Events: Annual Canyon Creek Extreme Race
Logistics: The take-out is at the base of the Merwin Reservoir bridge at mile 28.8 on Hwy. 503. Ample parking is available on the southeast side of the bridge (PacifiCorp has plans to make minor improvements to this site over the next couple years which will likely include a set of stairs and some improved drainage for the parking lot). There are a couple ways to get there depending on the direction you're coming from, but it's 25 miles east of I-5. To reach the put-in head south from the bridge to Hwy. 503 mile 24.8 and turn east on to NE Healy Rd. (becomes FR 54) and drive 3.9 miles to the bridge across Canyon Creek. Put-in on upstream river left where a jeep trail leads down to the river at the confluence with Fly Creek.
Description: Just a short distance north of Portland, Canyon Creek is a popular run for the after work crowd once daylight savings time hits. Dedicated paddlers also paddle this run before work in the winter for their morning adrenaline fix, or do multiple laps if they have more time. While it takes a little longer your first time down, you can bomb down the run in an hour once you know the lines. This river is a unique and valued whitewater resource for local paddlers and a destination for paddlers from around the world who make Portland a stop on their whitewater road trips. Consistent flows throughout all but the dry summer months, accessibility to the Portland paddling community, and great rapids make this a unique whitewater resource with significantly more available user days than many comparable runs in the region. The race course from Thrasher down to the Hammering Spot is widely regarded as one of the best sections in the country for a creeking race.
At moderate flows (500-900cfs) most of the drops on this run are IV+. This is a great training run for those getting ready to make the jump to class V. The majority of the rapids are easy to portage or scout and at moderate flows there are good recovery sections to pick up the pieces after any carnage. Once on the river you're committed to the run as the bedrock canyon walls offer few opportunities to exit the river.
Paddlers check the flow online or by gauging the river level relative to the bridge piling on river left (measured in inches above "the unit") and then head off downstream. The first mile or so offers an easy warm-up through class II/III rapids. You can see a bit of this section from the road on the shuttle drive. The action starts as the canyon walls close in and you approach the first horizon line known as Swizzle Sticks for the big logs that were wedged vertically but have since moved on. This tight gorge forms a great class IV rapid before you approach the logging road bridge overhead. The best rapids on the run start below this bridge. The first is Terminator, a meaty hole that lives up to its name. You can avoid it by staying to the left. The next significant rapid is a double drop sequence consisting of Prelude to Thrasher and Thrasher. Both are fun ledge drops with a stiff hydraulic at the base so choose your line carefully.
A fun boulder garden section brings you to the edge of Kahuna, a 17' waterfall that plunges into a nice pool. It's a big drop but the approach is easy and there's a nice auto-boof on the right side. Just stay away from the walls below the drop. After still more quality whitewater you'll find yourself at another double drop sequence where two 10' ledges come in quick succession. These drops are Champagne and the Hammering Spot. Champagne has a beautiful center boof and on Hammering Spot you will want to head for the right side boof or risk getting hammered in the hole on the left side. After these two drops it's a short distance downstream to the final ledge on the run known as Toby's. There are a couple different routes on this one but be careful as there is an extreme pin hazard. If you make a good center to left boof you clear the subsurface rocks. If you have any question in your abilities to pull off the move and keep your bow up, particularly at lower flows, then take a more conservative route. You can portage along river right, or sneak by driving over the correct dry rock on river left. There is also a "helicopter" line on the right that requires an S move that can be a little tricky. The hazard factor on this drop is worse that it may first appear and there has been a fatality here when a boater bow pinned (accident report) as well as a knee dislocation of a boater who was trying to do the left sneak.
Once you clear the last drop the fun is over and you have a paddle out on the reservoir. It's not too bad but one wonders what whitewater treasures may lie beneath this reservoir on what was once the Lewis River. It's just over a mile to a bridge across the reservoir which provides a take-out along the left side.
For more information check out the Canyon Creek page on Oregon Kayaking.
This is the first significant drop of the run. You can scout from the right or just glance over your shoulder from the eddy on the left above the drop. Lines to the left and right are possible.
Just as you pass under the bridge you will be at Terminator. Drive around to the left to avoid the hole on the inside corner on the right.
Prelude to Thrasher or simply Prelude can be run to the right side.
It's an easy scout or portage on the left. There are a couple different lines depending on the flow and your skills. A fun boulder garden section follows after Thrasher. Just stick to the left as you hit the last little ledge in the Boulder Garden. Keep your eyes open for the next horizon line at Kahuna.
One of the nicest boofs you can find. Hit the nice flake in the center and then get lined up for the right side of Hammering Spot which follows just below. You can also catch a good eddy on the left between these two drops.
Just hit the nice boof flake on the right and you avoid the hole. If you end up to the left prepare to get hammered.
This drop can be safely run but it's important to know the hazards. Toby Scarpella drowned running this rapid when he was pinned. There is a left side boof that is an option but make sure you scout the landing zone and don't hit the rocks. Across the center there are dangerous pin hazards. A final option is an S turn move on the right side. If there is any doubt on the line you can always take the conservative route and portage.
Stairs will be constructed at the takeout this fall, resulting in a temporary closure. The river is slated to be "open" again some time in mid-November 2014.
Ran Canyon Creek 11/182006 post-flood with 1130 falling to 1030 on the EF Lewis gauge.
Swizzle sticks is clean of wood, seems trickier than with the old vertical log in the right. Terminator seems to have shifted on the right side of the ledge, line is even farther left and narrower. Thrasher has also changed with a new rock in the left entrance.
The run is otherwise clean and I didn't notice any other major changes.
March 17, new wood in canyon entrance river right. forces difficult left to right move. exit below entrance exam has old growth channel-wide log. stay right to avoid possible entrapment between log and left wall. level was 900 EFL. lower level would make left line around river-wide log very dangerous at lower flows. stay hard right and paddle over log or hug the right shore and carry over. very large root wad with hard left current feeding into it at the top of the wood.
10 years ago
by Thomas O'Keefe
Letter to PacifiCorp summarizing discussion on site visit regarding take-out access.
Letter to PacifiCorp expressing interest in access and real-time flow information.
Traditionally Canyon Creek is gauged at the put-in bridge by the level of the water relative to "the unit" which is the platform at the bridge footing (photo). With the PacifiCorp's recent addition of a real-time gauge on Canyon Creek paddlers can now check discharge directly. The minimum flow for a standard boating trip is about 500 cfs or -8" below the unit. Technical boating opportunities are available between about 300-500 cfs. High water runs from 1500-2000 cfs are also possible for those who know the run. Runs above 2000 cfs are certainly possible and have been done but this flow is not for mere mortals.
If you're going off the relative reading from "the unit", the creek can be run as low -12" although it's boney in places. A reading of -8" is the minimum flow for a standard trip. A good range for first timers is -6" to -4". Once you get above +3" things start to get pushy at +6" some of the ledges get pretty sticky. You can still run it above +12" but it's class V and there are consequences if you make a mistake. Things are raging at +18" and some of the holes are really rententive.
Here's the approximate correlation for the East Fork Lewis gauge (which was historically used). If you have the unit correlation for the new Canyon Creek gauge please post a comment.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
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Canyon Creek Access Project
Canyon Creek Parking
Canyon Creek Take-out trail
Merwin Reservoir paddle out
R2 Descent of Toby's
Toby's left line
Toby's right line
Canyon Creek Race Finish
Below Big Kahuna
Brian Lippy on Big Kahuna
Snow storm on canyon creek, wa
Casey Champ- Hammering Spot
Nate "Garrzilla" Garr
Double Drop - Pt. 1
bridge piling gauge
Entrance to the canyon
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.
PacifiCorp is in the process of repairing the stair treads at the Canyon Creek take-out access on Merwin Reservoir. Several treads were damaged by vandals who were throwing one-man boudlers down the stairs. Depending on weather, the repairs are expected to take 5 work days over the next two weeks.
After years of wondering if it would ever get underway (the six-year deadline has already passed), PacifiCorp has finally begun construction on the new access improvements at the Yale Bridge take-out for Canyon Creek. That's the good news. The bad news is they let the project slip into the fall boating season and have offered no accommodations for access after this weekend until the project is done.
PacifiCorp is currently in the process of obtaining a new license for their hydroelectric projects on the Lewis River. American Whitewater met with a representive of PacifiCorp and individuals from the Portland area boating community to discuss the proposed elements of the recreation plan that would affect Canyon Creek boaters.
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