Snoqualmie, N. Fork, Washington, US
|Usual Difficulty||V+ (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||107 fpm|
|NF SNOQUALMIE RIVER NEAR SNOQUALMIE FALLS, WA|
|usgs-12142000||400 - 900 cfs||V+||00h20m||951 cfs (too high)|
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 had hoped for an opportunity to negotiate improved access with the recent pending sale to Evergreen Forest Trust, but that deal fell through and now the land is owned by Hancock Timber Resource Group. You can call Hancock for the current access policy (360-825-1637).
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
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
Jacuzzi is the one waterfall on the run, often portaged on the left. It is known to locals as Fantastic Falls.
AW Comments on NF Snoqualmie Hydro Project
December 12, 2012
Report Your Run: Ernie's Gorge Whitewater Survey
February 15, 2013
Hydropower Development at Ernies: Developer Continues to Pursue (WA)
December 11, 2015
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.