally got on the creek, we quickly realized it was BIG. Even here at the top, the amount of water was amazing. The first wave and hole were big and strong. Yes, I have to admit there was already a bit of pucker factor going on. Within the next 100 yards or so, I was looking for easy stuff like that wave and hole. At one point very near the beginning a tree about the size of your forearm ran across the entire creek. It was just barely below the top of a wave. Luckily Jason was leading and noticed it and kept his bow up and with his quick warning I was able to keep my bow up too. If we hadn’t, that tree would have hit us right around the belly button… not good.

Our biggest worry were trees and strainers so we did a lot of shore scouting. Chuck had warned us that this run is very channelized. The lines are tight and the strainer potential is high, so we weren’t going to mess around… we scouted every blind turn or rapid we couldn’t see two eddies down.

As we were scouting and running the creek, Jason pointed out that there weren’t any channels… everything but a few enormous boulders in the three biggest rapids were under water. The entire river bed was under water. It was like the difference between the Saint at 10 inches and the Saint at 30.

By the time we reached the canyon, we were already nervous and the first rapid only made it worse.

I really think our biggest mistake today was that there were only two of us. I could never recommend this run to any group smaller than 3. I would have preferred to have 4 – 6 very strong boaters, but even with a team like that, I can’t imagine that I would ever run that first rapid. It was pure chaos. If you looked hard, you could almost see lines on the far right and the far left, but even if you could stay on your line, you’d have to deal with limbs from trees on the banks and I really don’t know if you could punch the holes. They looked so mean.

We walked.

In fact, we pretty much walked the entire canyon.

The second rapid was just as scary as the first but longer. The hole at the end was one of the nastiest holes I’ve seen in a long time. I really don’t think anyone would come out of it. Along the whole run, the size and meanness of the holes were amazing. Not what I expected or over experienced on a MO creek before.

We walked.

I ran a screaming fast section between the second and third big rapids and in the process broke the back band in my boat.

The third big rapid was a series of two big ledges and if we’d been with more boaters where we could have set safety, I might have tried it. Today, there was no question… we walked.

The canyon experience for us was simple… scout, say something like “My god” or “Holy crap”, portage. Several times we had to ferry across the creek so we could portage because we’d end up on the side with an enormous bluff. The bluffs down there are a sight to see. Absolutely incredible.

Once we finally got out of the canyon, we knew we were running behind schedule so we picked up the pace. We still had several bank scouts and there was a stretch so thick with trees that I was wondering if we’d ever survive to the end. But after a lot more whitewater, and one hole that almost kept me for dinner, we finally made it to the take out. We were all in one piece and truly humbled by the beauty and power of that run.

It was a little after 5. We’d missed Chuck for the Upper Saint, but had made up a good amount of time. Jason and I can walk fast. 🙂

I don’t know how much water was in the creek today but it was too much. Jason and I both felt that there really should be a foot less of water to run everything. Chuck told me that John Tansil painted a gauge on the bride but we searched every corner and couldn’t find it. I think the gauge was under water.

There are probably a lot of points to take away from our trip today but I think the most important is that there is no place quite like Lower Rock Creek. The canyon must be preserved. I applaud Frank Wentz’s, and other’s, efforts to save this part of Missouri and will start doing my part.

Despite all the hiking and portaging and the fact that we really didn’t run LRC, we just walked too much, I have no regrets with our run today. After 15 years, it was certainly worth the wait.

The next time the river is too high and you have nothing else to do, I recommend that you hike in to see LRC with water. I promise you won’t forget it.

It was a great day.