This run through the spectacular Wind River Canyon features some great rapids and a personality that changes with flows. At low summer flows you can have a fun evening running Shipherd Falls and at higher winter flows be prepared for action-packed excitement and a mandatory portage of the falls.
Shortly after the put-in you encounter High Bridge Rapid which is a fun class IV boulder garden and one of the longer drops on the run with lots of good eddies and slalom moves at moderate flows. Below this rapid the run settles in to class II and III pool-drop rapids. The next big drop is The Flume which is a great class IV rapid ending in a pool at the bottom. You can get around the main part of the rapid by portaging on the right. Just a few hundred yards downstream of The Flume you will encounter class V Beyond Limits at an obvious horizon line. This drop can be portaged on the left hand side. The line to run it is down the right but depending on the flow the rocks on the right back up the flow to create a nasty hydraulic at the base of the falls.
After Beyond Limits you are just about to Shipherd Falls and you will need to hop out on the fish ladder on river left. This area is posted no tresspassing however enforcement is minimal. Shipherd Falls is a series of four drops that can be run at low summer flows. The problem with running them at higher flows is the dam at the bottom that was constructed to direct fish into the fish ladder creating a deadly hydraulic characteristic of lowhead dams. The state fisheries department does not look favorably on boaters portaging on the fish ladder, but their dam creates the hazard to navigation that requires a portage. If you are running the river during moderate to high flows and portaging down the fish ladder you will need to scramble up the cliff at the bottom on river left for a 25' huck and jump into the pool below the falls. This is necessary to safely clear the hydraulic at the base of the dam and would be extremely challenging during icy conditions.
At low flows (100-200) most of the run is technical class III with the following exceptions. The Flume, not mentioned above because it's easier at high water, becomes a nasty class IV-->V at the bottom end of the flow range. The Flume is worth scouting for first timers and possibly portaging (on the right). Beyond limits is a straightforward class IV with a couple of good lines. The reason it's a V at higher flows is the hole is backed up by a rock and very hard to escape. Beyond Limits has a fish ladder on the left that has been run.
Shipherd Falls at low flows is a 4-drop series with class IV difficulty, you just don't want to screw up in one and end up swimming the rest. The four drops are as follows: First Falls ~12 feet, has a hero boof on the right and an autoboof on the left but you have to make a lateral move to hit it, followed by a short gorge then a short pool. Second Falls ~18 feet is immediately after the short pool and has a left side straight boof that lets you land flat in soft water, or a right edge angled boof that puts you in the eddy above the Slide. Third drop is the Slide, a bony nasty thing usually run center right, just don't flip over. Eddy out center or left below this to stage for the Fourth drop aka the Weir which is ~10 feet and is run on the right edge of the left channel, boofing right. Got it? The falls and slide can be run as low as 90cfs however unless desperate 100 is a reasonable minimum.
From this point on it is an easy run out to the take-out on river right. At low flows watch out for some old metal grating stuck in one of the first small ledges. The Saint Martin's hot springs on river left is within view of the falls and undeveloped. It is often detected by the presence of locals, especially on weekends. There is no sulphur smell: it is low sulfur, high lithium water, very nice. It is best when the river is at 100-130 cfs. It floods out when too high and cools off when too low.
For additional information and great pictures check out the Lower Wind River page and Shipherd Falls (only run at low summer flows) on Jason Rackley's site. Panther Creek can be used as an alternative put-in for this run or you can add the Upper Wind for a longer trip.
Deadly hydraulic at medium to high flows that is typically portaged but can be run during low summer flows.
We ran High Bridge to Shippard Falls at ~270cfs and found this to be a perfect level for the falls. There were also two class 4 rapids of note between HB and the falls (both clean). The first of the Shippard drops could be run and the rest portaged if desired. If running the second, the third becomes must-run which sucks because the third is also the mankiest (though felt clean at this flow). The weir is safe to run with a straight boof and has weaknesses on the LH and RH sides.
Comments to WDFW
Old beta: Gauge is Visual. Look for flows of 600-1000 cfs although it has been run higher and lower. There is a DOE gauge on this river but keep in mind that this is above a couple of major tributaries.
A 2019 Opinion: Use the Stabler gauge, here: https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/eap/flows/station.asp?wria=29 and if you want to run the falls, look for flows on the gauge that are 100-150 cfs. This is low water and usually occurs in June-July and also in fall at the beginning of rainy season. Launching at these flows the rapids will be very technical for kayaks and impassable for rafts. This flow allows you to run Beyond Limits (just a IV when low) all four of the big drops at the end and at least from 130 down the hotsprings will be purrrrfect. The two main tribs that come in below Stabler are Trout and Panther Creeks. Trout is mostly rainfed and dries up in the summer, whereas Panther is more springfed and runs into the summer. You pass the Panther confluence on your way down this run.
Permits are not required for this reach.
Takeout: From Carson, take Hotsprings Ave toward the east and turn left after the golf course onto St Martin's road (paved). Go around the bend (50 yards?) and turn right onto St Martin's Springs road (dirt). This road is narrow and steeply winds down to the river where access is easy.
Putin: From Carson, take the Wind River highway north ~2.3 miles and take a hard left onto High Bridge Road, then a right onto Old Detour Road. Google maps does not show this road going to the river but it does. Drive slowly until past all the homes then descend on a good dirt road to the river. Easy access.
1st drop of Shippard's Falls
JP drops Shippard's
Running laps at Shippard's
Shippard's Falls, 2nd Pitch
E.J. Shipherd Falls
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