Satsop, W, Fork, Washington, US
|Usual Difficulty||IV+ (for normal flows)|
FUN FACT: Two narrow and beautiful gorge sections make this a good low water run
SEASON: Through the winter and spring during moderately low water.
TAKEOUT: From Highway 101 just west of Montesano, take FR 22 approximately 29 miles north to FR 2260, also known as Simpson's 600 road. Follow FR 2260 to the east for 4.7 miles to a bridge over the West Fork Satsop. This is actually just south of the National Forest Boundary--hopefully the access gate will remain open. For current information on roads check the Olympic National Forest web site (check rec reports for Hood Canal District - South) or call (360) 877-5254.
PUT-IN: Follow FR 2260 back to FR 22 and head north for 5.0 miles, then turn east onto FR 23. Continue east for 1.7 miles (take the left fork about 1 mile along which will actually put you on FR 2372). You'll see an entrance to the Satsop Work Center (a complex of buildings) and there is a turn off for FR 640 (no sign) just past the work center entrance. Follow this road, which cuts back to the southwest for just over 0.1 mile to another entrance to the work center. There is a trail down to the river here (directly across the road from the driveway). It's not marked and not regularly maintained.
DESCRIPTION: The West Fork of the Satsop Gorge run has all the features of an Olympic Peninsula run: beautiful scenery in an incredible gorge, plenty of wood, and a couple heinous portages (it's a good idea to plan for a minimum of 5 hours for this run). Although many of the rapids individually rate class IV-, the limited access and necessity of catching quick eddies above portages makes this no place for anyone with less than solid IV+ creek boating skills.
The run starts out in a short class II section that leads into a narrow gorge. Most of the first gorge is IV- read and run (video of first rapid, 2.3 MB), but a couple of blind corners require that you get out to at least check for wood. In one rapid the river cuts through a narrow slot on river left that may be runnable, but its ability to collect wood most likely makes it a mandatory portage. Even if it were clean of wood, pinning in the slot is a distinct possibility.
After the main rapids in this first gorge, the river squeezes through a spectacular box canyon, little more than 10' wide. Just before leaving the first gorge you will pass under the FR 23 bridge which is high overhead. A short distance past the bridge the gradient tapers and you enter another class II section. This is the last place with easy road access. If the first gorge was a white knuckle experience and you're ready to exit then get out on river right and head up towards FR 23 which parallels the first gorge on river right. Although several spur roads come near the edge of the second gorge, it would require miles of hiking to get to your vehicle if you could find a way out of the canyon.
After the short class II section between the gorges, the second gorge starts off with more fun III+ and IV- rapids. Near the beginning of this gorge, however, you reach the main challenge of the run when you come to "Jaws". Here the river plunges 25' through a sequence of falls, ledges, and sieves. If there were no wood someone might find a route through (class VI or possibly V+ depending on what slots are available), but for most of us this is a mandatory portage and it's not a simple one. If it's your first run, approach this section with caution and stay well spaced. Although there are some good eddies at moderately low water, you would not want to stumble into this rapid. As far as the portage goes, the canyon walls are steeper than they look and it would be a long fall to the river if you slipped. There are a couple of potential portage options, but all require a bit of contemplation (plan for adequate daylight) and some rope. One option that keeps you near river level is a 21' seal launch on river left (video clip 0.6 MB).
After the portage around Jaws the river picks up with the river's longest section of nearly continuous IV- read and run rapids. Stay alert for log hazards and enjoy the run--the hard part is over. Once the gradient tapers off and the rapids give way to class II riffles you're within a few meander bends of the bridge.
lat/long approximated by Tiger map server
for additional information see
A comprehensive guide to 75 river runs on Washington's beautiful Olympic Peninsula.