Thursday, August 21, 2014

Ohanapecosh River

The Ohanapecosh is a great run, one of my favorites.  Spending a weekend up there camping and doing as many sunny laps as can be handled on the lower run is something many of us PNW boaters look forward to each year.

That's not all the Ohanapecosh has to offer though, this page described each of the sections that have been paddled on the Ohanapecosh. I have yet to do them all in a single day (or even a single weekend for that matter), but it would be possible and is something I'd like to do at some point.

Because the points along the river are usually encountered heading upstream from Packwood, and the further upstream one goes the less commonly it is run, I have laid them out that way.  i.e. the first description is of the lowest access point, and the last the highest access point.

Access to NF-1270 take out (if La Wis Wis is closed)
46.6642, -121.6003

From Packwood, travel upstream on Hwy 123 just shy of 5 miles and turn left onto NF-1270.  The river is reached in about half a mile.  *Mark the take out at river level*


 Cowlitz River (La Wis Wis to NF-1270)
1.25 miles

I only include this section, because when La Wis Wis Campground is closed it is easier to continue through this section than to hike the road out from La Wis Wis.  The water moves along quickly through class II and III rapids, and the scenery is quality.


Access to La Wis Wis
46.677, -121.5834

From Packwood continue up Hwy 12 for 7 miles and turn left into the campground.  Turn right at the bottom of the hill.  Make another quick left and leave a vehicle by the large, covered wood structure.  There are a number of short trails that lead to the confluence of the Ohanapecosh and Clear Fork from this spot.


Secret Camp to La Wis Wis Campground
2.85 miles

This is the most commonly run section of the Ohanapecosh, and has the lowest hassle-factor.  The levels are easy to predict, you put in where you camp, it's usually warm and it is commonly run with no portages. It is one of my favorite sections of any river.

Sliding in from Secret Camp, it's already abundantly clear why this is such a special place.  It's worth taking a look at the first rapid from shore before putting on if you haven't been here before.  Next up are a couple ledges that offer up nice deep boofs that can be scouted if that's wanted.  A 1/4 mile of class II proceeds the log slide, which should be scouted on the left upstream of the class II lead in.  You can tell the rapid is coming up because downstream you can see large, room sized boulders on the right bank and a vertical left wall.  It's a pretty straight forward move to get right, but people who are nervous and clam up at the lip sometimes miss the move and fall off to the left.  This used to be a worst case scenario type of situation, but in 2016 the consequences were reduces drastically when some logs moved.  

However, I'd still rather find myself right of the log than left.
Photo: Clinton Begley

When scouting from the left, it can be tough to see around the corner.  It provides peace of mind knowing its a moving pool.  Run the next rapid along the left wall, it's class III.  The next half mile is read and run class IV and loads of fun.  However there are some small, but sinister sieves to watch out for, so if you are not following someone down they can be worth a peak your first trip through.  If in doubt, stay far away from the banks.  I have three first hand accounts of someone flushing under a rock or sieve in their boat on this run, popping up a few wide eyed moments later.

Meanwhile in the middle of the river, fun lines can be had by all.

At the end of the read and run is Butcher's Block, a rapid that used to get portaged regularly but cleaned up in 2016 and is now regularly run.  This drop is signaled not only by a horizon line, but a slight opening of the canyon and large boulders.  At medium to low flows it's easy to scout on the right.   The main hazard is a large boulder on the right that has water flushing under it.  There is a nice boof just to the left of the boulder, the weak kneed can portage with a little effort on the right.

 Jesse Shapiro lining up the boof in Butcher's Block

Immediately downstream is Triple Drop, which is scouted on the right after Butcher's Block.  The normal line is to enter right, and finish with a strong move to the left in front of a rock with a pillow at the bottom.  Below a 2' boof in the runout to Triple Drop a waterfall and vertical wall can be seen downstream on the right, most of the current goes center through the rapid here, but that route is kinda janky at the bottom.  Most people start with some rock bashing down the right, getting to the far right flow against the wall when possible for a fun slide.

The next rapid used to be my least favorite, but now I rather enjoy after some boulder re-arrangement.  Enter with the main flow, eddy hop, read and run or shore scout, regardless finish far left.

Read and run rapids continue until Summit Creek is seen entering on the left (largest tributary to this portion of the river).  Boaters bumble through a small entrance rapid, then downstream are confronted by a clean horizon line.  Drive down the right side of the main current, and don't be afraid to launch a big boof off this beautiful 8 foot ledge.

Below this ledge, it's time to start getting ready to eddy out on the left to scout Elbow Room.  If it's your first time I encourage you to error to the left in the lead in to the point of silliness and scrape down to a scouting eddy on the left before the river falls off a ledge back to the right and into Elbow Room.

Elbow Room is typically run down the left side, and through a narrow crack at the bottom that goes better than it looks like it would during the scout.  There is also a stouter entrance on the right, and a super stout (not recommended) line through the bottom right.

A couple paddlers taking the bold right side entrance.

Messing up the right line has sever consequences.

If you would like to portage, head upstream along the shelf from the scouting eddy gaining elevation (watch your footing).  When the vegetation is reached a bit of a trail becomes present, head downstream along this trail a couple hundred yards.  Eventually following it back down to the gorge rim.  The throw and go is the best/most fun option here, but if you can't handle the straight forward jump there is a way to walk down to river level and have everyone else lower gear to you.  Remember to be a team player here.

Just downstream is a nice bedrock rapid, it's class III on the right and has a class IV double ledge on the left.

Fun read and run leads to a fun waterfall.  The lead in hole is powerful, but a good stroke will typically get you through.  The further right you hit it, the easier it is to make it through.  The outflow of this hole pours over a beautiful 15' falls.  The left channel is what most people aim for, but if they were too timid about the hole they often flush over the middle line which is fine too.  The left side line on the falls delivers the best results if you climb up onto the wall high and early, holding that right stroke until you are airborn and resetting your hips on the way down.

Adam Edwards about to get it good.

The next rapid downstream is Petrified, the most notorious on the run aside from Elbow Room.  There are many fun line options here, scout them for yourself from the left.  The center hole has a reputation for being extremely sticky, though something changed in 2017 and it seems more forgiving than it once was.

Looking upstream at Petrified and the waterfall.
 Photo: Clinton Begley

There are a number of read and run rapids below Petrified before things ease to riffles by the time you reach the confluence of the Clear Fork Cowlitz and the take out.

Trip Report from 2016 @ 1,200 cfs
Trip Report from 2010 @ 2,000 cfs


Access to Secret Camp

Travelling upstream on Hwy 123 from either of the previous access points or Packwood, you will cross the Clear Fork of the Cowliz via a bridge high over the stream.  Just over a 1/2 mile later turn left onto Hwy 123.  In 2.2 miles NF-44 takes off to the right (stay on Hwy 123), within a couple hundred yards turn left onto an unmarked gravel road that leads to the secret camp.  Kayakers typically use the most upstream campsite.  If you pass under the National Park entrance arch on Hwy 123, you have gone about 100 yards too far.


Ohanapecosh Campground to Secret Camp 
 1.75 miles

Photo: Shaun Riedinger

Ohanapecosh Campground used to be the typical Ohanapecosh put in, but some time ago a landslide occurred and dumped an inordinate amount of wood into the run.  People could avoid the wood by putting in at Secret Camp.  The wood stayed around long enough, and kayaking culture shifted towards classic-only whitewater enough that Secret Camp was established as "the" put in for the Ohanapecosh.

The wood situation has improved quite a bit over the last couple of years, and the upper portion of the run is starting to get done again.  There are still two large log jams that need to be portaged, along with a couple small logs to be dealt with and one rapid that most will portage.  Aside from that, there are many class IV-V rapids in a section of the Ohanapecosh with a more "serious" feel.  If lilly-dippin' and low hassle is what you are looking for stick to the Secret Camp Put in, if you like a bit of adventure and don't mind putting on your problem solving hat the Ohanapecosh Campground put in provides a more fulfilling day in a nice canyon that you are likely to have to yourself.

Photo: Alex Neilson


Access to Ohanapecosh Campground

Travelling upstream on Hwy 123, you cross under a wooden archway.  Just a bit over a mile turn left into Ohanapecosh Campground, stay right at the first juncture and you will reach the bridge shortly.


Park Entrance to Ohanapecosh Campground
1.7 miles

   In 2013 the Lucas’s, Matt and I decided to add a little variety to our Ohanapecosh weekend and checked out the section starting at the Stevens Canyon road bridge and ending at Ohanapecosh Campground.  The trip started out pretty exciting when we got boxed in above a class VI slot.  Matt saved the day by doing some sketchy climbing up the left wall and roping us up after him.  Just below was a fun drop we named Hawt Fire as we had all been listening to Andrew Bradley yell “Hot Fire” after everything he ran the week before.

We portaged Silver Falls and scouted out the gorge below, which contains two boxed in ledge drops that were good to go and class IV-ish.  Below here things eased off to class II-III with the stand out feature being a travertine warm springs on the left that was too shallow to bathe in, but neat to check out.  To continue below Silver Falls you want 1500+ cfs. We took off and vowed not to confine ourselves to the lower Ohane when we came up here in the future.  Hawt Fire has even proven worthy of a park and huck if you bring a lunch and a fun group on a sunny day.


Access to the park entrance

1.8 miles upstream of Ohanapecosh Campground, Stevens Canyon Rd heads left and through the pay entrance to the National Park.  Thee is a pullout at the intersection that can be used for free.  The bridge is within 100 yards of this intersection.

Instead of putting in at the Park Entrance Bridge, these days we walk in 100 yards before Stevens Canyon road turns left off of HWY 12, thus avoiding the boxed in class VI that gave the Lucas's, Matt and I trouble that first time down.  It's a short/easy walk through old growth (veer to the right side of the gully).

Hawt Fire access
click to enlarge



Panther Creek to Park Entrance
1.8 miles
I have not done this stretch of the Ohanapecosh, it is full of non-hazardous wood amongst gravel bars.  You are floating through the Grove of the Patriarchs though, so if you are not opposed to a number of easy portages it might not be so bad.  It looks like there would be some nice gravel beaches to camp on in this section as well.


Panther Creek Access
4.2 miles upstream of Ohanapecosh Campground on Hwy 123, you cross over Panther Creek.  Access to the river is easier a short ways (walking distance) downstream from the Panther Creek bridge.


Eastside Trail to Panther Creek
1.5 mile hike
2.1 river miles 

 This is the most adventurous section of the Ohanapecosh that has been documented.   It involves a hike in, some dealing, one involved portage and some fun rapids including a runnable 30 footer.

This section has only been done at lower levels, as one of the portages is tricky even at low water.  So if the Secret Campground section is feeling runnable but manky, this section might be worth checking out for adventurous boaters.  I felt after doing the trip that if the tricky portage changed and became runnable, I would endeavor to run this section every couple of years.

*While hiking in, it is easy to pick off Stafford Falls on Chinook Creek.


Eastside Trail Access
46.8045, -121.5653

3.6 miles upstream of Panther Creek on Hwy 123 is the Owyhigh trailhead, which leads quickly downstream to the Eastside trail.  Continue downstream paralleling Chinook Creek for 3 miles to a bridge over the Ohanapecosh at a double falls.  This is the put in.  If you are handy with a map, you might notice that Hwy 123 parallels Chinook Creek on the shuttle.  If you want to knock off most of the hike, just park anywhere and bushwhack down to Chinook Creek and wade across.  The trail is typically within 50 yards on river right down there.


Upstream of the Eastside trail bridge

 Upstream of the Eastside trail the Ohanapecosh still has enough water to boat, and gradient to create whitewater.  Access would be extremely challenging, but not impossible.  There has been no documentation of trips occurring up there, I imagine it would be an exceptionally difficult trip with hard whitewater and portaging. 


Hawt Fire at healthy flows, 1200 or so on the gauge.


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