2000-3000 cfs is a good first time range to shoot for. While the run always requires class V competence, as flows get near 3,000 cfs and up the rapids are more on the class V side of things, with Big Dog always being class V. Because the gauge is far downstream, you may be able to get down the run with less than 2,000 cfs under some conditions, and should be aware that 2500 might be runnable-low one day and medium-high another. The upper limit is unknown, 4,000 cfs is a guess, it is possible it could be done higher.
This run begins with four miles of class II warmup (with one exception), followed by 2+ miles of quality class IV-V boating. The class II is seperated from the harder stuff by one of Oregon's largest logjams, a site to behold. Fortunately for kayakers it's so old and stable that walking across it is easier than it initial appears it would be when you first float up to it. If you recognize it early, portaging over the left side is easier than floating all the way to it and portaging over the top on the right.
The second rapid below the logjam is called Big Dog, and is a step above the rest of the rapids. It is one of the best class V rapids Oregon has to offer. Good rapids continue below here and have clean lines with a serious feel. At low flows the run is mostly IV-IV+ in a class V environment, as flows increase the rapids match the environment. Most everything is portageable, but usually involves clambering over and through large boulders.
The first gorge is fascinating, the left wall is layered bedrock towering high and vertical. The river right wall contrasts with is a slow moving, active landslide of massive scale. The river runs through the center of these two very different formations. The result is one of, if not the most dynamic riverbed in Oregon. The rapids change year to year as a result. It is cool to look back at the rapids as they were documented by Jason Rackley in 2000 and compare how different they look compared to more recent trips down. After the initial set of challenging rapids, the run eases half a class before eventually settling to moderate class IV just above the take out. It's worthwhile to follow Rackley's advice and continue an additional half mile into the Middle Collowash down to Farm Creek for added amusement.
In 2014 (at about 2100 cfs at Three Lynx) all the rapids were run and deemed clean/enjoyable. This was an excellent first time flow. The only log portage was the large log jam above the steep section. Scouting/portaging was easily done throughout the duration of the run.
Trip report at Into The Outside.
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