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Chelan Gorge Whitewater Paddling

Posted: 07/08/2009
By: Thomas O'Keefe

The Chelan Gorge Recreational Releases present whitewater boating opportunities that will be available for two weekends this July. American Whitewater has invested more than a decade of effort into bringing this opportunity to the paddling community of the Pacific Northwest, and we are excited to kick off the first weekend of releases.

During the relicensing process several parties including the utility raised serious objections to whitewater recreation on this reach given the hazards of the gorge. The utility, federal regulators, and the local community will be carefully evaluating the success of these releases, and a report will be filed at the end of year 3 for review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It is imperative that everyone understand that this review is taking place and our actions will be evaluated. Our actions will have implications for the future of this run and other runs throughout the region and across the country on regulated rivers.

All paddlers considering this run need to carefully evaluate their skill level and understand that continued access to this river and the opportunity depends on our ability to safely enjoy it.

There is at least one section of the central gorge that is particularly challenging with a very short recovery pool between the Throne and Pinnacle Falls. Pinnacle Falls is a steep approximately 20' falls with a deadly boulder sieve just below. If boaters run the Throne it is imperative that safety be set below the Throne as a swim over Pinnacle Falls would likely be fatal. This rapid and others on the run may have changed significantly since the only recorded descent nearly a decade ago.

It is extremely important that all boaters who sign up to paddle this reach carefully consider the difficulty of the run. The rapids require solid class V paddling skills and during the first few releases, only those with solid class V exploratory experience should attempt this run. This is emphatically not a run where aspiring class IV+ paddlers or occasional class V paddlers should consider making the jump to class V.

With this in mind American Whitewater is providing some recommendations:

1) All paddlers need to sign up online with Chelan PUD and check in at Chelan Falls Park (the take-out) on the day of the run. Representatives from Chelan PUD and American Whitewater will be present by 9 am and we can help answer any questions on logistics. You will also need to fill out a liability waiver. The water will be available at 11 am and will be 300 to 375 cfs on Saturday and 400 to 450 cfs on Sunday.

2) There is an opportunity to scout parts of the run from the cliffs above. These cliffs are extremely unstable and there have been fatalities when individuals have lost their footing. There is also a Golden Eagle nest high in the gorge and we do not want to disturb the eagles.

3) Currently we have approximately 20 people registered for the run. We have plenty of people to justify the release and nobody should feel that they have to register to "demonstrate interest".  Please keep in mind your river etiquette and launch schedules so we don’t get everyone bunched up in the gorge.  Make sure there is always an uncrowded eddy available downstream!

4) Everyone should review the video of the run prior to attending the release. This is available on Chelan PUD's website. Short clips are also available on the American Whitewater website.

5) All boaters must be off the water by 6 pm. We recommend that all boaters be on the water by 2 pm at the latest. During the initial whitewater recreation study in 2000, paddlers took approximately 4 hours to run this section.  During the first year it is particularly important that everyone allow plenty of time to safely scout and set overlapping safety.

6) We are requesting that boaters not come with the intention of running multiple laps. We are asking that everyone take plenty of time to carefully scout and learn the run – take pictures, go slow, enjoy the run. The success of these first couple weekends will be judged not on the number of paddlers or the number of trips, but on our ability to be safe and be off the water well before 6 pm. All paddlers will be requested to fill out a survey of their experience on the river upon completion of the run.

7) Several individuals have asked about inflatables. In response to concerns raised by the PUD we agreed that "only non-motorized hard-shelled kayaks suitable for Class V whitewater will be permitted." We request that individuals do not challenge this policy at this time but constructive feedback is useful.

8) We are seeking two volunteers to assist with logistics on the two weekends of releases in July. If you are interested in heading out to the event but don't to see the restoration of this river but don't intend to do the run we could use your help. Please contact American Whitewater.

For those with the skills to safely enjoy it, this run represents an outstanding resource unlike any other in the region.

Thomas O'Keefe

3537 NE 87th St.

Seattle, WA 98115

Phone: 425-417-9012
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Chelan Flow Study (5/28/2024)

Recreational flow study for the Chelan River in Washington State.

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Chelan (WA)

AW has worked to restore flows and provide public access to the Chelan Gorge

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