Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Olympic National Park

One of the regions neither of us had ever been to before this trip was the Olympic Peninsula of Washington.  It was finally time to go explore the lush hidden canyons filled with supposedly scary and at times unportageable whitewater that fall from the glaciated peaks high in the Olympic National Park.  First on the list was the Grand Canyon of the Elwha.

In typical fashion, we left the Cispus later than expected and then had to spend some extra time resolving some car troubles and buying our food for the river, resulting in a 2 am arrival in the Elwha take out parking lot.  To our surprise, there was another kayaking vehicle there, loaded with boats but with no signs of paddlers.  In the morning, there was still no sign of the other paddlers, so Tom headed down to the ranger station to grab a permit while I oversaw a large and marginally successful gear drying operation.  Eventually Tom returned with a permit and the paddlers came out of their campsite in the bushes to reveal themselves, and it was the Kiwis.  Turned out their original trip vehicle had died so they had replaced it with a sweet minivan.  Jordy and Ari were down to join us but Barney and Chris had to abort due to a medical issue.  So, after a lazy morning of packing the 4 of us headed up the trail and into the lush Olympic forest.  Fortunately, the hike isn't too steep or long so Tom and I took our sweet time, rolling up the trail slowly to find the Kiwis had already sussed out a sweet riverside campsite.

TJ early in the hike surrounded by lush ferns.  Photo: JJ.

JJ cruising through the moss and huge trees.  Photo: TJ.

River side camping along the Elwha River.  Photo: TJ.

After a lazy morning, we headed down into the verdant crack in the earth that is the Grand Canyon of the Elwha.  The walls quickly closed in and the portaging, and sometimes scouting, options disappeared.  Fortunately, low water levels (700ish) and the current configuration of a formerly unscoutable rapid named nightmare made things pretty manageable.  Naturally, paddling with kiwis had us blazing down through the canyon of electric blue water quickly and soon enough we were eating lunch in the open section below the Grand Canyon.

Ari Walker leaning into Eskimo Pie.  Photo: TJ.

TJ heading into the easy part on Nightmare.  Photo: JJ.

JJ and Jordy Searle enjoying the canyon downstream of Nightmare.  Photo: TJ.

After lunch, the river quickly gorged back up into the shorter, smaller, and less committing Rico Canyon.  There were a few surprising rapids in there but we all handled them well and quickly the canyon started to dissipate.  As we continued, we started paddling into what is now the bathtub ring of the former Lake Mills Reservoir thanks to the removal of Glines Canyon Damn shortly before our trip.  As of 2014, we were required to hike out due to instability at the damn site, but hopefully in the near future paddling out through the old damn site will be a possibility.  Regardless, the Elwha lived up to its reputation as a scenic gem with some seriously locked in whitewater.

Ari rolling into a stout one in Rico Canyon.  Photo: TJ.

TJ as we enter into the bathtub ring of the old reservoir.  Photo: JJ. 

JJ looking further into the bathtub ring.  Photo: TJ. 

TJ getting ready to hike up the hill.  Photo: JJ.

 After a rest day in Forks to allow a rain storm to pass through and hopefully bring levels up a little, we headed down the peninsula to the Quinault region of the park with our eyes fixed on the North Fork of the Quinault.  Reputed to be even steeper and more locked into a slot canyon we were both excited and nervous to get the hike over with and drop into another slot canyon.

Again, hiking in the Olympic National Park did not disappoint with fern gully style scenery and an abundance of lush ferns and greenery everywhere.  This time the hike was significantly longer although no steeper.  We dropped our camping gear at the base of the steep whitewater and carried our boats up for a few more miles before retreating back to camp.  Only one thing was concerning, the river had lost a significant amount of water due to the various tributaries that came in below the canyon, and looked a little on the scratchy side (750 cfs on the gauge).  Oh well, when you've just carried your boats more than 10 miles up a river, there's nothing to do but paddle back down.

North Fork Quinault Valley resident.  Photo: TJ.

And the next morning, that's exactly what we did.  After carrying our boats upstream a little further to find an easy spot to get down to the river, we quickly geared up and headed downstream.  The minimal flow was abusive, but as the river gorged up and the flow channelized things came together nicely.  The canyon was spectacular and the water was incredibly clear and beautiful.  The rapids were good and manageable, and as they kept coming, we stayed on our toes looking for the glowing wall, which supposedly was the crux must run rapid.  The low flow made things a little rocky but allowed for some scouting that might not have been possible at higher flows.  After running plenty of somewhat scary but not too bad rapids, the canyon started to open up and suddenly we were back at our campsite.  Apparently the glowing wall had changed and was no longer the blind and mandatory 12 footer it once was.  Regardless, the canyon was magical and definitely worth the effort to get up there.  After grabbing our camping gear, we headed downstream, appreciative of tributaries adding extra flow just in time to keep the paddle out from being too frustrating.

JJ below what I think is the former glowing wall rapid.  Photo: TJ.

This canyon is beautiful!  Photo:JJ.

JJ staring down into more commitment.  Photo: TJ.

Here's a link to TJ's sweet video from the trip: https://vimeo.com/127317256

Not really wanting to travel much, we decided to try a quick trip on the main Quinault through a short but intense canyon.  After a quick hike up the 3 miles to Pony Bridge, we scrambled down to the river and put on.  After a short bit of flatwater, the river rapidly gorged up and headed into a class III rapid underneath a huge log jam.  With no portage options, and not wanting to paddle back up to the bridge to hike back down, we debated the options for running the rapid.  We both thought we could make the slalom moves through the log jam, but it's not exactly what you like to see entering a slot canyon with unportageable rapids.  Nevertheless, stubbornness got the best of us and we dropped in.  The log slalom went off without too many issues and we were quickly forced out by a walled out sieve pile.  Fortunately, we could portage over the boulders on the top right and seal launch into the run out.  Afterwards, the river opened up quite a bit with only a few more good rapids on the way down to the take out at Graves Creek.  The main Quinault doesn't quite stack up to the North Fork or the Elwha, but it's a good option if you're in the area and short on time or will to hike long distances carrying a torture device.
JJ boofing out of the sieved out rapid.  Photo: TJ.

The Olympics were spectacular, but water had run out, so it was time to head north for the cascades!

Into Washington

After more than 2 months of gypsy living, we finally took a break in White Salmon, thanks to our Uncle Jim and Aunt Cindy who have called it home for something like 40 years hosting us for about 10 days despite being super busy preparing for their daughter's wedding.  We spent quite a few of those days enjoying the Little White and Green Truss and even got to paddle with our Dad from Husum to the Columbia through the old Condit Dam site.

 TJ boofing into Husum Falls.  Photo: SJ

 JJ cruising into the big hole on the Lower White Salmon.  Photo: TJ

Our dad in action on the Lower White Salmon.  Photo: TJ 

JJ boofing into Stovepipe on the Little White Salmon.  Photo: TJ 

JJ with another Spirit Falls lap.  So Good!  Photo: TJ 

Eventually the water was running low in White Salmon and all out family had left following our cousin's wedding, so it was time to head north to the Ohanepecosh and the Upper Upper Cispus (after one more Green Truss lap).  We had great times with big crews on both runs despite low water on the Ohane and high water on the Cispus which unfortunately drove most of the crew to walk out at Behemoth.

Unknown paddler on the classic Ohanepecosh waterfall.  Photo: TJ 

Unknown paddler crushing the Ohanepecosh waterfall.  Photo: JJ 

Joe Keck getting amongst it in Elbow Room.  Photo: JJ

JJ probing a large hole at the Island Drop on the Upper Upper Cispus.  Photo: TJ 

Despite premium juicy flows on the Upper Upper Cispus, we decided to head on in search of what this trip was all about... camping out of our boats on beautiful remote rivers.  In Washington this means one thing, we were headed to the Olympic Peninsula!