Snoqualmie, S. Fork, Washington, US
|Usual Difficulty||IV-V (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||360 fpm|
|SF SNOQUALMIE RIVER AB ALICE CREEK NEAR GARCIA, WA|
|usgs-12143400||220 - 500 cfs||IV-V||00h35m||160 cfs (too low)|
FUN FACT: Convenient creek run to Seattle
SEASON: Spring snow melt
ACCESS: From eastbound I-90 take exit 52 (West Summit for Alpental Ski Center). Turn left at the bottom of the off-ramp and head back under both lanes of I-90. Within a couple hundred yards there is a place to pull out and a Forest Service Road 58 parrallels the river along river left (the road itself may be snowed in early in the season). The run starts with Fall in the Wall which is just beyond the point where this road crosses under the westbound lane of I-90. It's about 0.4 mile downstream to a takeout above Franklin Falls. If there's snow you'll have to hike your boat back.
This is a fun class IV/V run that can be easily run once or even several times after work. This run is often used as an intro to creeking for members of the Seattle boating community but if it is your first time be sure to head down with someone willing to guide you. Experienced creekers shouldn't have any problems unless running it at high flows at which point things get interesting. Deep snow can also be an issue in early spring. Most of the drops on the Fall in the Wall Section individually rate IV+, but there are a few spots that are a bit continuous and the final drop on the run has some serious consequences if you're not in control. The entire run can be scouted along the Forest Service Road (with some scrambling through the brush) that parrallels the run. You start out with a 23 foot drop called Fall in the Wall that is visible from a pullout along a rock retaining wall on the downstream side of the I-90 overpass. The waterfall cascades into a short pool backed up by a bedrock wall with an open channel exiting to river left. Avoid getting stuffed into the cave on river right, and if you do you'll want someone ready with a rope.
After the waterfall the river snakes around a bit through a narrow gorge and you'll want to portage the narrow constriction at Double Undercut (photo) before the fun begins (if you elect not to run the falls then find an access point a short distance downstream of the short gorge and below the portages). You can find the well-worn boater trail on the downstream side of the Road Narrows sign that puts you in at the pool above Limbo Log. There is one additional ledge upstream of this pool that can be run depending on flows.
Be extremely careful at the Limbo Log ledge (photo) which is generally the first drop for those who don't run the falls (the ledge is visible from the road). There is a bad pin spot along the wall on river right, but it should not present any problems if you take a good strong boof to the left (if you're unsure of this hazard and you're just making the step up to creek boating its a good idea to get the detailed beta on this one from someone who knows the run well).
Once you gather up in the pool below Limbo Log ledge the river heads off downstream through a narrow gorge with a couple easy rapids before you reach the first significant horizon line with the river disappearing off to the left. This is the start of the Fearsome Foursome. These four drops come in rapid succession although skilled paddlers can grab eddies between them. The smallest eddies are between the second and third drop. Although a local guide can give you the details, the basic lines are left on one, center on two, right on three, and center-left on four; the good news is that as long as you stay upright and keep the boat pointed straight you have a fair amount of room for error.
The pool at the bottom of the fourth drop (photo) is a good place to collect up the group. It's a cool view looking back upstream--the river appears to emerge from the tops of the trees.
The next rapid downstream is the Island Drop (photo). Here the river flows around both sides of a mid-stream bedrock obstruction. You can go around either side and the left offers a couple alternate lines depending on flows.
Fisherman's comes next (photo). It starts with an entry slide and then a final ledge with a wall on the left and a hole at the bottom that sometimes catches people by surprise. The current takes you to river left as you plunge over the final ledge but make sure you have good right angle or your buddies might be fishing you out with a rope.
Soon you'll be at one of the best drops on the run. The river drops off a ledge to the left (photo) and then you have an eddy you can grab before lining up for the Green Room. If you hit the sweet spot, the current funnels you into jet that transports you sub-surface. Even in a creek boat you can get some serious down time (photo).
After the Green Room, the river bounces over easy class II for a couple hundred yards. As you re-enter a forest section and a couple easy ledges the river quickly comes to a horizon line at Root Ball (photo). This drop is a fun slide, but there is not much room for error (especially as flows increase) as there is a small eddy on river right and Franklin Falls is just around the corner downstream. Make sure you know where the take-out is. Those who don't want to tempt fate can take out above Root Ball. Many folks end their trip here and hike their boat back upstream to run laps on this short reach (approximately 0.4 mile) that contains the best rapids.
Those who wish to extend the run can portage Franklin Falls (typically done by driving the boats down to the lower access) and continue on downstream to Denny Creek Campground. This section known as the Denny Creek run is about a mile in length and the first half is another notch up in difficulty and requires at least one arduous portage (double check that you have your rope). Look for about 400 cfs as an ideal level for this section below Franklin Falls (250 would be possible but bumpy and up above 600 cfs things could get tricky at the portage). You can scout much of this section by driving downstream and through a series of switchbacks until you get to a point where a trail meets the road and you'll want to do this as wood can become lodged in the gorge creating hazards that may be tricky to portage. This trail runs along river left between the campground and Franklin Falls. From the pool at the base of Franklin Falls, the river races off downstream through some boulder garden rapids and then takes the plunge over a pair of waterfalls in a tight gorge section. The first is in the 10-15' range and the second is just over 20'. Scouting the landing zone from the trail is recommended, but the first is run down the left and the second to the right. A short distance downstream of the waterfalls the river squeezes through another tight gorge at Z Turn. You have another couple ledges before a mandatory portage where the river plunges over a 30' falls that lands on some rocks (this is just upstream of the point where the road meets the trail). Be sure to scout the approach to this one to make sure you can get out safely above the drop. This will involve roping your boats up to the trail and it's pretty steep.
There is a decent path back down to the river below the falls and from here on down the run is straight forward with the exception of potential wood hazards. The best part of this lower reach is a long class IV rapid where the river slides over a set of several fun ledges ending at the campground (photo). You can run laps on this long rapid by hiking back up the trail along river left and this is a good option if the stuff upstream is running a bit high for your tastes.
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