Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Northwest Fork Washougal: Headwaters

Northwest Fork Washougal: Headwaters

2.5 miles

Stream: I had my eye on this section above the uppermost bridge for a year or two, and got the opportunity by chance when another mission fell through on December 30, 2018.  We ran Lacamas in the morning, then decided to head over to Hagen.  I wasn't about to put down lap 15 or whatever on Hagen when there was the opportunity to see something new, so decided i'd check out this new section while everybody else ran Hagen.  I was surprised when nearly the entire group wanted to join despite my assurances it was almost certainly going to suck.

Adam Edwards, Ben Mckenzie, Andrew Bradley and I dropped Priscilla off at the Hagen put in with a large group including a raft or two and kept going up to the landing from which we would schwack our way into the headwaters of the Northwest fork Washougal.  The hike was not easy, but also not hard.  Using the GPS function on my phone and pre-cached maps kept us on track.  The final descent to the stream was on an unstable rock field that took extra attention to protect ankles.  From here we were able to get a good view of the creek, and we liked what we saw providing the motivation to make good time down the boulder field.  A small fence of Devil's Club was the final obstacle.

The creek looked promising from the put in, about 2/3 the size of Hagen and dropping along at a good clip. There was bedrock and a decent sized ledge above where we were.  The first couple hundred yards were nrrow and clean, but with branches blocking the eddies.  We shore scouted a couple short ledge/slots, both of which we ran as far right as we could with a left stroke.  Downstream the creekbed changed to open and sliding.  The creekbed was mostly just one long, low angle slide for a few minutes interrupted occasionally by steeper drops or small pools and we were able to read and run this portion with some faith.

There was a log that prompted a scout as the creek seemed to enter a more wood area and I prepared mentally for the portaging to start.  Adam hopped out of his boat for a look and informed us it was all good though, so we ducked the log and the low angle sliding with occasional small ledge drops continued.  We continued reading and running, branches were often present bu tthe never ending class IV bedrock whitewater made it worth dealing with.  After 1.5 miles we reached the confluence with Skamania Mines Creek.

It would be possible for a motivated boater to stop before the confluence, make the easy hike over the small ridge and pick off Mike's Slide, the largest cascade on Skamania Mines.  Downstream the continuous read and run III-IV continues to the bridge.  The ledge you can see just upstream from the uppermost/1200 Rd bridge has a hole that is definitely bigger than it looks from the road.  it is easiest to clear center-right.

We pulled into the eddy below the bridge and sat there for a second, we were all pretty surprised to have paddled a quality section of class IV whitewater when the expectation had been for a suffer-fest. Ben said "I can't believe that just happened".

We even hike up to the Hagen put in to grab vehicles after finishing the run, drove shuttle, loaded gear and rove down to the Hagen take out before the group Priscilla was paddling with finished their Hagen lap.  Not what we expected setting out for an afternoon exploratory trip.    

Flows:  We had 15" on the NWF Washougal gauge when we ran the creek, this was a good first time level.  I wouldn't have minded more water (remember the branches though), but would have minded if it had been notably lower.

Here are some nearby online gauges from that day.


Access:  Take out:  45.6909, -122.239

Take Hwy 14 to the town of Washougal, turn onto Washougal River Road and travel 10.2 miles to the Washougal River Mercantile.  From the Mercantile, head upstream less than half a mile before turning left onto the steep Skye Road.  Continue 3.9 miles on Skye Rd before turning right onto Skamania Mines/412th Rd (keep and eye out, people miss this turn occasionally).  The road quickly turns to gravel, as it winds it's way down to the middle bridge in about 1 mile.  This bridge is where the NWF Washougal Gauge is, on the downstream left side of the bridge. 
From the middle/Skamania Mines bridge head upstream on river left for 1.5 miles, and take the road going left.  This road crosses the NWF Washougal in less than 1 mile and is the take out if only running this section. 

Put In: 45.721, -122.2241

**If you are doing this section, you really should have maps cached on your phone for the hike, use the coordinates above**

From the uppermost/1200 bridge, continue (passing by the Hagen put in) for 1.6 miles and turn right.  There is a gate here, it was open when we ran this section on Dec 30, 2018.  If it's closed and you don't see an alternate route (4WD/clearance), just go back and do Hagen, it wouldn't be worth the hike from here.  If you get past the gate, take the left fork. 0.7 miles later take the right fork until it ends at a clear cut (45.7167, -122.2355).  Cross the clear cut and start bushwhacking.  Stay generally at the same elevation until you cross a micro creek (it took us about half an hour to get to this point).  Climb up the short ridge on the other side of this creek, then follow this ridge downhill, erring to the left until you reach a boulder field.  Scamper down to the upstream edge of this boulder field to put in where we did, watch your footing.