LOGISTICS: To reach the river, head north on Ballarat Ave. in the town of North Bend (one block east of the main intersection in town). Just follow Ballarat Ave. which will bend to the right and become SE 108th St. and bend back to the left where it becomes 428th. St. In 2.0 miles from the turn onto Ballarat you will cross the Middle Fork, and in 2.4 miles you will cross the North Fork. This bridge is the take-out, and King County recently developed a parking lot at this corner serving visitors to the Three Forks Natural Area that is also convenient for boaters. To reach the put-in, continue north from the bridge on 428th St. and in 1.5 miles you will reach a Y. At this point head up the hill to the left on North Fork Road, which becomes a dirt road, and after 5.4 miles you will reach a 4-way intersection at the Spur 10 gate. The put-in is one mile down the hill to the right (you will likely need to start hiking at this point). At one time you could just borrow a key from the Weyerhaeuser mill but then you had to purchase an access permit and could only drive down to the put-in bridge when someone was at the gate. Paddlers still have hopes of improving the access situation but for now the land is owned by Campbell Global, a company that charges for access permits.
Ernie's Gorge which is also known as the Black Canyon lies on the North Fork of the Snoqualmie River. It flows from north to south and joins the main flow of the Snoqualmie a few miles downstream in North Bend. Ernie's cuts along the base of Mt. Si, whose steep, 4,000 foot high west face soars out of the rolling farmlands below to define the western edge of the Cascade range. Although the river has been recommended for Wild and Scenic designation by the Forest Service and is in a Northwest Power and Conservation Council Protected Area, it has faced hydropower development threats over the years.
The take out is only about 40 minutes from downtown Seattle. Ernie's runs more often than not throughout the rainy fall, winter, and spring. Courage and skill are the factors limiting runs on Ernie's, not the water level. The run is known as one of the more challenging in the region and when the flows are right expert paddlers come from 100's of miles away come to challenge some of the most technical and powerful class V creeking in the Cascades. As Jeff Bennett notes in his description of the rapids, "You can slice every one of 'em and walk away thinking this rivers just another challenging class V trip, or you can miss your line by two feet and get permanently stuffed into an undercut." The margins for error are extremely small and although most of the drops can be scouted, you need to hit must-make ferries and one-boat eddies above intimidating horizon lines. The lines through the rapids themselves can be complex and first-timers will likely want to go with a local guide who knows the run.
The run starts with class III warm-up and soon after you pass through class III/IV Hancock Rapids, the river enters Ernie's Gorge. From this point the river drops through two miles of big and powerful drops. The first of these is Raft Catch, where you get out on river right to scout or portage. This drop marks the start of an intense half mile of whitewater where pools are non-existent, eddies are few, mostly hidden, and rarely hold more than two boats comfortably. It's a river without waves-the water is moving too quickly, through holes and over ledges. It's not boat scoutable and the walls are steep.
The last rapid of the dicey upper stretch is a one-two combination known as the " Room of Doom" and the "Cluster". The Room is a simple hole. A smooth, foot drop into a foamy, almost perfectly symmetric weir. At the Cluster 90 % of the North Fork thunders over a six foot ledge into a gruesome pile of boulders. At far left a small tongue, guarded by a troublesome rock, provides safe passage. To get to the tongue you must catch a oneboat eddy on the right, just above the Cluster, then ferry carefully across the lip and into the left-side flume.
Little Nasty and Big Nasty are waiting downstream.
Eventually Ernie's mellows a bit and you coast into a long stretch of class III. Nothing special, except that the river then winds around a corner and drops without warning over a twenty-five foot falls known as Jacuzzi. The brink of this drop is nearly invisible from upstream so approach with caution and be sure to grab the river left eddy above as there have been near misses. The drop is very dangerous and most choose the portage route.
Vertical Vortex opens with a few entrance ledges, then makes a drop of about seven feet, walled in by a vee of flat stones.
Finally, the last rapid is a little boof over a three foot ledge, then through a hole into a two-boat left side eddy You have to catch that left eddy or you'll wash through a terrible sieve.
One you start to see homes you've made it and for the next couple miles you bob through class III to the take-out bridge.
summarized from a description of the river by Nathan Lewis in American Whitewater 1996
Jacuzzi is the one waterfall on the run, often portaged on the left. It is known to locals as Fantastic Falls.
Gauge is off. Reading low. Yesterday 6.2 on the stick gauge was a medium flow. Online said it was around 350.
Gauge has been recalibrated as of 1/4/10: Observed 6.7 on visual gauge when online reading was 950 cfs. Seems about right.
Recommend checking visual gauge at takeout bridge before putting on. 5.8 to 6.7 is the appproximate low to high range.
9 years ago
Motion to intervene for preliminary permit for the Black Canyon Hydroelectric Project.
Comments of American Whitewater et. al on the proposed hydropower project on Ernie's Gorge.
At the lower end of the range the run becomes more tight and technical, with a bit more exposed pin potential. At the higher end of the range the rapids become very pushy. The regulars prefer a flow in the 650-700 range.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
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Almost out with our lives...
Bottom of Jacuzzi
No raft line available...
More R2 action!
Split Falls R2-style
R2ing Cool Rapid
More Class V Rafting
Rafting Ernie's Gorge
One of the many sweet drops in Ernie's Gorge
New Wood in "Hard Left"
Log in Raft Catch
Andrew in the top drop of Raft Catch
Tony in Bruce's Boil
Paul Looks like he wants it
Andrew Dropping in to Big Nasty
Steve runs Samson & Delilah
Top drop of Raft Catch
Ernie's Gorge - Room of Doom
Ernie's Gorge - Raft Cache
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
editors will turn multiple witness reports into a single unified accident report.
In an important victory for Ernie’s Gorge and rivers of the Pacific Northwest, we learned earlier today that Black Canyon Hydro LLC was withdrawing its application for the Black Canyon Hydropower Project, FERC P-14110). This project would have dewatered the North Fork Snoqualmie River severely impacting native rainbow and cutthroat trout, posed a risk to the City of Snoqualmie’s water supply, and irreversibly harmed a world-class kayak run.
On December 1st Black Canyon Hydro LLC filed its License Application for the Black Canyon Hydropower Project. If constructed, this project would involve dewatering Ernie’s Gorge and putting it in a pipe to generate hydropower. We expect that a public comment period will soon open providing an opportunity for feedback on their application.
Federal regulators have recently approved study plans for the proposed Black Canyon Hydroelectric Project that would impact Ernie's Gorge on the North Fork Snoqualmie River. As an initial step in the study process, all paddlers who run this reach in 2013 should report their runs and fill out the survey.
On December 6th, American Whitewater filed comments with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Black Canyon Hydro's proposed hydroelectric project on Washington's North Fork Snoqualmie River. FERC is currently in the process of considering study requests required for the project.
Last year federal regulators issued a preliminary permit allowing a developer to investigate the hydropower potential of Ernies Gorge. The developer has since decided to move forward and initiate the process of applying for a license. As the first step in this process, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has called a public meeting (Tue June 19th) to solicit local input and identify study needs. We encourage paddlers to attend the meetings to make sure FERC staff and the applicant understand the value of this reach for whitewater recreation.
Today the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a Preliminary Permit for the Black Canyon Hydroelectric Project that would dewater Ernies Gorge on the North Fork Snoqualmie River. The next steps in this process are that the developer will have three years to investigate the site and file a formal application for hydropower development.
Last week American Whitewater joined with American Rivers, North Cascades Conservation Council, and Alpine Lakes Protection Society in intervening to oppose the issuance of a preliminary permit for the Black Canyon Hydroelectric Project. Known to paddler's as Ernie's Gorge, the proposed project would divert up to 900 cfs from the river with devastating impacts on the ecology and recreational attributes of this amazing river recommended by federal agencies for Wild and Scenic designation.
Black Canyon Hydro, LLC filed an application for a preliminary permit proposing to study the feasibility of the Black Canyon Hydroelectric Project to be located on the North Fork of the Snoqualmie River, WA. This section of river is well known to paddlers as Ernie's Gorge--a regionally significant class V whitewater run. A comment period is now open allowing the public to provide input on this permit application.
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