Monday, July 25, 2011

Snoqualmie Pass for the Weekend

Nate checking in. I'm throwing this post up in a hurry because the runs detailed below won't be in for much longer. Get em' while they're hot. With a week long business trip to Turlock, CA looming in my future, I began to lay plans for the following weekend. After spending several days in the 100 degree heat of central California, I figured that that best way to relax would be a leisurely camping and paddling trip. Having spent the last few weeks paddling the stuff around Portland, I decided that it was time to branch out a little bit and quickly convinced Anna Herring to join me on a foray deep into Washington. We initially had our eye on the Ohanepacosh, but after watching the gauge for a few days, we quickly realized that the ohane (my favorite run) was still going to be too high by the time the weekend rolled around. After examining a few other options, we settled on S.F. Snoqualmie River, east of Seattle. The South Fork, often referred to as Fall in the Wall had been described to me as a miles worth of class 4 ledges ranging from 5 - 10 feet. . I'd also heard about the 20 foot falls (fall in the wall) at the put-in with a rep. for pounding paddlers into a cave/undercut combo. By the time we were saddled up and ready to embark on our mission north, we had picked up Chris Harman and my girl friend Claire (who was down for a weekend in the woods even though she doesn't kayak. Thanks for the shuttles by the way!) We all met up at 9am on Saturday morning, loaded up my Outback and were on the road by 9:15. With a few stops along the way, we arrived at the Put-In around 2 Oclock. Upon arrival it is immediately evident how unique this creek really is. Not only is this section abnormally high in the drainage (the section is less than a mile from the pass where water starts to drop east instead of west) but it is also located between the lanes of I-90. Despite this fact, the run feels completely secluded and you really feel like you're paddling through a tunnel of old growth the entire trip. After scouting Fall in the Wall and descideing to save it for another time, we rounded the bend on the way to the lower put-in (below the 20 footer) and ran into two other kayakers (Boris and Kent?). They immediately offered to show us down the run and we didn't hesitate to accept there generous offer. 10 minutes later we were geared up and floating above the first series of drops known as 'the fearsome foursome'. I believe we ran right, right, right to left, and right again respectively through this series of 5-10 foot ledges. Nothing difficult, just good clean fun. The rest of the run was littered with tight chutes and steep falls. Everything was separated by beautiful emerald pools which made this run a great class IV experience. We had about 300 cfs on the SF gauge.
Anna Runs one of the Fearsome Foursome
After finishing up the 1 mile long section with a left line down the rapid known as root wad (the root wad is no longer present) we hiked our boats back up along the road to the put-in for round 2.
Chris digs in for the boof at the bottom of Root Wad
As were preparing to put-on for our second lap of the day, I decided to take another look at Fall in the Wall. After warming up on the first lap, I felt confident I could hit the fine line on the 20 footer and avoid being stuffed into the cave on river right. The photos I've thrown up don't quite paint an accurate picture of how consequential fall in the wall really is. What's not shown is the vertical wall the sits directly in front of the base of the falls (about 7 feet from the edge of the veil) perpendicular to the current. Basically all the water pushes into this wall and then splits (about 70% pushing right into the cave and 30% kicking out to the left and downstream.) In addition to the wall, there wasn't much of boil at the bottom, so boofing the drop was a scary proposition with the inevitable hit at the bottom. After talking with a few more of the locals (who had seen the drop run before), I opted to give er'. The plan was to eddy out at the lip of the drop to kill my speed (for fear of launching too far and flying into the wall). From there I was going to slowly roll of the flake at the lip taking half of a right stoke just enough to push my bow a little to the left and keep my boat around a 45 degree angle when entering the water. Having safety set and my line defined in my head, I jumped in my boat, hit the eddy, and dropped over the lip. Things went according to plan and I kept 'er up right at the bottom while avoiding the nasty wall. I subbed out pretty deep on the landing, which made of a really soft touch down. Thanks go out to Chris and Anna (also the other paddlers we met) for setting great safety and helping me get my boat up the canyon wall and around the portage after the falls.
Nate at the lip of Fall in the Wall And down we go..
Feeling stoked already, we bombed down the second lap stopping only to shoot photos here and there. It was really an excellent day on the river. By the time we were setting up camp (a few miles down the road) all memories of the long drive had faded away and we were stoked for day 2 of our trip.
The crew all smiles at the takeout.
We had initially planned to venture over to the skykomish on Sunday morning. However, the locals we had met at the South Fork advised us to keep heading east and tackle the Cooper River near Cle Elum, WA. I quote " We run the Skykomish all year when nothing else is running; the Cooper is what we look forward to running all year" With this description, how could we say no. After a waking up and breaking down camp, we were on the road headed east towards Cle Elum round 10 AM. After a few wrong turns, we finally ran into some other kayakers who go us on the right track. We arrived at the Put-In to find a pretty large conglomeration of boaters gearing up and starting the hike into the Cooper river gorge. After chatting with a few folks about the various rapids and hazards on the run, we were again invited to tag along with an experienced group of paddlers. Oh how I love the boating community. JD and Scott, especially, thanks for all the beta. note: Make sure to follow the trail all the way to the river. Don't be tempted to put in where you first see the creek. A 50 foot un-runnable falls lurks just around the corner. Put-in below the falls! Sadly, we didn't get a chance to snap any photos on the Cooper River, but rest assured, the run is spectacular. A secluded canyon with quality class IV ledge drops that come one after another. Great boofs everywhere! Highlights included Sharks tooth (the lone boulder garden on the Cooper) which had a boat horizontally pinned about half way down and S-turn (a chaotic rapid in which everyone had to throw a brace). We'd been warned abut Norm's Resort, but with the beta and guidance we had from the group, it was really an easy drop, just charge right (similar to bowey hotel on the the LW). According to the guide book, we were at running at fairly high flow (around 1200cfs), but talking with the local guys revealed that the level we had was about medium or even on the lower end for normal runs down the stretch. I strongly recommend everyone to give this one a shot. A true classic! Worth the drive. Do multiple laps! After a little cliff jumping at the take-out and some lunch in the sun, we reluctantly loaded up the car and began our voyage back to Oregon. The drive went by fairly quickly and we were back home and de-rigged before night fall. Great mission guys, thanks for coming along. Until next time. Nate, signing off.

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