Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Chelan Gorge

July 25th 2009:

American Whitewater has been working for over 10 years with the Chelan county PUD to get water released and allow access specifically for whitewater kayaking.

The dam was built in 1927.

If you aren’t interesting in sardonic wit and ironic humor, skip to the end for a summary but make sure to look at the photos while you scroll!

Initially I had decided the 6 hr trek from Portland to Chelan falls was too far for the 6 named rapids but when my other plans fell through, and Mike L called me at 5:30pm Friday night, I ended up being pretty easy to convince:

Mike: “You want to head to Chelan Gorge?”

ME: “Not really, its far.”

…. 5 minutes later….

ME: “Pick you up at 9!”

We left Portland at 9pm and owing to the late departure, had an easy drive up I5, grabbed a quick camp in Cashmere, were up by 8 and on the road by 8:05 AM. When we got into Chelan Falls and to the take out park, there were only a small handful of the 22 boaters that would make their way down the river that Saturday. The flow was scheduled to be about 360 or so, to be ramped up a bit more on Sunday.


After getting out pink laminated permit cards, having a brief chat with the PUD representatives and our AW contact, conducting the usual BS session and shuttle coordination we were off to the put it, up a windy dirt road opened specially for us by the CCPUD. We stopped briefly to scout the crux gorge from the rim, looking at Entrance Exam, Throne Room, Pinnacle, Super Boof and Boulder Seive.


Once at the shallow cobble bar put in, a few more boaters from the Seattle area showed up. Including several folks who had been at the previous release two weeks prior. We welcomed the advice about each drop, most of us only having ing heard of or seen video of this stretch a few weeks before. On particular boater in a blue and white Burn seemed to know the line quite well and recommend several locations to set safety before paddling off down the gorge eventually leaving the one boater who followed him behind.

After some shallow cobbles, a few unremarkable drops on the toughest of which pushed class III, the walls rose, the bedrock appeard and we were catching the eddy above Entrance Exam. Aside from the aforementioned paddler, the 5 in my group were the first. As Nick, Mike, Martin, Phil, Travis stepped on the rocks, we wondered where our Bareback friend had gotten to. Our questions were answered shortly when we hopped our way down the rocks and found him standing, river left, at the exit hole to the rapid.

Entrance Exam is made by 4 ledges, each a bit sticker than the last. The first presented no problem to most, the second had a slightly tricky entrance and flipped a few.

Mike below ledge 1

Mike after Ledge 2

John in Ledge 3

Ian in Ledge 4

The third seemed fairly benign, though offered up some nice backenders. It was the fourth that most worried about. With its guard hole and flake, shallow left side and retentive right side, it had made several swim during the last release and this day would be no exception. I took to calling it Two out of Three since it seems, besides the first ledge, that you got to run any two of the remain three well. Heaven help you if you cleaned the middle two. We were naturally astounded that the speedy paddler on the rock below the drop would have run in, apparently without scouting and without safety, we signaled to him:

Question: “Did you” (pointing at him and miming paddling) run it?”

Reply: “Yes I did and its good (nodding and pointing at the left side of the drop).”

This exchanged was repeated several times since the hole was quite sticky and to run it without safety would have been some kind of madness. The answer was always affirmative, “Yes I did.”

Imagine the surprise then, when Mike and Nick reported to me they had observed a long curl of blue and white Pyrahna plastic at the seal lauch for the put it. “But,” we thought, “He said he ran it and pointed out the line so enthusiastically when we asked…” At some point this fellow paddled away and I didn’t see him again though I heard about an upside down line at one of the bigger drops, with a slide on the left and kind of ‘bar fight’ on the right.

All this was soon forgotten as we paddle off downstream. The group having consolidated at Entrance Exam, we were 21 strong. I didn’t get out of my boat again for a while, running the next drop with the help of Jared, a Seattle boater who seemed to be everywhere we needed him. There are c ouple lines that require a helping hand and a shove to end up on the correct side of some rock. Jared was always there to help out, for which, I think we are all grateful. This was followed up by Super Boof, a super sweet, no brainer boof with the option for a rock slide, or a straight boof.

Super boof

Next up was Throne Room.

At Throne Room, an off-vertical slide, with a kicker of a sticky hole that feeds into an overhanging right wall right above Pinnacle, a drop that had yet to be run when I was there, has an easy line, but don’t screw up. We saw a few wall splats, last minute rolls follow by folks diving onto the rocks to grab boaters before they was backwards into Pinnacle.

All portaged Pinnacle that day, though Mike looked at it for an eerily long time. I for one was glad when he finally shook his head, and prepared to portage. He just said “No safety.” A fair call since the Boulder Sieve was next up and the exit hole to Pinnacle was about as burly as you could find anywhere.

Mike takes one last look at Pinnacle before portaging

We were all once again assisted by Jared around the Boulder Sieve, and we were pretty much done. There happens to be some really shitty sievey manky crap downstream, some of which I ran underwater or upside down, some of which other paddlers lost paddles on, and some of which I hurt my shoulder on. After that, more of the same style couple bars brought us down to the confluence with the Columbia and the takeout where the friendly PUD and AW representatives were waiting with fresh cookies and a cooler full of cold soft drinks!

My take on the Chelan gorge? It’s worth it!

The water is warm so run the first rapid or you’ll wish you had while you are making your third sneak and second portage. Go when there is more water. Stuff will clean up and though you may not want to run Throne Room, you’ll be happier on the rest of it. I saw some photos of the higher flow Sunday, and I think I saw Pinnacle being run too. In general, you won’t find a river with water that clear, water that warm, rapids with that particular combination of challenge and consequence north of Ashland and south of Squamish. It’s unique, rare and worth doing at least once. I’ll head back for the next release, especially with a little more water.


Later, while chowing down calzones and pizza in town, the AW rep joined us. As we related the story of He-man, the speedy boater to him he confided that he had indeed seen the first paddler to come down, alone, in a blue and white boat, portage the first rapid. To which (perhaps beer induced ) cried of foul went up. As we put together the details in our addled brains, we realized, the early speedy start, the portage followed by the misleading “Yes I did” reply to our queries, meant only one thing: Premeditated Douchebagery. What is the world coming to? Remember however, the unnamed paddler is innocent until proven guilty and all evidence presented here is circumstantial and above all, good natured. I’m sure there is a perfectly logical explanation for the whole thing.

Check of the rest of the photos.