Spirits Creek Trip Report, Spring 95

By Bill Herring

I succeeded in running Spirits Cr. three times this past spring. This is the best fun per mile that I've found so far. If you are a good class III boater, and you're bored of those "big water" runs on Lee and Richland take a look at this one the next time it's up.

First some history. Our runs were far from first descents. Spirits was run over 20 years ago by open boaters who had grown bored with the Mulberry. We talked to one of these guys who recounted a run back in the late 70's where a bunch of guys put on with five ABS canoes with no floatation. Only three of the canoes made it to the end of the run! One guy got turned sideways in the 10 ft drop we call "The Funnel", and the canoe was ripped in half by the force of the current. The other broached on a tree (no surprise there), and it couldn't be freed from it's embrace. Lucky for these guys the creek is only 4 miles long with a trail running down most of the way! The stunning thing is that they made it as far as they did on a high water run in 16 ft canoes. The creek is barely 10 ft wide much of the way down!

Our runs on Spirits were less eventful, but we still had plenty of action. The first run I made was with Chris Monroe and Finn Murphy. We did the run at a very low level. Not recommended. The big rapids were still some fun, but the vast majority of the creek consisted of scooting over, through, and around rocks. Tough stuff for even a plastic boat to take. Running at low water isn't a bad idea for your first run however, since you need to have some idea of where the trees are. Trees can be a problem all of the way down the run, but the middle 1/4 of the trip is where most of the big deadfalls are encountered. For a while it looks like you'll be hiking the rest of the creek, but the damn trees finally end around mile 2.5.

The next run I made the level was much better. Still not too high, but not much scraping. This level is the most technical. The creek is still full of exposed rocks to knock you off line, and the water is pushy enough to punish you for mistakes. My third run had even higher water which speeds things up but lessens the technicality overall. It doesn't lessen the danger, however. A little bit of water goes a long way on this tiny creek.

Now for the rapids. After you put in, the first 1/4 mile is non-stop, super fast class II-III dropping at over 100 ft/mi! At higher water this stretch is faster but easier since some of the obtacles disappear. At 1/4 mile the creek takes a sudden five foot drop! An undercut on the left hand side makes the right hand eddy a good idea. After this the creek is squeezed to four feet wide and it goes over another 2 to 3 ft ledge called "Butt Buster". The next mile and a half is a blur of class II+ rapids. Some stretches contain more than 200 yards of continous whitewater before any eddies can be found. Many one to three foot ledges are encountered, and some of these are good for surfing. Then the trees begin. Deadfalls routinely block the creek for the next 3/4 mile. Much of this stretch must be walked, and staying on the creek gets very dangerous. After this the rapids seem to slow down a bit, but the creek is just warming up for the BIG DROP. Around the end of mile three, you'll come over a two foot, river wide ledge with a fairly nasty hydraulic. A big pool follows, and paddlers should pull over and scout the next drop from the right bank. The river drops over ten feet in the next 20 yards! The first half is a 45 degree slide that narrows to less than five feet wide at the bottom. A good run consists of running over the middle of the ledge, sliding down the seven foot slide, and disappearing in the froth at the bottom. Once the paddler emerges from this, he is shot out over the second drop of about three to four feet. This drop is very shallow at the bottom, and it can be hard on a boat or an inverted paddler. "The Funnel" is probably only a class III rapid, but it sure gets the blood pumping! The paddler can carry back up on the right hand bank to run this drop again and again. After the Funnel the creek begins to level out, but it still has many tight class II+ drops and a few more strainers to worry about.

I think the biggest reason I like Spirits is that it is a very tight, steep run that is great practice for the rougher runs in the state. It keeps you on your toes all of the way down, but it never gets overly dangerous or out of control. I really enjoy taking folks down it who have made runs like the 'Tot and the Hailstone. They just think they've seen fast water 'till they get on Spirits! By the end of the first mile they are a little intimidated, but they're having the time of their lives. Spirits is a great introduction to steep creek runs for intermediate boaters, and it's even a lot of fun for the big dogs. I can't recommend this run enough.