Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Upper East Fork Lewis (WA): III+ (V)

With a bunch of rain in the Lewis drainage, we were skunked on Canyon Creek and even Copper Creek was suspected to be too high. We came up with an alternate plan of running the upper East Fork of the Lewis River. The Waterfall run is extremely well-known as a classic class IV creeking run with two big yet friendly waterfalls. We continued up the road past the normal put-in for about four miles before hitting snow and decided to make that our put-in. We put in just below a river-wide strainer and that set the pace for the next few miles.

The creek kept a continuous gradient somewhere around 120 fpm. The flow spreads out a lot and we didn't have much water anyway, so hydraulics were not an issue. Wood was. Everything below our put-in was navigable, but we had to boof over one log hazard and I ended up getting out of my boat briefly to portage one log. Everyone else made it around, but I took a different channel that dead ended into a strainer.

After a couple miles of continuous manky boulder gardens with wood, we rounded the corner above Tombstone. Tombstone is a nasty class V where all the water goes over a six-foot drop and powers into a rock. There is a very thin line to get left of the rock, but none of us elected to take it that day. Tombstone is preceeded by a funky class IV+ ledge that just didn't look to be worth the risk of getting swept over Tombstone. We all portaged the entire section on the right. The portage isn't very dangerous, but certainly annoying.

Below Tombstone, the river cleans up considerably, but the gradient drops off. We all cruised down a mile of class II boogey water dotted with a few class III+ ledges. I quickly got a little lazy and got woken up by one of the steeper drops of the run. I got a little close to the paddler in front of me as we came up to a five-foot ledge. As I dropped in, I noticed he was getting pulled back into the hole at the bottom. I quickly went for plan B and paddled hard, but my Huka is hole bait and I was drawn back in. I bucked around for a second and braced hard downstream, but then the ride calmed down quite a bit. I took a few deep breaths and relaxed a little while surfing as my friends cheered me on from the eddy below. It was a fairly tame hole ride, but I still couldn't get out of it. I tried surfing to the left, then the right, then left again, but nothing was working. Eventually I turned by boat downstream, gave it a big backstroke to push my stern into the green water, and got launched downstream and upside-down with a big ender. I dug deep to reach some green water, flushed out, and rolled up.

After a few more similar ledges, we came to the horizon line at Sunset Falls. At this flow, the middle line looked particularly good and we all fired it off one by one. On my first run I boofed a little too early, but still landed upright. I just had to do that again, so I hiked up the little trail on river right for a second lap. The second time around, I blew my entrance and got shoved left. I went around the boof flake and into a deep seam. I pencilled in without tucking and went deep. My paddle blades caught a lot of water and ripped the blade out of my left hand, straining my shoulder in the process. I drifted around upside down in the pool for several seconds before I got my bearings, found my paddle again, and rolled up.

There are a couple different options for a take-out on this run. The best one is probably to finish at Sunset and hike to the road. We got permission from Mike Olson to take out at his place just downstream on the left, and we had a fantastic host while we changed into dry clothes in his shop. Just above his house we ran Sky Pilot, which was in my mind the most fun and challenging rapid of the trip.

Flows: when we launched, the EF Lewis Gauge was reading 2000 cfs at Heisson. This was juicy for the waterfall run, but pretty low for the upper section. If I were to do this section again, I would drive up the road until it starts looking thin and just put in where ever access looked good. The section below Tombstone contained the best rapids and clean drops on the run.

Overall, the difficulty wasn't more than class III most of the time. We could always see the bottom of rapids and boat scouted everything. The consequences are definitely class IV however, with lots of wood in the upper reaches and a narrow window to eddy out before the portage at Tombstone. This is a good fall back run if the water is too high on the surrounding runs, but I would only put in above Tombstone again at higher water.

1 comment:

Will Volpert said...

Dear Dan Thurber,

I miss being on the water with you. Please come with me a river adventure sometime soon.

Your Friend,