Thursday, August 30, 2012

Upper Upper Cispus

Photo: Matt King


Stream: This is a classic PNW stream that runs during the summer.  It is mostly IV-IV+ with one mandatory class V section (Behemoth), and one optional class V rapid (island).

Starting at a campground, there is a couple hundred yards of warm up before the river bends right and over the first falls, which is off-vertical and about 10-15' tall.  If you intend on scouting, get to the left shore before the bend to scout.

                                                      Ben Mckenzie - Warm up Falls
Photo: Priscilla Macy

The next mile or so is on the hard end of class IV with the occasional mank pile or wood to watch out for.  It often looks trashy from above and below, but the lines are fun and padded if you are in the right spot.  It can be nice to follow someone who knows the situation down the first time, but can be boat scouted too.  There is one rapid near the end of this first gorge section that should be scouted.  A hard right turn leads into it quickly, with eddies on the left above the rapid. The right and middle of the river is sieved out, and at least one person has had a frightening tangle with one of the sieve's.  Ending left over a nice 4-5' boof is how the rapid is run, getting to that boof changes year to year and person to person, scout left.

John Edwards, hitting the bottom left boof.
Photo: Nate Merrill

Below here is a blind rapid that is boofed far left, where less of the water is going.  It drops about 5', a left stroke with your nose at about 10-11 o' clock works well to avoid pitons.

Close downstream is Not Island, the easier line used to be right the whole way, in 2018 it was easiest just to go far left through what used to be a powerful hole.  It's worth a scout on the left your first lap down.

Not far downstream the river opens up for a moment into a couple gravel bars and an island.  It is an option to bail on the right here if someone is not having a good day.

There is even a neat little tube through the rock to check out.

Around the corner things gorge back up and rapids build to Island.  
Mcbenzie after walking back up for lap two.

Island has a moving pool above it and a horizon line, its worth paying attention here so you eddy out in the correct spot (on the left bank of the island at normal flows).  The right side double drop is tougher even than it looks to get a good boof.  The portage is along a shallow shelf river-left.

Approaches to Island Drop from Eric Foster-Moore on Vimeo.

Downstream are more fun rapids, one that stands out is a ramp with short but vertical walls on either side.  The hydraulic at the bottom folds into the right wall, so people flip here often.  What I find works is moving center to left, nose at 10 o' clock and following through with a strong right stroke. 

The log is gone.
 Photo: Nate Merrill

A few more rapids exist before the entrance to Behemoth, noted by a short pool created by a landslide coming in from the right.  There is a lead in rapid, then an eddy on the right to scout the Rapid of No Return, which leads to a moving hallway above Behemoth.  If it's your first time, scouting from the landslide is not a bad idea.

The Rapid of No Return is a little tricky, but can be thoroughly scouted and even portaged on the right.  Below the entrance, catch an eddy on the left before the big horizon line that is Behemoth to scout.

The scout/portage route at the entrance to Behemoth.
 Photo: Nate Merrill

And the crux move in the Rapid of No Return.

There is more than one way to run Behemoth, and more than one hazard.  The biggest hazard is being pulled behind the falls on the left.  To avoid this, make sure you nose is not pointed left when you get airborn.  After landing, there is a ledge with a powerful hole on the right.  A strong delayed stroke about 10-15' off the right wall works.  Or if you finessed Behemoth you can run the ledge left where there is not a hole to speak of.

Blasting the meat of the hole.
 Photo: Nate Merrill

Downstream are two long boulder gardens.  Enter the first one center, then stay right or right-ish the rest of the way until the boulder gardens ease to class II-III. 


Mathias drops in for his first time on this quintessential 1/4 mile of classic PNW boating.

 It is easy floating from below the last boulder garden to the take out bridge, one of the side canyons is worth walking up to see a neat falls.

 A couple videos 

Upper Upper Cispus August 2016 from IKNick on Vimeo.

Upper Upper Cispus from Lucas Rietmann on Vimeo.

Flows:  500-700 is best for a first time trip.  It's still in down to 400, and has been run even lower.  It can be run high, but you won't catch me up there doing that.

Matt has a write up about what you can expect from the Upper Upper Cispus when the water is up.
And here is a video from Todd Wells at even higher flows.

Access:  From I-5, head East on Hwy 12 towards Morton and Randle.  Almost an hour after leaving I-5, turn right in Randle onto Hwy 131.  In 1 mile, turn left onto Cispus river road (Iv'e lazily missed that turn before). 17.6 miles later stay right, you will reach the take out bridge within half a mile.

To get to the put in, return the half mile back the way you came in and turn right onto NF-21.  Continue upstream about 5 miles to the put in bridge.

Notes:  For those with the skill, this is an exceptional run for class V R2's.  

There is free camping at the take out, and a pay site at the put in.  The free ones are smaller and sometimes filled, so it can be worth the money to get a site at the top with toilets and benches and more vacancy.

Trip Report from Nate Merrill

For whatever reason, the Upper Upper Cispus has eluded me for the past two years. I've actually been at the put-in sitting in my boat, and never actually descended the river. I've always felt that the run has a very polarizing effect on those who paddle it. Some folks claim that it's right there at the top of their list, while others associate the run with low water mank. And then there are the select few who have found themselves at the lip of behemoth at higher flows, who won't even make a return trip to the area. It seems that almost everyone has a strong opinion about the UUC in one light or another.

A few weeks ago, I finally got the opportunity to create my own opinion about the most polarizing run around. I shot the following photos over a two week span in mid-late august. In subsequent weekends, we had flows around 680 cfs and 550 cfs. I'd definitely recommend the higher of the two levels. In addition to cutting down on some of the mank in the upper boulder gardens, the higher flow also washed out the troublesome hole in the gorge above Behemoth. making that section far less stressful.

I'll start with the photos from the second weekend that I spent up on the upper upper.

Cruise Control scouting the 'Warm Up' Falls - This drop is a mere 150 yards from the put-in bridge. Be careful when approaching the lip, it would be easy to get swept down the gut if you get lost on the lead-in.

Looking down into the unknown

The warm up above the warm up.

Melting Pot

John finishes off one of the countless boulder gardens in the first gorge. This one required a strong move to the left and allowed for a really sweet fading boof off a big rock in the center of the river. The right side led into a nasty boulder sieve. 

Dan Rubado - The right side of Island is a tricky line. Boof early!

The bottom hole at Island - Brandon's got safety

Jacob - Island Paradise

JD - The top of Island tends to roll people onto their left edge. Be prepared and drive hard onto the boil coming of the right wall at the lip.

Scouting the gorge above Behemoth - This is about the point where everyone starts to get really concentrated and quite. The stress factor amplifies a bit as everyone begins to contemplate the massive horizon line at the bottom of the gorge.

Send out a probe

That's me, clawing my way out of the big hole directly above Behemoth. - It's best to hit this hole on the left with lots of speed!

JD in the Gorge

View from the top

View from below

After firing off Behemoth, I snapped this shot of the lower gorge. This section is one of my favorites in the entire PNW. Go right, then right again, followed by a move on the right before heading to the right... You get the idea.

The bark is worse than the bite. Although this hole looks terrifying, as long as you're in control and paddling hard, you'll make it through just fine. JD demonstrates.

Behemoth is a fun drop, but it is consequential! There is a nasty pocket on river left that several friends of mine have wound up in. Both folks required vertical extractions up the wall.

The following photos were taken on the first weekend spent on the UUC when flows were slightly higher. I apologize for the low photo quality. I was having a bad camera day.

Alex Kilyk on a cold summer day. Temps were in the 60's and water coming down was silty run off.

Dan and Chris Menges scouting Island

Alex fires off the left line at Island

This pinch drop should be approached with caution. As you can see, there is a log in the run out that is pretty nasty on river right.

Shortly before the river drops off the face. Issac, Dan, and Chris.

Contemplating life in the eddy above the big one.

First in flight

Issac gets his river karma back in balance.

And I'll leave you with this beauty! Issac Priestly likes his beer with a little extra sediment. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012


After finding many of the streams of the Wallowa Mountain Range to hold quality whitewater, Matt and I convinced ourselves every stream originating atop this ancient granite batholith had the potential to house a classic stretch of whitewater.  We had our eyes set on a particularly intriguing section with an outlandish gradient and plenty of water.  To further our curiosity, there were rumors of buttery smooth water slides ambitious locals use in lieu of a waterpark in the summer.

Preparing to embrace the promised tender feet, we picked a route involving a 2 mile ascent to the top of a pass, followed by a mile bush-wack to a basin just above the first section of gradient.  Shuttled by Caitlin who is equally ambitious, we got underway after some fun with the camera.  Both Matt and I chose to shoulder our boats with overnight gear, which I was moderately concerned about, but in hindsight was certainly the right choice.  The hiking was pretty easy and Matt kept us on the trail even when it was buried in snow.  Eventually we came to the steep climb to the top of the pass, which was made challenging by a cover of snow.  Reaching the top we took in yet another fantastic view provided by this special area.

 The downclimb is where I started to feel tired.  Our shoulders were starting to let us know their part in the struggle, and our legs were burning from the uphill climb.  We made good time down to the valley bottom and were welcomed by a herd of what must have been 100 elk.  Matt got some excellent footage of the herd splitting, charging up the hill, then merging at full speed.

At the put in.

We were stoked to be at the water, with just enough water to float and a gorgeous setting we pushed off with high optimism.  Unfortunately the first portage was only 50 yards downstream.  We decided to take advantage of the trail and portage until the creek looked more runnable.  We eventually found this point, 4 miles later at the designated camp once the main stem of the river was reached.  We kept the best attitudes we could afford as we struggled late into the day.  We passed our planned meet time with Caitlin (who hiked a different trail to meet at camp), and she spent the next hour or so trying to find us.  Finally we met up and she informed us we were close to camp which was welcome news.  We took a short break and exchanged stories before making the final trudge into camp.

We ate what food we had and schemed future movie ideas before falling asleep in one of my favorite places kayaking has taken me.  We awoke the next day ready for a high water run down a stretch of river we had enjoyed the year before, the headwaters of the Imnaha.  With the higher flows (nearly double), we were apprehensive about the rapids, but confident we could deal with whatever we found.  Halfway through the day and we were happy about the extra flow.  This is one of the few class IV-V rivers I have run that becomes less challenging at high flows.  We had a couple extra portages this year due to wood, but also got to run a drop we walked last year.  Inclination gorge was just as intimidating as last year, and after a lot of thought and focus I decided to join Matt for another round through this harrowing rapid.  We both had some interesting moves and some backwards moments, but we kept it online and upright for an exciting run.  The hungry hole at the end of the gorge was avoidable on the far left at this level and we rejoiced as soon as we could eddy out!

We only had one rapid and one short portage to seal launch before the short class III run-out that we blitzed because once again we had failed to arrive at the meet spot with Caitlin on time.  We all found each other at the take out and set out in search of burgers and the Terminal Gravity brewing company in high spirits.

After satisfying our hunger and thirst we returned to La Grande a little more knowledgeable about the area and very tired.  However, I still had a 5 hour drive to the put in on the Deschutes for a field trip.  Armed with Matt's Gazetteer and a homemade mocha, I set out into the night.  However, that is another story in itself.

I believe we had 2,000 cfs on the Imnaha gauge.


A boaterman's safe

Matt received a little extra protection on the way down Lower Lewis Falls last week.  It's not everyday you have the fantastical watching over you.

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,