GAUGE: The gauge recommendations are only accurate if flows are dropping. A flow of 1,200 rising to 2,500 and stable was too high for a safe trip through the Upper Upper Sitkum (Jan 16, 2016).
The Sitkum can be divided into four sections on its way to the confluence with the South Fork Calawah: a class IV/V section, a class V section, a class IV section, and a class II/III section. In theory you could run all of these together but it would make for a long day, particularly during the short days of winter when the river is generally flowing.
Upper Upper Sitkum, 2.5 miles
This is a class IV-V with at least 3 clean 10 -15 foot vertical waterfalls, multiple slides and holes to punch. Although this run is not found in the Korb guidebook, it is one of the best creek runs on the Olympic Peninsula. While the run is short, it can be a full day on your first trip down. Once you know the lines, you can lap it.
The run starts off with a fun flume down the right and then you arrive at the first horizon line, a beautiful double drop falls that is tricky to scout. You run the first drop to the right of center and then follow the main tongue down the left on the second smaller drop. You soon some to a second falls that can be easily scouted on the right. Scout carefully and choose your line or opt for the portage down the slippery rocks on the right. The next drop is 50/50, a fun flume that banks off the right wall into a tricky hydraulic that can be more challenging than it looks. The drop continues with a fun run out through a narrow mini gorge. Be on your toes in the drop just below 50/50 as the boil pushes to the right into a shallow cave.
***in 2017 the right wall of 50/50 collapsed, creating a messy rapid. It can be portaged left, maybe as the debris settles the rapid will become more runnable***
Next up is a great 10' waterfall with a nice boof that you can run down the center. It's an easy scout on the left but a portage would be a challenge. Another fun slide follows and if it has been raining, waterfalls will be cascading off the bedrock wall to the left.
After the main whitewater section, the river opens up a bit and the whitewater tapers off. Keep your eyes peeled for elk in this section. You will pass one potential take-out where you can see the road easily. A couple more fun rapids await downstream and then you reach another falls as you enter the gorge of the Upper Sitkum. If you are done for the day, you can follow a game-trail up to the road from the lip of this woody falls, alternatively, you can run or portage the falls and continue through the last couple drops to the Brandeberry Creek confluence.
Upper Sitkum, 3.5 miles
The run starts out at Brandeberry Creek with about 3.5 miles of intermittent class V creek action, a couple of which you may want to portage. Korb notes numerous undercuts, potholes and pinning opportunities in his description of the run, but it is a great run for experienced creek boaters and all the drops can be run if they're clean.
The river starts off with some fun drops before you reach Severe Reality a challenging class V section that can be portaged if you want. The river opens up a bit providing some more fun rapids before you reach the entrance to a gorge and Claustrophobia. Within a few more drops you'll be at the Boulder Factory which is a half mile section that starts with The Big Ugly. The rapids taper off a bit as you pass through a scenic canyon section upstream of the North Fork confluence.
Middle Sitkum, 3 miles
An entry point to the canyon just upstream from the North Fork Sitkum confluence marks the start of the intermediate 6 mile run which typically includes the middle and lower sections. While some people hike the trail in, the better option is usually to put in at the bridge over the NF Sitkum for more class IV action. Just before the confluence with the main Sitkum is a 25-30' waterfall that can be run, or portaged by lowering boats on a throw-rope and scrambling down after along the left bank. From the confluence with the Sitkum the river flows through class II and III rapids until you reach a canyon section lined with bedrock walls and marked by a distinct horizon line. This is the start of a fun class IV section through a beautiful little gorge (less than a mile). The first major drop is Little Pistol. The river carves its way through some fun IV- rapids, but you have plenty of time to get ready for the next major rapid, Cotton Candy which comes near the end of this section. Cotton Candy is class IV as the river drops over a 7 foot ledge into a big pool.
Lower Sitkum, 3 miles
After the class IV gorge, the river calms down to more class II/III action. Once you reach the bridge, the best rapids are over but the river continues its scenic course through the canyon. While paddlers looking for a scenic float without the action of the upstream reaches can put in here, the steep climb to the road makes this a very unappealing takeout. Most continue on downstream to Hyas Creek. Over the next 3 miles or so the river cuts through several class II rapids and finally one last III- rapid just beyond the confluence with the South Fork Calawah. Those who put-in at the bridge may want to continue on downstream on the South Fork Calawah to the confluence with the North Fork Calawah, but those who put-in higher will likely be ready to take advantage of the easy road access at the Hyas Creek confluence.
About a mile north of Forks, Forest Road 29 leaves highway 101 at mile 193.3 and heads east. During summer 2002, washouts on FR 29 that prevented vehicle access for nearly 4 years were repaired, but the landslide-prone slopes of this drainage will lead to future road failures so be sure to check current road conditions. For current information on roads check the Olympic National Forest web site (check rec reports for Pacific Ranger District - North), or call the USFS/NPS Resource Information Center in Forks 360-374-7566 or the USFS Ranger District office in Forks (360)374-6522.
Several access points are available off Forest Road 29 as follows:
The first access you will reach is the take-out for the lower run at mile 8.0. This access is at the Hyas Creek confluence with the South Fork Calawah. There is a short road downstream river right of the confluence just before you cross the Hyas Creek Bridge.
From the take-out continue upstream to a couple different access points depending on what you're looking for. The first landmark is FR 2923 which splits off the left at mile 8.8. Continue on the right fork on FR 29 and at mile 11.1 you'll see the 070 spur which heads down to the right and a bridge across the river. For those who want to boat only the lower class II/III section, you can scramble down the downstream river right side of the bridge across the Sitkum (bring rope for this one).
The next potential access for those who want to add some class IV rapids, is reached by continuing upstream on FR 29. You will parrallel Rainbow Creek and cross it at mile 12.1 and then the North Fork at mile 13.9. Continuing on there is a small pull-out at mile 14.3. A well-marked trail leads from this point down towards the right and the confluence of the North Fork. It's steep at the end and you may find a rope helpful for lowering the boats. An alternative shorter route (unmarked) is available by heading off towards the left (this is the access illustrated in Korb's guidebook). It too requires rope to lower the boats down. Either way don't expect the put-in to be particularly user friendly.
If you're interested in also running some class V drops, stay on FR 29 to mile 17.6 and the bridge across Brandeberry Creek. You can see the confluence with the Sitkum from this bridge and there is access to the river on the downstream river right side of the confluence.
For the Upper Upper run, continue up to mile 20 for the put-in. There are marks on the trees on river right and a few flags leading you to the river.
The Double Drop Falls marks the entrance to the gorge and is the first significant horizon line.
A waterfall drop in the gorge that can be scouted or portaged on the right. The landing can be a little chunky.
A fun drop through a narrow slot that can serve up swims depending on how well you can stay on your line leading to the name 50/50. In 2017 the right wall collapsed, creating a messy rapid that can be portaged left. Hopefully when the debris settles this drop will become runnable and fun again.
The beautiful clean waterfall.
A fun slide with the backdrop of a high bedrock wall on river left.
Waterfall just above the confluence with Bradeberry Creek.
The end of the Upper Upper run and the start of the Upper Run.
Trail down to the access for the Middle Run.
Acces for the Lower Run.
Ran the Upper Upper on 12/11/18 at 1800 cfs and dropping. Still enjoyable, but very bony. A few things to know: (1) The tree that marks the put-in is now a single, dark tree with orange flagging around it. We missed it the first time through. If you get to a tributary with slumped concrete over a big culvert, you've gone barely too far; (2) At the flows we had, the Falls below double drop did not look good-to-go, so we portaged on river right, which was a pain in the ass; (3) 50/50 is still blocked by wood, but the new rapid will be very fun when the wood is gone; (4) the final falls with the large wood on the left side is good to go on the left. I've seen videos of people running the right side to avoid the wood but it looks cleaner now than it did on earlier videos.
The right wall at 50/50 has collapsed, the debris is still settling as of January 2018 and required a portage for wood at that time. A picture of the portage is available in the photos tab. The rest of the Upper Upper was clean, and all the other rapids were runnable. I think there was also one easy log portage in the Upper section.
Ran the Upper Upper on 3/8/2014
Go to mile 20 on the road. There are marks on the trees on river right and a few flags leading you to the river.
Definitely NOT class 3. More like Class IV-V. At least 3 clean 10 -15 foot vertical waterfalls, multiple slides and holes to punch. I enjoyed the Upper Upper more than the Upper and middle.
Can definitely be lapped.
We ran the entire 9+ miles on 11/27/2004. There was only one wood hazard and that was during the last 4 miles or so, which is class II (barely). There's a tree that spans river wide. At the water level we ran it at, some of the more limber paddlers where able to sneak under the river left side of the tree. However, there was also a very quick portage on river right.
The class V section is really amazing. This is definitely the most accessible class V in that area. It's pretty easy to see when things start to pick up and at the medium-low flows that we ran it at, we had no trouble finding eddies and getting out to scout.
I found that Korb's description of the run was fairly accurate, however, I don't believe anything on that run should be labelled class VI. There was at least one VERY serious undercut and definitely do not underestimate this run, but a SOLID class V boater will not have a problem.
We hit this run over the Thanksgiving Holiday 2003. The road was in good shape and drops were all clean.
12 years ago
by Thomas O'Keefe
A comprehensive guide to 75 river runs on Washington's beautiful Olympic Peninsula.
Because the entire run is through a bedrock canyon you can grind down this run with lower than recommended flows. The drops will be boney but you can still enjoy a scenic float. The run is best after some winter rains have filled things in to a good moderate level. Look for levels to be between 2000 - 4000 on the Calawah gauge. On the higher end of that range, you will want flows to be dropping quickly and then slowing the closer it gets to 2000.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
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Brandeberry confluence, high water
Take-out at Hyas Creek confluence
Cotton Candy, a portage
North Fork Put-in
View from 2900-070 Bridge
Put-in at Brandeberry Creek
Sitkum River gorge
Little Pistol, low water
Little Pistol, Meekhof
Little Pistol, Tominaga
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