Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Waterfallin: The Clear Fork Cowlitz

A lava flow, which is believed to have been dammed up by a glacier, yielded these amazing basalt walls through out the canyon.

The Clear Fork of the Cowlitz is a run that is held in high regard amongst the who's who of the PNW creeking scene. With a glowing endorsement from both the guide book and the page on Oregonkayaking, the Clear Fork certainly possess a fair share of 'hype'. That being said, there is a relative dearth of recent information on the run. In a time when social media and online trip reports are at an all time high, the Clear Fork still lingers in obscurity. I think part of this has to do with the fact that it's a difficult and committing run that keeps a large number of folks away. Secondly, the run has been chocked with wood for the last few years (since the online media craze really hit) Thirdly, the mission is such an undertaking that crews often become focused on finishing the run before dark and conserving energy (not so much on getting video and photos.)

Alex Kilyk dropping into the top tier of 'the brain'. I was told later that this rapid is called actually called Furious in the guide book.

Dan Rubado's got boofing on the brain.

All of this being said, it's been at the top of my list for the past few seasons and a few weeks ago, I was finally able to put to that proverbial check-mark in the books. With much trepidation over the water level Alex Kilyk (a Clear Fork vet), Dan Rubado, Stephen Cameron, and I departed Portland at 5:30 AM. Reached the pull off (where you start to hike) at 8:30 AM and put boat to water around 9:15. We didn't reach La Wis Wis campground until 5:30 PM that evening! A long day for sure, but what an amazing creek! With only 6 wood portages, plus the mandatory portage at the Palisades and a few other drops we didn't want to run, the Clear Fork is no longer on life support. That is to say that the work to fun ratio is right where you want it to be as someone who enjoys exploratory kayaking. It's not the Little White, where you drive to the put-in walk 30 feet and don't get out of your boat till the take-out, but its certainly worth the effort. For every portage, there are 3-4 great drops!

Rubado with a text book line: lead in to Bitch Slap Falls

After our initial trip, I was really anxious to get back on the run before she dropped out for the season. This past Sunday I was able to do just that! Again, a group of 4 rallied from Portland at 5:30 in the morning and after a quick run-in with the law (no citations issued) we were hiking our boats down into the canyon. Ryan Cole, John Edwards, Jacob and I put-on around 10 AM this time and reached the take-out around 3:45. Having done the run a few weeks prior, we were able to shave a few hours off the total. We took the time to grab some media and Ryan put together an amazing edit! In my opinion, it's the most complete guide to the Clear Fork that's out there right now. Although he forgot to the turn the camera on for the legendary "bitch slap" falls, he did an amazing job of capturing what the canyon's all about! Unfortunately, my GoPro, along with all my footage is currently at the bottom of the river. Always tether!

Check it out!

The bottom of the Palisades Portage

Quick Hits:
Flows for both my trips were ideal. The reading on the Cowlitz @ Packwood was 3200 cfs on the first trip and 2500 cfs on Sunday. Despite the 700 cfs difference, the creek felt about the same. Go figure?

The white-water isn't as hard as something like the Little White, but it's incredibly committing. There are several blind corners and unportageable drops. Complete with at least one Un-Un and lots of spots where "you want to be on your line."

The nature of the river changes dramatically below the Palisades. The bedrock ledges of the upper portion of the run give way to giant boulder gardens between vertical walls in the second portion of the creek.

The canyon is absolutely one of the most beautiful places that I've ever been.

Bring a lunch!

Ryan's video is below.

Clear Fork of the Cowlitz from Ryan C on Vimeo.


The typical take out is at La Wis Wis Campground.  To get there from Packwood continue up Hwy 12 7 miles and turn left into the campground.  Turn right at the bottom of the hill.  Most people make another quick left and leave a vehicle by the large covered structure and take out at the confluence with the Ohanapecosh River.  If you want to check levels don’t make that left and you will quickly cross over the Clear Fork. 

If La Wis Wis is closed (it often is when the Clear Fork is running), backtrack towards Packwood 2 miles and drive down NF-1270 to where it ends at the river.  This adds on 1.25 miles of class II+, but it sure beats hiking out from La Wis Wis. Tip:  Mark the take out when you drop vehicles so you don’t float past at the end of the day.

To get to the put in return to Hwy 12, turn left.  In 4.9 miles there is a pull out on the left to park in.  A decommissioned road heads off toward the river on the other side of the freeway (next to the mile 143 marker). As soon as you see a gully heading down to your right, leave the old road and descend the gully.  Following the road would put you in above Entrance Exam, which has had problematic wood since Iv’e been keeping tabs on the Clear Fork.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Christy Blitz

Left Corvallis with the CCC at 12:30

Pulled over for outdated tags on I5 at 1:00

Started the hike at 3:30PM

Put in at 4PM

Take out bridge at 7PM

Luke returns with the car after bike/jogging shuttle before 8PM

       This run has a reputation of being a huge mission, but is really not a run to be missed.  This was my second time down and recalling the majority of the lines made this run drop from mission status to a fun day on the river.  Rhinosex is full of wood, and the second drop of Balls has wood (Michael and I boofed the first drop into the eddy on the right and it was an easy team portage from there).  The CCC cleaned up on Snakebite which looked ready to strike at this flow.

I recall most everything else as good to go, though we walked the big boulder garden just above Rhinosex.   I think the Miracle Mile gauge was at 17" which was perfect. 

Beta for the run can be found here.

The roads have changed names from when that report was written, so we put together an updated map with directions to get you where you need to go.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Mckenzie River: Headwaters

Photo: Dan Marmor                                                     Paddler: Lucas Rietmann


Stream: Start out at Clear Lake, get loosened up and exit the lake into the Mckenzie River when you are ready.  The first part of the run is fast and splashy III+, keep an eye out for wood, the stream can be a bit blind in the beginning.

As the river starts to consolidate, tread carefully.  Small ledges quickly build into a 5-10' ledge.  Scout your take out eddy before running this ledge, and possibly, portage.  The stream quickly accelerates below this ledge and after some offset hydraulics roosts off Sahalie Falls, an 80 foot waterfall.  Scout/portage Sahalie from either side. If you are thinking of running Sahalie your boat will need to end up on river right eventually, as most people who run Sahalie skip the lead-in and peal out of an eddy at the lip on river-right.

It is possible, and necessary to set good safety below Sahalie as the river quickly enters a class V rapid with wood.  Even with safety, things can go awry quickly.

Below the class V, more fast class IV with ledges mixed in moves quickly downstream.  It's a good idea to scope this part out from the trail on the left, there is a last chance eddy that you wouldn't know was your last chance until you were passed it before the Mckenzie goes off the next waterfall.  This is a 20 foot cascade that would be good fun if it were not for a log jam at its base. 

After portaging this cascade, you can drop the boats and walk down the trail a ways further on river left until you get to Koosah Falls, a 70 foot drop with another tricky lip into a pool that is friendlier than Sahalie's.  Safety is set by scrambling down a steep path on river left, which might take some poking around to find.  A portage could be done on the same path.

Koosah Falls
Photo: Emile Elliott

The pool below Koosah shallows out 100 feet from the base of the falls, then moves along into a class II rapid with a log jam at the bottom.  This log jam sometimes collects gear for boaters who have swam, it poses a minor hazard to boaters running Koosah.

Below the log jam is a short class III canyon with wood potential before the Mckenzie enters Carmen Reservoir and the take out.

Flows:  500 cfs is a good level to shoot for to do the waterfalls, and both have been run as high as the 700+ cfs range, and down to 400 cfs.  You can run the section (not the waterfalls) as low as 250 cfs in the summer if you are just looking for something new to do when not much else has water.

Access:  Head about 70 miles East of Eugene on Hwy 126 until you see signs for Sahalie and Koosah Falls.  You can scout the big ones out here and decide if you want to run them, and suss out some of the eddies that will need to be caught along the way.

To get to the take out, head back towards Eugene on 126 0.4 miles to NF-750.  Follow this road 0.7 miles (stay right at the fork) to the bridge over the Mckenzie River as it enters Carmen Reservoir, this is the take out.

To get to the put in return to Hwy 126 and head 1 mile back towards, then past Sahalie/Koosah and turn right onto NF-770. In half a mile you will find yourself next to Clear Lake, pull off at a wide spot and walk down to the reservoir to put on.

Original Write-up


Last weekend six of us calmed our nerves and fell off Koosah Falls on the Mckenzie River.  4 of six stayed in their boats.

Emile's friend Liz was out there for the day, and made this video.