Pilchuck River, Washington, US
|Usual Difficulty||III+(IV) (for normal flows)|
|PILCHUCK RIVER NEAR SNOHOMISH, WA|
|usgs-12155300||900 - 2000 cfs||III+(IV)||00h44m||482 cfs (too low)|
FUN FACT: Something different
ACCESS: The take-out is at the Menzel Lake Rd. Bridge across the river just south of Granite Falls. Parking is limited but there is some space along a dead-end street that parallels the river on upstream river right. To reach the put-in, it's mostly a hike. Drive 0.8 miles north from the take-out bridge and turn east onto a forest road. Within a hundred yards you'll need to park and start walking (expect to meet a crowd of ATV riders). Bennett describes a put-in 5.5 miles up this road just upstream of the Boulder Creek confluence in his guidebook, but the rapids above the canyon are a bit trashy and most won't find them worth the walk. If you can ever get a vehicle in then you may want to boat this section down to the canyon. To reach the lower put-in above the canyon study the topo map (1:25000 scale) carefully (the stream network doesn't exactly match what's printed in the Gazeeteer and you would not want to end up just below the canyon). From the put-in, you'll pass close to the river twice (where the river comes right up to the edge of the road) and then cross the first major trib at Worthy Creek. From here continue on to the next spot where you can see the river. The river will be further down the ravine at this third spot and you can just see the end of the canyon upstream. Continue on along the canyon (although it will be difficult to see any of the river) past another major trib (smaller than Worthy Creek though) and at this point you should be about 4 miles along on your hike. Another major road cuts off to the left, but if you continue on a short distance you should find a less developed jeep trail that cuts down to the right. Although there may be some bushwacking this should take you to within about 0.3 miles of the start of the canyon.
SHUTTLE: Either hike or arrange a shuttle with one of the locals on their ATV.
The Pilchuck River (a Snohomish trib), not to be confused with more popular Pilchuck Creek (a Stilliguamish trib) to the north, can be a bit of a mixed bag: the put-in road is closed to vehicles so it requires a walk in; while the river itself offers a beautiful wilderness-like settting in places, the buzz of ATV's on the trail to the put-in is a near constant reminder that it's not; and while the run has some great rapids, most class IV paddlers will wish there were more and tentative class III paddlers will find the canyon to be a little much (video of put-in road). Despite these shortcomings, it's a beautiful river and the run makes a good adventure when you're looking to do something different. Although good intermediate paddlers (class III/IV) should be able to handle this run, just be aware of log hazards that can increase the danger factor and occur anywhere along the run.
From Boulder Creek the river pounds through class III- boulder gardens and cobble bars. While this section might be fun at the higher range of flows, it can get a little boney and you'll probably find some wood to portage. The gradient is consistent and there are no good breaks creating defined rapids, and overall it's a bit trashy.
A short distance below the confluence with Kelly Creek the river cuts through a beautiful bedrock gorge. The rapids in this canyon section are all too short, but are the highlight of the run. The first rapid is a maze of medium-size boulders requiring class IV moves to negotiate. At the lower range of flows (900 cfs is about the limit on this one) there are a couple good options for working your way through and at the higher range of flows the slots become wider (video looking upstream at 900 cfs). The river takes a short pause and then cuts a course through an even longer class IV rapid. After a sequence of two ledges and after negotiating several smaller boulders the river winds around the right side of a large mid-stream boulder and then hops over two more fun ledges (video looking upstream at the lower end of this drop). Stay alert for wood and what could be a nasty sieve on river left at some levels. A short distance after this lower rapid the canyon begins to open up and you'll see the road high above.
From here the river meanders back and forth across the valley floor as you negotiate several cobble bars and smaller boulder gardens that are mostly class II. Just as you're thinking that the whitewater is over, the river hits a couple of nice gradient breaks for some fun class II/III drops. After three or four of these the river pools up behind a dam. It's about 15' high and you'll see the distinct horizon line and concrete dam house on river right (video of dam). Take out on river left and portage.