White Salmon River (Lower Lower)
|Stretch:||Northwestern Lake Rd to Columbia River|
|Difficulty:||Class III (V-)|
|Flows:||500 to 2,000 cfs. Check out American Whitewater's current flow gauge.|
|Gradient:||50 fpm average for 3 miles, then 27 fpm|
|Put-in:||Boat ramp off of Northwestern Lake Rd|
|Take-out:||Access on WA-141 just off of WA-14 at the confluence of the White Salmon and Columbia Rivers|
|Shuttle:||5.4 miles, <10 minutes one way|
|Featured in A Wet State #140|
Jobless Summer 2019 Roadtrip - Day 11c:
Alright, here is the real gem of the “Lower” White Salmon. This section was the main reason I wanted to do the sections below Green Truss. This section up until 2011 was rarely run, because there was a dam just above it that dewatered it and prevented access to the canyon in the rare cases where water was present. The Condit Dam removal project was the first major dam removal in the country and opened the river for fish spawning again in a major win for environmentalists. So, I wanted to experience this place now that it is once again available for recreational uses.
The run starts where the lake use to start. The initial stretch is mellow but moving as you work your way down what was under water for almost 100 years. Soon, you round the corner and begin to enter quite pretty canyons. You will go through one tight pinch before you get to the main canyon which holds in its grasp the rapid that makes everyone venturing into this run nervous, Steelhead Falls. This drop can be scouted or portaged on the left with the assistance of some cabling. It consists of a class III lead in to a stout ledge. You can boof the ledge at certain flows, ours was one of those flows. The normal line is down the far left where the ledge ramps around the meat of the hole. The center and right lands in a strong pocket that would keep a boater and swimmer until a rope is sent in to pull them out. It is a serious spot. Hence my surprise when our friend just boated in and boofed the meat of it on faith. Thankfully he cleared it with a good boof so Diane and I followed suit immediately after. Downstream is a super pretty canyon that is truly a pleasure to enjoy and worth making the trip. Additionally, if you have a squirty boat, there is some great squirting in here as well. Downstream the walls peel back and you have a short flat paddle to the confluence with the Columbia, and be warned… you may also have a wicked head wind to fight with the flat water.
We had 830 cfs, I thought it was a great flow for the section, and specifically for running the meat of Steelhead Falls. Though I wouldn’t recommend running it blind and without safety like we did. And the move is a stout and consequential boof so encourage people who are coming up to scout, sneak, or portage the drop to avoid a nasty swim.
After getting off the river and running shuttle, we headed back to camp. Matt joined us at camp, along with my brother and his gf Olga. We cooked some food, drank some beer, and had an all around good night.
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- Boogie (II+ to III-). Then on a right turn you start to get some fun boogie rapids, though still under what used to be the lake.
- Dam Site (III). The first good rapid, and scenic spot is exactly where the dam used to be. This bedrock pinch was best run right to left, you then enter a super nice but short bedrock walled section with some waterfalls coming in.
- Gorge Entrance (III-). The gorge proper begins with some nice wavetrains. It is not the time to mess up as it isn’t too far to the main event.
- Steelhead Falls (V-). This rapid is harder and for sure more consequential than Husum Falls. There are ropes on the left shore to aid scouting and portaging. The normal line is down the left to avoid the meat of the hole. We ran down the boogie lead in and just fired away blindly over the right of center on the obvious boof spot there. It isn’t a great idea, Diane actually caught an eddy on the right at the lip, then our friend fired off. He made it through, so Diane and I followed. The hole is legit, so is the boil, and so is the wall that the boil pushes you to. Rescue would be tough there. Left is much safer for sure. Downstream is another small ledge that is fine. There is then a walled-out canyon though no rapids are contained within.
The rest of the gorge is chill, but super super pretty
- Powerhouse (II). The powerhouse is on the left, downstream is one last rapid that is fine, just stay off the left shore as there is a wrap rock over there.
Take-out: From White Salmon, take WA-14 for 2.8 miles towards the coast. Just before crossing the White Salmon, turn right on WA-141 and park immediately. That is take-out.
Put-in: Continue up WA-141 for 2.1 miles before turning left to stay on WA-141. Follow it for an additional 1.9 miles before turning left on Northwestern Lake Rd. In 0.3 miles this crosses the river, the access is on the far side.
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