Soldier Creek
Stone and Water Productions
Soldier Creek Trip Report

Written by Mike Copeland

The first known descent of Soldier Creek occurred April 14th 2008. This trip was done by Jon Barker and Mike Copeland. 


We put on at 11:30 am where Soldier Creek crosses the road to the Owyhee put-in, we were loaded for an over night run but we planned on making it out before dark. My over night gear consisted of a sleeping bag, a poncho and a little chocolate. Just enough gear to keep warm, but nothing extra to be comfortable during the night.


Solider creek was running brown and about 2 ½ feet deep across the road. Jon was in an IK and I was in a hard shell kayak. Jon had walked this run several times over the last 10 years and knew that the gradient was steep but also knew the canyon was wide open with options of portaging at creek level which was reassuring. As we put on, we started with some small boulder rapids in a mini canyon right at the road. I’d call them class 2-3 technical fun drops. After the mini canyon we had 2 miles of flat water before we entered the canyon proper. Negotiating the flat water was difficult as we had a strong upstream wind blowing hard in our faces throwing spray and pushing us upstream. We also had a single fence portage.


As we entered the canyon all I could see was a huge horizon lines one after another and big rocks. But as we approached each horizon line, the lines became apparent. The gradient was steep; reminding us both of Succor Creek, which both of us had run. It turns out Jon ran Succor Creek in the early 90’s in his IK at a much higher level than we had ran it in ’06.




As we got deeper into the gorge, Jon and I decided the creek could have used about 2 inches more water. The boat scout able drops continued for the next mile or so, with Jon leading most of it and scouting by pinning his IK on a rock, standing up, and looking over the next horizon line. During this scouting endeavor, I would pin myself onto rocks and wait to see which way he went and the end results of his lines. There were very few eddies large enough to hold a kayak. Eventually we worked into to the steepest part of the canyon with some of the steepest whitewater I’ve ever seen. It contains 15’ ledge after 15’ ledge all caused from boulders that have fallen off of the cliff walls. The flows were too low to run some of this, but I would say we paddled maybe half of this section, and portaged the other half. The portaging was very difficult, maybe comparable to the worst part of the Widow Maker portage on the Owyhee. Dragging a kayak was not an option and carrying it was even less so because of the wind. For the portaging we had to push and pull the boats over boulders and across scree slopes, all the while being pelted by the wind.


This portaging and running big boulder drops went on for hours, Jon and I keep remarking that the creek had to be about done, but every corner held a series of horizon lines that were so large you got a feeling of vertigo just looking at them. It got to the point that you could tell if you wanted to scout by the size of the horizon line, we found that if it was big, you just sent down Jon in the IK to probe. If the horizon line was HUGE, then you scouted, there were no small horizon lines and every horizon line came one after another until, a quarter mile away you would see a pool and you’d know that is where you could take a break. As we rounded every corner I kept thinking to myself that the creek is loosing some serious gradient and it’s got to be over soon. It just kept falling for miles. Eventually the wind started again. Not just any wind, but wind that would push you off line, rip your paddle out of your hands and blow you over. While I was running one drop, I boofed a fairly sticky hole and cleared my move, only to have the wind gust and push me back upstream into the hole so I could surf for a bit. I couldn’t get out of the hole until the wind died down. I watched as Jon was nearly blown off of a house sized rock while scouting, and one time, while portaging my boat my paddle was ripped out of my hand and flung up into the air nearly 30 feet and placed up on the cliff. While I was headed back to my boat to resume the portage both of my hip pads came flying past me. I only found one and had to use a rock the rest of the trip to stay in my boat. It was like paddling through a hurricane.


There came a point on the creek that the ledges were 10 foot followed by a 10 foot break continued by another 10 foot ledge. This meant that things were letting up, we were nearing the confluence. We stopped and ate some lunch. Mine consisted of a couple of pieces of chocolate candy.  After this we continued on to the confluence in the wind.


Upon arriving at the confluence the Owyhee was running high and brown, but the wind was a little less. We made our way down to Widow Maker, both exhausted and beat, fighting the occasional gust of wind and the large feeling of the water after being on Soldier Creek. We headed down to scout Widow Maker with only about an hour of daylight left. I opted out of running it. The line was right down the middle and take a big hit, probably flip and roll up. It was the rolling up part I was worried about. I was so tired that I didn’t know if I could roll up if I got flipped. Jon decided he was going to run it in his IK. We decided that I would start the portage and he’d wait 10 minutes then continue down. As I was pushing and pulling my boat, I saw Jon go through the crux of the drop and take the huge hit. He disappeared, I counted to five counting on him to be out of his boat in the heavy water. When he emerged from the foam, he was right side up and paddling down stream. I finished the portage just as it was getting to dark to see. Now we had to find a place to camp. We paddled down through several class 3 rapids in the dark until we could find a beach. We pulled into camp at probably 10:30 pm. We both got out of our drysuits and crawled into our sleeping bags to wait out the night. It started to sleet which then turned to snow. I ate some more chocolate candy and drank some iodine treated water from the river. I settled in for the night, trying to keep warm until morning, not getting any sleep while it continues to snow.


At first light we got out of our sleeping bags, brushed off the 2 inches of snow and put on our frozen boating gear with numb hands and pushed off with no breakfast to try to get out before noon. As we paddled down stream the water would splash on our gear and freeze to our lifejackets, all the while the wind constantly blew spray into our faces and threatened to push us back up stream if we stopped paddling.


I think I had an easier time than Jon in his IK and I pulled way ahead. Just as I thought I couldn’t make it much further with the damn wind and cold weather, I saw the truck and had a feeling of relief wash over me. We had done it.


Soldier Creek is very worth while. If we would have had 2 to 6 inches more water, 90-95% of things would have been run able. As it was, we probably ran 70% of the drops but not the steepest ones due to lack of water. We had to portage long sections due to the lack of water. Sometimes there was a better side to portage on, usually I picked the worst. Too much water in Soldier Creek and things would get pushy in a hurry. Think something like Getting Busy on the Little White but steeper and higher individual drops. Soldier Creek is done for the year unless we get a large rain storm or something else to add precipitation to the drainage. Although the Owyhee was on the way up, Soldier Creek was on its way down when we were on it. I think the key is to put on when the road is nearly impassable to 3 forks. Soldier Creek is the wash that will give people problems accessing 3 forks. We put in at the road. Bring all creeking gear, overnight gear, and a breakdown paddle (or two) and enjoy. It could be done in a day with a big push, an earlier start, and a bit more flow. But it’s still worth while to bring the overnight gear because it can get cold in the Owyhee Canyon. This is probably one of the sweetest runs I’ve ever had the opportunity to run. Now just give me a little more water.





Stone And Water Production