Tye - 1. Surprise Creek to Alpine Falls (Upper)


Tye, Washington, US

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1. Surprise Creek to Alpine Falls (Upper)

Usual Difficulty V (for normal flows)
Length 3.25 Miles
Avg. Gradient 210 fpm

Tye River


Tye River
Photo of Tao Berman by

Eric Link, Twitch, www.twitchtv.com


Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
SKYKOMISH RIVER NEAR GOLD BAR, WA
usgs-12134500 5000 - 7500 cfs V 01h44m 1780 cfs (too low)


River Description

The Top Tye was one of those runs that remained relatively unknown despite its easy access from a major state highway and proximity to the greater Seattle area. It did not even appear in a guidebook until 1998. Through the late 90's however this river emerged as one of the premiere steep creeks in the region and each year this run grows in popularity. Thanks to the Twitch video series and local paddlesports photographer Jock Bradley nearly ever paddler in the country has seen images of this incredibly scenic creek. There are typically good flows late into the spring boating season when sunny skies and warm temperatures illuminate the forested bedrock canyons. It's not true old-growth but it's been a long time since any logging took place and while it serves as a convenient safety net, you hardly notice nearby Highway 2 when you're on the river. This is a class V creek run but most of the drops can be easily scouted and portaged at moderate flows.

From the Highway 2 bridge the river starts out with shallow class II rapids as the river flows within easy access of FR 67. There is a significant drop near the end of this warm-up known as Slide Falls (photo), but you can also put-in just below this. The real action begins just a few paddle strokes downstream where you loose sight of the river from FR 67 and the river disappears over a ledge into a canyon section (photo). This rapid, Double Drop Falls, can be easily scouted on the right. There is a decent line down the left (photo), but be sure to get back in control quickly and grab the eddy below on river left because the next horizon line you can see while scouting is the Spout.

After running Double Drop Falls, you are committed to the gorge and you will find yourself in the eddy above the first of two significant waterfalls. These two drops are featured in the opening of the Tye River sequence in Twitch 2000. The first is The Spout where the river drops about 15 feet into the right wall (photo). Use the generous bedrock platform on river left to scout the drop or bypass it altogether with a seal launch into the foamy pool below. The typical line is to start right for the first pitch and then work your way over to the flake on the left which sends you clear of the hole at the base of the falls and bedrock knee that sticks out from the wall on river right. (Tao shows how it's done).

You only have a few paddle strokes to recover but if you're in control you should be able to grab an eddy on river left before the river plunges over a second waterfall known as Skin So Soft (photo). The standard line is far right and you will want to avoid the rocks at the base of the falls towards the center and left. It's a really smooth drop if you set up for it correctly. There is the option of a very challenging portage on river left, but it requires some skilled climbing moves and then there's the issue of getting back into your boat in the pool below.

Leaving the two waterfalls behind you paddle over a couple ledges and past some large boulders before the current takes you through a fun flume on the right; then the river disappears around the corner at Big Left Turn. The river eases up and provides a nice eddy just beyond the point that you can easily see when scouting from above.

For the next few minutes you will have some easy boulder gardens that may be a little scrapey and an island to negotiate which in past years has contained some wood hazards. Over the past few years, the left channel has been the better option. Soon enough the river cascades down another fun slide and you're at the mouth of Deception Creek and the start of the Park Section. You'll look up to the left to see the tourist viewing platform at the rim of Monkey Cage Falls which is about a 20' sloping falls (photo). When you run this drop it's not uncommon for the tourists to hoot and holler from the platform like a bunch of monkeys in a cage--hence the name (photo). The drop is typically run down the center or a little to the right (photo), and while a line down the left looks inviting there have been reports of injuries due to some rocks partway down the slide on that side (photo ). This drop is also featured in Twitch 2000. The easy portage on the left is always an option.

Just a short distance downstream you will want to pull out on the right to scout Crack in the Earth (photo). This is one of the most unique rapids in the region and once again there is a viewing platform where spectators will line up to watch the show. After a short entrance flume the river drops over a 10' ledge and into a headwall only a few feet downstream forcing the river to make a 90 degree turn to the right. At the downstream end of the landing zone the river hits a midstream boulder and the river squeezes through a narrow slot to either side. One move is to sail off the right side of the ledge with a strong sweep to turn your boat and land your boof headed downstream. Next you have to work hard to hit the preferred right hand slot past the boulder at the bottom. Momentum and the current carries boaters over to the left slot which sets you right into a deceptively nasty hydraulic. Swims are common here so be sure to set good safety. Another alternative is to take the far right sneak which is more of a slide down wet rocks, but it sets you past the bad hole (photo). Just another 50 yards downstream there is another ledge with a hydraulic at it's base that gives people trouble (photo). For those running Crack in the Earth, it's a good idea to set safety above this ledge.

You have some fun class III before the next big set of rapids downstream. When a concrete retaining wall for Highway 2 comes into view high on the left downstream, you are approaching Log Choke Falls. Grab an eddy on the right and follow the well-worn portage trail up to FR 67 and then back down to the pool at the base of the falls. Tao recorded a first descent on Log Choke Falls but the move requires a tricky line along and through a couple massive old-growth logs that have been firmly jammed in the drop for as long as folks have been running this river. Tao's second attempt can be seen in the video Twitch 2000.

Just below Log Choke the river falls over what many consider the best drop on the run. This is Box Drop and you need to make sure you don't put in below it. The river sends you shooting out off a flake that sets you up for a perfect boof as you sail out into the pool below. It's an awesome ride and with Log Choke Falls in the background it's an impressive scene (photo). Those looking for a short creek run that features great rapids sometimes start their run here.

There are fun boulder gardens and ledges as you continue downstream and the first significant horizon line you'll encounter is 8' Boof. Make sure you launch with a clean boof off the left- hand side to avoid the hydraulic. More great boogie water continues as you head downstream and with the added flows of tributaries that come in over the course of the run you'll have more water than in the boulder gardens at the start of the run. You will see Martin Creek come in from the right (as recently as 2003 there was a hydroplant planned for this site that would have been constructed on the banks of the Tye; AW played a leadership role in killing this project and several other small hydro facilities planned for small streams on public land on the west side of the Cascades).

The next drop you'll want to scout is Paranoia. The river drops over one horizon line with a tricky entrance rapid that gives you limited time to set up for the plunge over a 10' ledge squeezed between the bedrock walls. You'll want to hit this ledge on the left side with a good boof (photo from above, photo from below). A strong eddyline in the drop above can easily set you off course. The runout from the pool below Paranoia is another great rapid.

A short distance below Paranoia the river drops over a set of three ledges referred to as Triple Drop. A distinct horizon line on the left side of the river marks the start of these drops. They look deceptively tame but holes lurk toward the center at the base of the ledges so the preferred lines are down the far right (photo ) or left (photo) depending on flows and your preference. At lower flows you can try your luck at running the meat.

Some more great boulder gardens keep you entertained for the rest of the run. For the most part just stay with the current and eddy hop down but as you approach two little canyon sections the gradient gets a bit steeper. On the first of these you will be headed down the left side before the river squeezes between a narrow slot in the bedrock. For the second one you'll be starting more towards the right but at the bottom the current slams into the wall on river left. Keep your boat pointed to the right once you reach the bottom and take hard strokes to avoid trouble up against the wall (photo).

When you leave the second little canyon the Highway 2 bridge comes into view. Exit the river here from the pool at the base of this last mini canyon rapid as there is a good trail on river left up to the road. Alpine Falls lurks just around the corner and downstream of the bridge. It's a marginally runnable drop with severe consequences and definitely not something you want to stumble into (if you continue past the bridge there are very few eddies above it). The run downstream continues as the Lower Tye.

Logistics:

The river is paralleled by two roads with Highway 2 running along river left and FR 67 running along river right. FR 67 is a short segment of the old road across the mountain pass starting at Highway 2 mile 55.2 and rejoining it at mile 58.2. You can use either route for your shuttle depending on where you put-in and what you want to scout beforehand. The take-out is at mile 55.3 at a large pullout on the downstream river left side of the Highway 2 bridge. Scout the takeout carefully (takeout at the bridge!) as you don't want to unknowingly drift into the lead in for Alpine Falls (it's been run before, but it's not recommended as consequences will likely be fatal if you blow your line and end up river right). To reach the put-in you can head upstream on FR 67. If you just want to run the lower half of the run you can put-in at the base of Log Choke Falls at FR 67 mile 1.3 where a trail leads down near concrete barriers. For the upper put-in continue up to mile 2.5 where the road approaches the river and offers convenient access. As an alternative you can run your shuttle on Highway 2 and scout the Park Section from the Deception Falls Recreation Area at Highway 2 mile 56.7 to see what you're getting into. Then continue up to Highway 2, cross the Tye at mile 58.2, turn onto FR 67, and head downstream to a convenient put-in of your choosing.

Additional Information:

  • Darren Albright's description and several photos by Jock Bradley on the Top Tye page at Jason Rackley's site.
  • Mike Lawson's description in: Bennett, J. and T. Bennett. 1997. A guide to the whitewater rivers of Washington, second edition. Swiftwater Publishing. Portland, OR.
  • Twitch 2000 featuring runs by Tao Berman on some of the biggest drops
  • Skykomish Ranger District - USFS Mt. Baker - Snoqualmie National Forest website
  • Lewis, Nathan.1996 (Jul/Aug). A rubber ducks goes in search of the obvious: A wild ride on the Upper Skykomish. American Whitewater Journal (pdf copy).
  • Seay, J.B. 2001 (May/June). All Tyed Up: Challenging Washington's Top Tye. American Whitewater Journal, Vol. XLI, No. 3.

StreamTeam Status: Verified
Last Updated: 2004-06-27 03:41:40

Editors


Rapid Descriptions

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Associated Projects

  • Skykomish Stewardship (WA)
    AW is actively engaged in the conservation of the Skykomish River and its tributaries and advocacy for public access.

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