Before I get to the meat of this report, let me get one thing out of the way; I wasn't entirely sold on the idea of Dipper Creek. By “not entirely sold” I mean, I didn't want to go. I didn't think it would be worth it. The upper section seemed insane, and there didn't seem to be any way that a raft would fit through Vertigo Gorge. Both sections required a bushwhack in and out and the amount of quality raftable whitewater appeared to be pretty low. To top it all off, to make the trip happen we had to leave Portland at 9:30 P.M. and go through 2 boarder crossings without a passport. I was skeptical at best…I don't think that I have ever been more wrong about a trip.
Vertigo Gorge on Dipper Creek is one of the most amazing places you can go in a boat, and is only accessible by boat. The canyon is inescapable and the creek is steep. In places it is, in fact, too narrow to fit a raft through. In others, there are un-runnable drops without a clear portage option. Creative problem solving, teamwork and a strong sense of adventure are musts for anyone considering this trip.
To run Dipper Creek we first had to find Dipper Creek. It is situated near some active logging roads about an hour and a half outside of Squamish BC. We easily found our way to Dipper Camp, and got some beta on how to find the creek from some kayakers running the upper stretch. From Dipper camp, there is an incredibly steep bushwhack through trees, over rocks, and around Devil's Club to actually get to the creek. At times ropes will be necessary to lower the boat. Once we got to the creek, I was decidedly unstoked. The supposed “fifteen minute” walk down had taken over an hour and the creek looked tiny and rocky, my least favorite type of rafting. It didn’t take long for the creek to get much, much better.
Within ten minutes we were running some small, but entertaining, bedrock drops. They got larger and quickly led to the entrance falls of Vertigo Gorge. This falls drops a little over twenty feet with a wall about twenty feet downstream. The water moving right goes into an eddy and then downstream into a narrow double drop. However, the water going left goes into an undercut pocket that looked extremely difficult to get out of. The whole section is cliffed out and would be impossible to portage; it's a truly intimidating spot. Dan and I went first in the raft and had a great line, catching the eddy on the right were we could set safety for Will in the kayak. He also had a good line and continued down the double drop, which Dan and I proceeded to get stuck in.
Vertigo Gorge is like a series of rooms connected by narrow falls and slides. The “room” we found ourselves in was one of the most amazing places I have ever been. The scenery didn’t get better per se, it just got different. It felt like being in a two hundred foot deep fish bowl with overhanging rock walls overed in moss.
The exit was a fifteen-foot crack drop barely wide enough for a kayak. That drop landed in another room, which was so narrow and overhung, it was almost cave-like. The three of us were able to get out on the left to pendulum the raft over the drop and lower it down. Dan and I then jumped down after it and climbed back in the raft while Will ran the drop in his kayak. From this “room” there are two more drops, about twelve feet each, to get out of Vertigo Gorge proper. The trip, however, is far from over.
Below the Gorge the creek stays committing and goes over three more waterfalls that we did not expect to be able to run. The level of difficulty in portaging these 3 falls was going to be a huge determining factor on getting off the river before dark.
A few hundred yards after the exit drop on Vertigo we were at the top of Rock Snot, a forty footer that lands on a sloped rock. We didn't entertain thought of running it and began to look for a portage route. From this location on the creek is a very difficult climb to the gorge rim where we would have to bushwack for a couple hundred yards, then lower the raft back down. It would be tough even without the raft but would have taken hours with the raft. We also discussed getting the raft up the rim and then hiking it back to the car to avoid the next large portage. Eventually we decided to just have Dan push the raft off, Will and myself would hike around and attain back up to the base of the falls, leaving a rope to help Dan with the difficult and exposed climb up. This worked great and saved us hours of hard work.
Shortly downstream we encountered a similar dilemma. There is a twenty-foot crack drop into a cliffed out pool with a thirty five foot drop exit. The first drop we could walk around, with difficulty, on the right. The second would require “throw and go” with the thirty plus foot jump into a pool of questionable depth. Again looking at hours to do a full portage we elected to go the quick route. The twenty footer was a pretty easy portage. Will ran the big falls and waited for us at the bottom. We pushed the raft over and it flipped, but Will was able to corral it into an eddy. Since I am significantly lighter than Dan, I offered to jump first.
At this point in the trip we were both going on very little sleep and food for the amount of work we had been doing and I made a few preventable mistakes. I neglected to do a full check on myself before I jumped and didn't buckle my helmet or double check the pee zipper on my dry suit. I jumped out from the rock and landed perfectly on the boil of the falls. I didn't hit bottom but my helmet came off, I lost a contact, and water started seeping down my legs. I popped up right next to my helmet so I didn't lose it, but it was a sharp reminder of the exposure we often face out there. Rescue can be a very long way off and mistakes, no matter how small, could have dire consequences. Dan jumped without incident and we quickly righted the boat.
The confluence with the upper Squamish river is only one hundred yards downstream from here. We were close to completing the descent but still had a major canyon on the Squamish that was reported to be very scenic and committing class III-IV. We were also a little unsure about our dubious take out information which consisted of "take out when it gets flat, don't go too far." With my lower half soaked, spending the night in the canyon wasn't really an option so we pushed on.
The upper Squamish canyon is amazing. Fun, juicy, read and run rapids in an incredibly narrow and beautiful canyon. It has a unique beauty that rivals Dipper. It's very different even though they are very close together. Soon the canyon opened up and we were able to make it up to the road, leaving the boat to hike out the next morning, which took about forty minutes.
Dipper was an adventure in every sense. We didn't run all that many rapids but the ones we did were clean and fun. The scenery and commitment are on a level that would be hard to match. The way we did the portages definitely made a huge difference in the quality to fun ratio of the trip. Had we gone up and around we very easily could have spent the night in the canyon. In the end, this trip captured one of the hardest things for me to articulate about exploratory whitewater boating. It's not always about the whitewater, or having fun, or expectations. It's about the adventure. It's about expanding your personal comfort zone as much as expanding ideas about what can and cannot be done. It's about having unique experiences in beautiful places with great people. It's impossible to describe the drive to continue doing trips like this to people who haven't experienced it. Dipper Creek is a truly unique and beautiful place that most people will never see outside of pictures. The difficulties in getting there only serve to make it that much more worth it once you arrive!