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The White Salmon River at 5.5 Feet
It was Wednesday, May 14th when we called Todd with Wet Planet to see if he had a commercial run going on the 18th. That was the day after the Pole, Peddle, Paddle and we were excited that we would be so close to the river and actually have a day to run it! We checked the levels on that day and it was a great runnable level. We decided running an R-2 would be just the thing to do!
No one had any idea that the river would rise to an epic 2,750 cfs or 5.5 feet and that had Todd mentioning something about unchartered territory. This was well above the 2,500 cfs that the Jeff Bennett books recommends for such a narrow river. Now we were looking at a class IV - V river!
There was great concern at the put in by the boatmen to make sure a good, clean trip could be run. Our three boats and the three safety kayakers were staged on the river downstream of the old stairs. When the safety kayakers were set in the minute eddies below Top Drop, we all jumped in our boats and left together. Going in felt like a class IV canyon but it quickly changed to what felt like class V. It was fast, it was big, it was sick! R-2ing was light and squirrelly and that's where combat boating comes into play. It was all about keeping the high side down at all times, finding water with every paddle stroke and staying in sync with each other. We had no time to even awe at the sight of Zolar's staircase that comes down to the river off the canyon wall because the green room was approaching in the blink of an eye.
Sharks tooth had enormous pushy water coming around the corner. There was a lot of water on the inside corner and that's what we paddled through. Still not an eddy in sight, we approached the Boulderless Garden above Grasshopper. We got through Grasshopper to the left of the hole that the rock had created as this level. Imagine that at that gradient, a big rock center right of the center flow. We found an eddy on river right in the middle of a class III rapid just above Corkscrew. We were able to regroup our boats and run Corkscrew, which is a class IV rapid at low water, and were all able to stay upright in what was now a class V section of whitewater. Just downstream around the corner on river left came Water Spout with an extreme glass hydraulic creating a white bubbly mushroom that flowered off each side. We ran it from left to right and with an extreme high side on the right tube, the raft slid over the downstream side. Quick to return to our positions, we continued to paddle not less than class IV whitewater but with a welcoming break just around the corner we came across the most beautiful cat boat or kayak surf wave with a small eddy on river right, then the river relaxed to a class II+, III. We laughed and giggled and caught our breath.
We all took a break on river left above Staircase. When we came around the corner to Staircase the first two stairs were big. We entered far river right at this level pushing to center to ride the shoulder of the second stair which was now an enormous hole on river right. As we exited Staircase the river once again relaxed to a level II, III.
We portaged Husum Falls on river left and as we floated by the gauge we saw the river was surging from 5-3/4 to 6 feet. Looking downstream at Rattlesnake got us all giddy again. It was an enormous hole with a beautiful wavetrain. Just downstream was Deadman's Corner with a haripin turn to the right. A channel had opened up on right right which allowed us to float through without having to deal with the Corner. The next quarter mile of what is generally class II+ was now a really fun class III. The river relaxed as it flowed into Northwestern lake. But at this water level there was plenty of current all the way to the take out. And hopefully they will take the dam out soon so that current can stay!
Highly recommended level for experienced boaters only!
On all our trips we encompass no trace camping. It's amazing how many people leave trash about with out thinking. We want our kids to enjoy the same rivers we do!