Thursday, August 9, 2012

Northern Exposure

Things have been a little slow with the Portland contingent of the Into the Outside Crew recently. With Jacob's guiding and my new job, things have been fairly vanilla on the boating front over the last month. The expression 'no news is good news' doesn't really apply when you're discussing kayaking. It's not that we haven't been getting out at all (Jacob and Matt took care of some business back out in the county and we've all gotten out on the gorge classics a few times) just nothing to write home about....

With that in mind, I've been pretty determined to get on something new and noteworthy and a few weekends back, I was able to break free. Just so happens, Alex Kilyk and Dan Rubado both had come down with the travel bug and plans were set in motion to head north for a weekend boating east of Seattle.By the time Friday evening (July 13th) rolled around, we had Mark Buckley in tow and plans set to meet several other Seattle guys at the Robe Canyon takeout the following morning. The four of us were treated to a spectacular lightning storm on the Friday night journey up I-5. Unfortunately, the thunderstorm brought with it some torrential rain, which severally dampened our camping spirits and we ended up crashing with Mark's friend Shane just east of downtown Seattle.

The next morning was spent drinking coffee and slowly making our way out of the grey Seattle metropolis. Is it ever sunny in this city?

Loading up the ultimate road trip rig. Dan's new VW TDI (40mpg)

Robe is a class 5 section of the SF Stilliguamish River about an hour outside of the city. The run is known for its grey water and pushy rapids. Having never paddled on the SF Stilly, I was a little anxious as we geared up and carried down to the river. Video scouts had always painted a very intimidating image in my mind and I was rather relieved to see that on this particular day, the river was flowing clear and a fairly low flow (5.3 feet). Obviously the color of the water doesn't make a difference when discussing difficulty, but there is a certain intimidation factor baked in when you're boating on top of frothy silt.

We ended up putting on the river with a fairly large group of paddlers. In addition to the aforementioned, we also had Rob Bart out of Portland and a bevy of Seattle area paddlers who were incredibly helpful when it came to describing rapids and lines. Special thanks to Brett, J.D. and Shane for all the beta. Before too long, we arrived at the first series of drops which I believe are called Tunnel 1, Tunnel 2, and Last Sunshine. Everyone chose to walk the large hole in Tunnel 1 and put in at the lip of Tunnel 2.

Group bonding at the Tunnel 1 Portage

Tunnel 2

After Tunnel 2 we found ourselves at the lip of Last Sunshine, the largest vertical drop on Robe. I've heard that this drop has gone through several reincarnations over the last few decades. As it stands, Sunshine involves a sloping green tounge along the left wall that leads into boily cauldron before flushing down river along an overhung wall. About 50% of the group opted to ride the left side of the green tounge getting some love from the left wall to lift their bow out over the cauldron below. The other 50%, including myself', decided to run down the center of the tounge with a boof at the bottom. I'm pretty sure that everyone who attempted the center line ended up plugging into the hole and rolling against the left wall.... No worries, the outflow kicks into a calmer eddy in which we all rolled up and continued down river.

After Last Sunshine the race was on. With such a solid crew of locals leading us down, scouting became rather rare. We bombed through Hotel California, Hole in the Wall, Catchers Mit, and a dozen or so rapids before finally eddying out to portage Landslide. Landslide is another drop that is constantly in a state of flux with a nasty active landslide entering the river on the right. We portaged up and over the boulder jumble and put in at the bottom in a surging eddy amongst the giant rocks.

Catchers Mit


Back on the river we quickly came up upon a rather trashy drop, aptly named Garbage. I didn't immediately like the look of this boulder pile and decided to do a quick walk on the river left while everyone else fired er off down a left side slot. Watching everyone come through with relative ease made me a little upset at my early decision to walk. Alas, I'll be back.

Alex in a Pinch

After a few more rapids, including one drop called Conversation that was oh so sweet, we hit the mellow runout affectionately called Lake Robe. 20 minutes of flat water paddling saw us to the take out and cold brews.

After running shuttle and mulling about the parking lot for a few minutes, Brett Barton began describing a new run on the South Fork Sauk that he had recently discovered. With our curiosity peaked, we made the decision to put the rest of the day to good use and followed him up the road towards the Sauk drainage. It only took around 45 minutes from the Robe takeout to reach the put-in for the S. Sauk. Brett and Dan ran shuttle while the rest of us interacted with the wide array of campers in the area. Some were stranger than others...

The S. Sauk was a freight train. Most of the rapids were non-descript boulder gardens that flowed right into each other with a steep gradient. The run was very busy and worth doing if you're in the area, however, it isn't one that I'd go out of my way to paddle. I wish I could tell you more about where we put-in, flows, and the like... but I can't. I was just following directions at this point. The run was only a mile or so, top to bottom and it's all scoutable from the road.

Mark Buckley 

Alex describes the S. Sauk as being straight out of Colorado.

After the Sauk, we found a nice camp site near the headwaters for the S. Stilly, cooked some dinner, and bedded down.

The next morning there was some talk of heading for Ernies Canyon, but instead we opted to meet back up with JD and Shane for a few laps on the Cooper River. We ate breakfast in North Bend while admiring the Twin Peaks TV Show memorabilia and got a leisurely start headed east over Snoqualmie Pass. I don't think we actually put-on the river until after 12:30, but no worries.. The Cooper river is only a couple miles in length and requires only a handfull of scouts the first time town. Having paddled this river once before, I was a little surprised to see just how much more water there was in the creek bed this time around. 2200cfs on the Cle Elum means juicy. We took our time on the first lap down with 3 scouts in all (norms, s-turn, and voodoo) and everything went just fine, even with the high flow. In fact, we all agreed that 2200 was a great level for the Cooper and even more water wouldn't have been so bad. Bed rock goodness!

Upon arriving at the take out we met up with a few other paddlers, including Rob, Jeff, John and Emily (who had all been out on Robe the previous day) and rallied back up river for lap two. This addition pushed our group size up north of 12 people, which really wasn't a problem on the pool drop river. Aside from a rather scary and prolonged beat down in Norms Resort and some other random carnage (not us), take two proved to be just as fun as round one, albeit just a little lengthier.

JD: No vacancy

Cooper River Shakedown St.

Juice Box


After a couple beverages in the parking lot (consumed with the aide of booty for some..), it was time to call it a weekend and begin our journey back to PDX. Before too long we cruising down I5 admireing the amazing scenery in Tacoma. I ended up making it back to the casa around 1 AM. A fun weekend indeed and great way to spice up the post LW dulldrums. 

Until next time,

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