Monday, January 17, 2011

High Water Insanity on the Washougal River,Oregon

Yesterday was an epic day for boaters in the Pacific Northwest. Everything, and I mean everything, was flooding. The photos that have emerged of the rivers such as the White Salmon and the Clackamas are nothing but crazy! Some of us decided to head up to the Washougal River for a play run. The night prior (when we were planning) the flow was 2,600 with a forcast of heavy rain. We only expected it to rise to 6000 max. The morning of- 12,600! With those flows in mind we spoke to a good friend, Paul Kuthe about his experiences on the run at 14,000. He said he went as safety for a rafting team but that there was epic play to be had. It was big but you definitely wanted playboats. With that knowledge, we followed eachother up to the take out to find ourselves in shock at the flow. Little did we know, it was actually peaking t 20,000 cfs! The Washougal, to our knowledge, has never reached this flow and potentially has never been run higher than 14,000. ***Note- we just discovered the max flow to be reached in 1978- 26,000 cfs. WOW! So there you have it, it HAS been higher. I would be interested to see photos from that flood! We have a few photos from the shore but there were NO eddies and no way to get good shots of the day. One of the many people stopping to check out the river and see what we were doing, got some footage which completely lacks the perspective. ( I'll post the video later in this post.)
The put-in made all of us class five boaters pucker up. There wasn't really a spot to get in. The flow was so high that the trees were halfway underwater. I managed to find a "calm" eddy but that was me in denial. It was pretty chaotic really. This set the tone for the entire run and boy were we in for a day.

Just downstream from the put in we joined with the main Washougal from the North fork of the Washougal. In the first minute we heard what we thought was either thunder or shotgun...turns out the entire riverbed was shifting. Rocks were tumbling down the river with us. Definitely made us all feel insignificant. The run was quite possibly the most intense, biggest whitewater I have ever paddled. The crux of the day was a rapid (normally class 3 at 2,000 cfs) called Big Eddy. We scouted from the road but obviously could not grasp the true size. We all thought it looked like a few nice play waves and "stay right". Well, coming in to Big Eddy, I got hit by a tree coming down. It slammed down on my stern in one of the massive boils and sent me shooting forward. None of us stopped in the eddy that looked as though you couldn't get out of it. We rallied through waves that must have been 20+ feet tall and so completely non-uniform that there was very little "river reading" going on. There was a diagonal hole on the bottom left which we all avoided but we were ll thinking the same thing- "don't swim". We shot through the rapid only to find we were missing one person. Turns out, he eddied out above the rapid and as we thought, couldn't get out of the eddy. He had to hike up to the road with his boat. But we were starting to worry we were going to be on body recovery. Here is one of the rapids downstream of Big Eddy. It is shot by a onlooker....We show up in the video around 00:25.

I am so glad I jumped on the run and was very VERY happy to be with a competent crew. We all were humbled by the experience. Stay safe out there and if photos of the day come in, I will post them for sure!

Stay safe out there :)


Washougal Paddler said...
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Christina said...

Yes....yes they are. It was enormous. Can't believe it's been higher than 20,000! I cound't get Pat Welche's gauge to go back that far. Crazy.

Anonymous said...

Is that you in a Jackson? hmmmm...