While on Canyon Creek this past November, Chris Arnold mentioned to me that he was interested in getting back on the Grays River in Washington. I think my response was something like "The Grays? Where the hell is the Grays?" Needless to say, its not a river that gets much publicity, despite being near the front of the guidebook. When I asked around, most people said that they had never actually given it a shot, sighting a long drive as the restricting force. However, those who had ventured to this isolated gem, had positive things to say about the creek and often noted how they had a desire to get back on it. After consulting a map, it became evident that the creek isn't that far away from Portland. It took us under 2 hours from the front door to the put-in and could be done faster by those who push the speed limits more than I do. Another positive that emerged during my research of the run was that it has a very wide range of flows. When most other options are all but dry, the Grays often has a nice medium level.
This past Saturday, I finally convinced a few friends to tag along and give this oft-forgot creek a go. Ben Morton and Andrew Bradley joined Jacob and I as we headed out from Portland around 10 Am. I threw the bike on the back and hoped for a reasonable bike shuttle. Alas, I only have a road bike and the road turned out be to be loose gravel (I was not looking forward to the last leg of my journey). Jacob had actually done the run once before, but it had been over three years since he last visited the area. We jetted up the 5 and then headed west along the Columbia once he hit Longview. After ditching the bike at a point where Fossil Creek road nears the Grays, we headed up to the Put-In and were happy to see a healthy flow pushing through a tight canyon under the bridge. (The Naselle River was reading around 730cfs when I left my house that morning.)
We geared up, put on, and immediately were confronted with the first gorge, which we had given a brief scout from the bridge above. I think we were all a bit surprised at how pushy the rapid was despite it's benign look from 50 feet up in the air. We all came crashing through the big hole directly below the bridge and knew it was on. The next mile and half was characterized by steep bedrock ledges intermixed with large boulder-strewn rapids. We scouted often and were really enjoying the diversity of each drop. There was one river wide log in the first gorge that we were able to boof over on the right, but other than that, the run was super clean.
I'm not sure of the named rapids in this first section, but below are a few shots that I was able to snap while we made our way down stream. I believe that one of these drops is described in the guide book as 'Triple Drop'. All were class III-IV affairs and were great fun.
Before too long, Jacob's spider sense started going off and we got out to scout the class V drop known as Superbowl. When I got my first look at this behemoth, I was astonished by the technical nature and shear size. Superbowl is a legit class V drop and has more than a few things going on. In addition to the man-eating hole at the bottom and the tricky ledge 10 feet upstream, there also exists a small hole in the lead-in that is perfectly positioned to push you off your line. I was a little hesitant to run this drop at first, but after watching Jacob probe with a nice line, the race was on. Below (at the bottom of this post) is a quick clip of Jacob stylin Superbowl. Andrew also had a picture perfect line, sadly, the camera was done by the time he gave 'er.
Next up was the infamous Picnic rapid. I'd heard word that this class V drop has changed in recent years and become significantly harder. It's worth noting that it's much easier to get out and scout if you pull off before the river bends to the left. We scouted this drop from the bottom up and were all a little nervous about the nasty seive at the bottom left of this long intricate boulder slalom. Picnic is over 100 yards long and probably drops somewhere around 30 feet from the very top to the bottom. The crux of the drop is surely near the bottom where the main channel constricts down between a large boulder and the right bank before pounding through a giant wave hole and into a vertical gorge. That being said, don't overlook the long boulder garden above the crux. There are more than a few f-you rocks and ledge holes that could really screw with your line. Oh yeah, there isn't really anyway to run safety of this guy either! We opted to run the drop as a group from top to bottom. I led the charge while Jacob and Andrew followed behind me by about 50 feet. Everything went according to plan, but I think we were all a little surprised to have made it through the crux hole upright and paddling. Ben opted for the high seal launch into the canyon. You guys have to trust me on this one: Picnic is one hell of a rapid. Too much fun!
Next up was broken paddle, which really didn't compare to the two previous drops. The mainline on the left looked pretty sticky at this flow with a undercut wall complicating the matter, so most snuck the drop down the right side. A little manky, but more preferable than the munchy left.
We were soon in the run-out, which isn't short, and booking it down stream towards my bike... and the beverages. Within minutes of hoping off the creek, a pickup truck drove by and offered us all a lift up to my car! Red Wine Success! We hid the boats in the woods and jumped in the back. The guys were nice enough and we rewarded them for the ride with a handful of Tecate's upon arrival.
On the drive home we stopped in Longview and made some questionable decisions regarding our choices for dinner...
All in all, the Gray's is certainly worth doing once or twice a season and it really isn't much further than BZ from Portland. Class IV and V paddlers alike will find plenty to enjoy on this scenic section of river. And again, Picnic is one of the more fun drops I've run in recent memory! Go get it!