Pacific NW USA, April 2003 trip summary

by Mark Rainsley

See Mark's trip photos.

Oregon/ Washington States are the 'Pacific Northwest' of the USA, which basically consist of the volcanic Cascade mountains, loads of trees and pretty much constant rain from the mild maritime climate. We flew to Portland which is on the border between the two states.

There is a lifetime's worth of paddling in the two states, we barely scratched the surface; everything we did was within two hours of Portland. Getting there was no sweat, for reasons unclear we managed to take eight boats on the flights without charge.

Water levels were mixed; we never really figured out any correlation between rain and snowmelt and river levels, but in general, the creeks were oddly either way high or verging on the low side. The group was a mixed bag of friends of friends and suchlike, but worked really well; no faffers, everyone able to make their own safe decisions about what to paddle and everyone able and willing to drink unnecessary amounts of beer.

Accommodation was mostly in motels; evenings of bad TV, hot spas and fast food were all part of the 'Road Trip' culture. We tried 'tents' once or twice but they lacked a sufficient number of TV channels. We hired three Chevy 4WDs, well done to Neil on sorting that.

Day 1 -
*Lake Branch of the Hood River. Small steep Lyn-like grade 4+ gorge. Very nice, however a boat belonging to a guy who'd just joined us vanished at the bottom of a drop and never reappeared. Sobering.
*West Fork of the Hood River. Large and cold grade 3-4, very pretty lava canyons but unexciting.
*Upper Wind River. Excellent, continuous stoppery grade 4+. Basically the upper Dart in high water.

Chris runs the usual portage on the West Fork Hood.

Day 2 -
*White Salmon River, 'Farmlands' section. This was too high according to the guidebook, but proved to be an excellent grade 4 gorge run. We wussed out of the lower 'Truss' section as supposedly way too high for this.
*Upper Trout Creek. Silly steep boulder ditch. I found it quite amusing, some felt it needed more water. But not much more.

Day 3 -
We tried to cross over the hill to the Cispus River drainage, but hit snow. Instead we rapidlly relocated to...Canyon Creek (the Washington version, there are actually several around).
*Upper Canyon Creek. A long grade 3 trip in spectacular gorges.
*Lower Canyon Creek. An excellent waterfall run. However I swam on the entrance rapid (see above) and had to walk out which limited my enjoyment somewhat. Heros of the day were Kevin and Marcus who somehow nursed my boat down the whole run, effectively saving my holiday.

Day 4 -
We were now in the Washington 'Cispus' drainage which had lots of classic grade 5 gorge runs recommended to us. However, most turned out to be too high whilst we were there.
*McCoy's Creek. A bit low, but this was no bad thing as it includes spectacular grade 4 and 5 canyons, big waterfalls and strenuous portages. Amazing trip. Flowed into...
*Yellowjacket Creek. This started out as a beautiful grade 4 river, but dulled up a bit quickly.

Cool slides on McCoy's Creek

This waterfall on McCoy's Creek is compulsory...it didn't look half so big from above!!! Kevin and Mark take flying lessons.

Day 5 -
We checked out numerous runs which were either scarily high or scrapey low. We ended up on...
*Johnson Creek. This was a little low but really quite good. Lots of technical grade 4+ drops and some awesome portages over monstrous tree jams and one totally evil waterfall, ran by Andy McDoom. More of an adventure than a paddle.

Day 6 -
We headed away from the Cispus area. Two trips en route back to Oregon...
*East Fork of the Lewis River. A largish grade 4 river with huge friendly waterfalls. Interesting but unchallenging.
*Canyon Creek (round #2). I just about survived the return trip to this waterfall-run beauty, very good of the team to allow me a second crack at it. Andy McBanzai had the swim of his life in a stopper, had to be retrieved from the towback. Scary.

Day 7 -
South of Portland now, back in Oregon...
*Little North Santiam River (aka upper and lower Opal Creek)
Hmm. A three mile walk-in (on our hottest day) into stunning uncut ancient woodland. On arrival at the put-in we met an equally stunning female Forest guide, and suddenly pretended to care either way about the environment. The river however was a little low (despite what the Internet gauge said) and thus disappointing; a shame as with good water, this would be one of the best grade 4 days out anywhere.

Day 8 -
*Canyon Creek (Oregon version)
A very steep grade 5 ditch with some gnarly set-piece rapids and some amusing evil slots which claimed swimmers. Good stuff.
*South Santiam River.
A grade 4 river, lovely green gorge offering a nice wind-down after CC. "Like something out of Tolkien", someone said.

Day 9 -
*North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River
Sizeable river. Great grade 4+ run including the 'Miracle Mile' of continuous rapids, dropping 240 foot. A classic; some hopped on for an immediate repeat run.

Day 10 -
*North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River. We repeated this as the other local stuff turned out to be too low, and because it was rather good.

Day 11 -
*Upper Sandy River. Oh God kill me now. An agonisingly low tree-choked ditch. I walked out in despair.
*Lower Wind River. This saved the day. Some nice big volume grade 4 rapids in a deep canyon. A big portage around some huge waterfalls, then an amazing evening chillout in natural hot springs beside an eddy.

Day 12 -
*White Salmon River. We ventured onto the harder 'Green Truss' section of this lovely river. It was supposedly too high but proved to be a completely superb big volume grade 4+ run with simple portages around a few horror story falls. The finale was two superb big long grade 5 rapids in Zigzag Canyon. Si Wiles took a pourover beating and had a rare swim.
*White Salmon River. We bobbed down the enjoyable Grade 3+ 'Husum' section as a wind-down. Looks like a great playboating trip.

Day 13 -
*Little White Salmon River. Ooh yes it's lurvely. This was again too high (at the guidebook's upper runnable limit) but we were determined not to miss it. It proved to be perhaps the best steep creek run I've done, six hours to complete three miles! Grade 5-5+. Every kind of rapid and fall is in there, and no room for errors. We'd all found our mojos by this point of the trip (although two sensibly sat this out) and I'm quite chuffed that we all had a safe and controlled trip down this tough river. The only incident came when Andy McWhateddy missed a breakout, all it needed to cause a stopper beating and swim. Thankfully harmless, although his boat had to be retrieved from a cave.

Day 14 -
Hangovers after some serious post LWS beers. A retail therapy visit to the mall and hop onto the plane. Home without hiccups. Except I left my passport on the plane at Heathrow...

To summarise...an excellent trip which felt much longer than it was. Had the pleasure of paddling with some splendid people in a lovely boating location. Well worth considering a visit to the area, put it on your wishlist.

Mark Rainsley