Illinois River: The Green Wall

Last April we lucked out and hit the Illinois river in Oregon on a weekend of sun and perfect water levels. The gauge at Kerby was reading 1800 CFS and holding steady.

There were ten of us in the group, most in rafts, some in kayaks. It was a mostly uneventful trip (as much as an Illinois trip can be uneventful).

The Green Wall, however was not uneventful but full of excitement and intrigue.

My wife and I hadn’t been down the Illinois since she was pregnant with our first, ten years ago. Now the boys were old enough to be left at the grandparents’ house for a few days while we did the river.

The river hasn’t changed much in ten years with one notable exception…the Green Wall. Oh it’s still nasty and mean looking, you still enter it the same way, push through the holes at the same spots, but the lower section has changed considerably.

It used to be that once you were through the center ledge hole section, you were home free. There were some big jumbled waves below and there was a chance of being pushed into the wall on the bottom right, but there was little chance of flipping.

With this in mind, we scouted the rapid for an hour, exhaustively looking at the different lines and currents, figuring out land marks and spots we needed to be in order to hit the holes just right.

We failed to look at the very bottom section, however, thinking it was still just waves. It looked no different from above than it ever had, so I didn’t scout it.

Melyssa and I were the first to get the guts up to go. We walked back along the slippery trail to our raft, made sure everything was secure, took deep breaths and pushed off.

I was rowing and I hit everything perfectly, right where I wanted to. After I slipped past the center ledge hole I think I even let out a whoop.

I was grinning ear to ear keeping the boat straight for the upcoming lower section waves, when I noticed there was something different. Those weren’t looking like benign waves ahead, it looked like there was a distinct and nasty horizon line approaching hiding something deep and vicious.

green wall oregon
Creative Commons License photo credit: Northwest Rafting Company

I had just a second to straighten the boat and dig my oars in with all I had before I dropped into a massive boat eating hole. Melyssa disappeared in front of me as the bow slammed into the mass of water. I held onto the oars leaning into the mighty river with all I had.

We stalled for an instant in the hole, then finally (it seemed an eternity) we punched through and emerged safely on the other side.

After everyone saw our run they all ran down to the lower section and scouted the hole. It’s not easy to avoid and most of our group hit it. the key is hitting it head on without any angle.

My oldest brother hit it with a slight angle and it nearly corkscrewed him upside down. His raft tipped up to about 70 degrees, dumped his front passenger, then settled back down.

Our most inexperienced oarsman hit it with a bit more angle and his 16 foot Avon whipped around like a boat half its size and he did a 42 second hole ride. His boat looked like a toy as it whipped him back and forth. He lost all his oars, and finally when the river tired of it, spit him out upright.

A group that caught up with us while we were scouting wasn’t so lucky, out of 5 boats 2 flipped in the nasty boat eater.

Were planning another Illinois river trip this year and you can bet I’m going to scout the bottom of the Green wall much more carefully this time.

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