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Trip Report: Middle and Lower White Salmon

Yesterday Kathy and I made the trip up the Columbia River gorge to Hood River, paid the dollar toll to cross the Columbia and headed to the White Salmon. We stopped by the takeout first, because I had not seen it and I was to be the one who would drive and hitchhike the shuttle. My previous trip to the White Salmon had involved running only the section known as the "Middle" which begins at BZ Corner and ends at Husum Falls. I had heard about the "Lower" as being just a few more miles of pleasant class II, and wanted to see it. The run to Husum is short anyway, so why not run 7-8 miles of river instead of only 4.5?

So I dropped off Kathy and the boats at the put-in, and drove to the takeout. There was a raft trip taking out, and I schmoozed the guides to see if I could get a ride with them, but they were noncommittal, so I started the walk up to the highway where I would stick out my thumb and take my chances. It's a pretty big hill up to the highway, so whenever I heard a car coming up behind me I stuck out my thumb. The first vehicle was full. The second one was a large rafting van with only two raft guides on board, and they stopped for me.

One of the guides was named Shawn, and had worked a decade for the Nantahala Outdoor Center. We knew some of the same people, and traded stories all the way to Zolar, the outfitter where they work. It was only a block walk up to the putin, and Kathy was surprised to see me show up in such good time.

The cool thing about the BZ Corner put-in is the boat-sliding ramp. With a kayak you put the boat crossways on two rails, and walk down to the water, occasionally lifting the boat over breaks in the rail. It really saves your shoulders, because carrying a kayak the usual way makes you lopsided. Kathy chatted as we walked down to the water, and we set our boats down on the basalt shelf by the river. There was a pack of three young male boaters behind us, and they were already dressed out and immediately got into their boats and headed downstream. Kathy and I took our time in the shade, enjoying the quiet of the place.

She had expected the river to be swarmed with raft trips and kayakers, but those three boys were the only boaters we saw on the river. We donned our river gear slowly and launched in the middle of a pretty good class III rapid.

The last time I was at this place, I was quaking. My heart was pounding, my hands were shaking, and I was uncomfortable. This time I felt right at home. I am not sure of the difference. I think my fear on the first run may be attributed to the input I was getting from a certain boater who wanted to warn me abstrusely about every hazard, making me worry that I was in over my head. After having run it once, I was no longer afraid. I knew full well that I can run every line available and do it in style, that I can surf every wave and hole and come out smiling. So the second run was far more enjoyable.

Last time the water level was over 2 feet. This time the water level was 1.75 according to the gauge at Husum. I suppose many people would call that low water, but to me it was still plenty. Only a few rapids were beginning to get rocky enough to require real skill of a rubber-pusher. In a kayak those were easy. Some of the steeper drops were getting blind and chaotic, as the river-bottom came into fuller expression on the water's surface. I was a flurry of eddy hopping, and pretty soon Kathy stopped bombing down Western style and playing the river along with me. It was really fun.

The White Salmon is also quite lovely. The water has a glacial blue to it, and there are flowers along the banks, and occasional springs gushing into the river. The forest is mixed conifers, mostly, though there are lots of alders in the riverbottom.

On the final approach to Husum falls I caught an eddy, because I was unsure of my bearings, and Kathy ran it first. When I saw her blades flashing below the drop I peeled out and aced the drop, feeling two impacts, one as the bottom of my boat hit the boof rock, and one as I pancaked on the frothing water below. I let out a whoop, and Kathy smiled. She had also aced it. There was no one there to see us, and that made it all the better. I love having a river all to myself!

The lower section has several technical class II rapids at the beginning, and we worked those little rapids as hard as we could. After the rapids run out there is a small surf wave called "the cave wave" and we worked it for a while, but it wasn't that good. You could only bow surf in one narrow little lane to the right of the pile, and if you went too far right the wave flattened and dumped you off. The pile was not big enough to stay in, so I quickly tired of that wave. There had been better surf waves upstream, mixed in the rapids.

We floated at a leisurely pace to the takeout. After loading up we headed west on the Washington side of the Columbia, stopping at the Walking Man brewpub for a bite and a brew before heading home. I think the town was called Henderson....or something like that. Pretty cool place. "A town with a beer habit and a windsurfing problem"...

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
neptunia67
Sep. 14th, 2008 10:35 pm (UTC)
That sounds like a fantastic day!
marijkab
Sep. 14th, 2008 11:31 pm (UTC)
Wow, I haven't heard that many catchy boater phrases in quite a while!! rubber-pushers and bombing down Western style... very entertaining, thank you!
One of these days I'll be a rubber-pusher again, I hope. Glad you got some water time!!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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