More than two decades after we first investigated the recreational potential of a restored White
Salmon River, and a year after a blast of dynamite punched a hole in the base of Condit Dam, the
river is now navigable from the headwaters all the way down to the Columbia River! On October
31st, PacifiCorp completed all in-water work in the stretch of river from Northwestern Park to
the Columbia River. This technically challenging new stretch of whitewater is now open to
paddlers with the skill set to enjoy it safely.
"The restoration of a free-flowing river is an exciting event for the whitewater boating
community," said Thomas O’Keefe, Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director for American
Whitewater. "Paddling the restored reach will be a treasured yet challenging experience for
many paddlers. Downstream from the stretch of river near Northwestern Park the river enters the
White Salmon Narrows, a dramatic canyon guarded by a rapid with powerful hydraulics that only
expert paddlers should attempt to navigate."
The changing nature of the riverbed and high potential for wood in this section combine with
vertical canyon walls and challenging terrain to create a section of river that is more hazardous
than the majority of the rapids easily viewable from the road or Northwestern Park would
indicate. The White Salmon Narrows are more consequential than the Middle White Salmon, and
paddlers running this section of river should be solid class IV boaters comfortable
running unfamiliar sections of river. Any swim could be very hazardous.
1) This river has a large volume of wood, including both naturally recruited wood that continues
to move through the system from last year's storm and waterlogged logs that were buried in
the reservoir sediments. The White Salmon Narrows is a significant constriction point downstream
of the dam site where log-jams have formed in the past and will form in the future. The Narrows
is extremely difficult to scout from water level (you can not see all the way downstream).
Scouting this section from above is currently not an option, as the shoreline is still restricted
while PacifiCorp continues restoration work along the old flowline.
2) The entrance drop to the White Salmon Narrows, Steelhead Falls, forms a significant hydraulic
comparable in difficulty to BZ Falls as flows increase. While only a handful of individuals have
had an opportunity to scout this drop, initial reports indicate that it is a Class IV ledge at
lower water levels on the Husum gage, but increasing to a Class V drop as flows increase. A swim
at Steelhead Falls could be very consequential, as the swimmer will either recirculate or end up
swimming through the Narrows. A portage is possible on river left, but footing is poor and one
must traverse a narrow basalt ledge. As flows increase this portage option appears to become less
3) At this time, there are no options to exit the river below Northwestern Park until you reach
the Bonneville Pool on the Columbia River. In the future it may be possible to exit the river
before reaching Steelhead Falls and reaching the Narrows, but at this time, PacifiCorp is working
in the area on restoration efforts that will take another year. If paddlers terminate their runs
early in an attempt to exit the river corridor before reaching the Narrows, the likely outcome
will be that PacifiCorp will shut down boating until all restoration work is complete (likely
another year or more). It's important that paddlers avoid recently planted vegetation and
respect the privacy and property of cabin owners in the area. Avoid parking on cabin access roads
or traversing through cabin areas, and instead access the river at the public access point at
American Whitewater wishes to thank PacifiCorp and contractor J.R. Merit for their work and
attention on improving safety for boating in the new reach. Following removal of the dam in
September, the company spent over a month to address safety hazards in the gorge, including the
removal of over 60 waterlogged logs. These logs had been buried in the reservoir and subsequently
become wedged in the Narrows as a result of the dam breach. While the removal of these logs
provides no guarantee regarding the future navigability of the Narrows, and the potential for
future wood hazards, PacifiCorp has completed their job to address the impacts of the dam breach.
Be safe and have fun!
And if you are inspired, consider a special contribution
recognition of today's remarkable acheivement.
Sometime in late November or December, Williams Northwest Pipeline will be conducting
maintenance activities on its existing 26-inch natural gas pipeline located within the upper
reaches of the former Northwestern Lake. These activities will include construction around and
over the White Salmon River. The maintenance area is approximately 0.70 river miles
downstream from the Castle and 0.24 river miles upstream from the Northwestern Lake Road Bridge
and the Northwestern Lake Park where the pipeline crosses the river. In order to ensure the
safety of boaters, rafters, anglers and residents in the area, the project will require closing a
portion of the White Salmon River at the pipeline crossing described above on certain days from
late November through December 2012. More specific closure information is forthcoming.