Back in the day Whatcom creek use to be a great little creek run, inside a beautiful park, within city limits. Depending on where one put in and took out, the run could be a mellow float for a newbie to hone skills on, or a class V creek to get a lunch time/after work fix on. All without having to leave town. All would soon change.
On June 10, 1999, an Olympic Pipe Line Company gas line that crossed the creek blew up killing three people and incinerating half of Whatcom Falls Park. In an effort to rehabilitate the creek, burned out hazard trees were dropped into the creek and chained into place to provide for fish habitat. In addition, the second half of the creek (where the big drops are) has been closed off to public access for an uknown period of time.
It is the hope of local paddlers that when the area is reopened, kayakers will be recognized as a legitimate form of recreation in the park. It is our hope that fish advocates and recreational users can educate each other and find common ground on Whatcom Creek. With slight alterations to the man-made structures in the creek, the run could be made safe and navigable again.
On to the Creek!
The best way to decide where you want to put in and take out is to walk the foot paths along the north side of the creek. Most of the upper run can be seen this way.
From Bloedel Donovan Park (upper most put-in), paddle under the bridge to the back of the lagoon where a small dam is located. Portage the dam on the left and put back in to begin your trip down Whatcom Creek. After the dam, the creek goes through some small riffles, under a foot bridge, past some good eddylines to practice ferries and squirts on, then under an old railroad bridge to the flatwater slalom gates. The gates usually have some current, but never much making it a great place for beginners to hone skills. At the downstream end of the pond is a small dam. Portage on eather side and scout the next drop because you'll probably walk that too. The ten foot drop after the dam looks marginally runnable at high levels, but has never been done to my knowledge. The right side would definetely go, but hit your boof, because the landing is shallow. Next comes a clean three foot boof ledge that makes a great spot to perfect you boof stroke. After the boof ledge get ready to portage Whatcom Falls, a twenty five foot falls that unfortunately lands on rocks. Put back in below the falls on river right. From here to the cliff jumping area it is good to have pre scouted, if you have never done the run.
This section is realitively easy and fun, but log jams tend to occur just above the foot bridge that is just up river of the cliff jumping area. Know your eddy in advance. Chances are you'll walk the cliff jumping rapid also. It's been run at low flows, but anything but low flows; the eight foot shoot has a heavy room of doom vibe.
Around the corner comes Hole In the Wall; one of my favorite drops on the run. On the exit move, make sure you're right. I have seen a bad pin on the left before. The next hundred yards is one long fun class III rapid ending above an obvious class III+/-IV drop. Most people would get out here to avoid the crux section--Man Eater--just below this drop. If you're not into big drops, tough portages, and sieves, then scramble up the river right bluff, and look for a ramp back down to the river on the downstream side of the mini gorge. If you continue on into the mini gorge, scout the next three drops thoroughly from river right. All have been run at very low levels, but at recomended levels the second and third drop are really one drop. The second drop has obvious pin potential, and the third drop has a cave sieve on the left that I had to pull someone out of once.
Once back on the river, get ready to portage lots of man-made log jams all the way to Pixie Falls. This section is realitively flat, so none of them will sneak up on you, but the cabled in structures are defintely a hazerd. Slight modifications to all of these would make them navigable while still providing fish habitat.
Pixie Falls, the next big drop, used to be a great park-and-huck sixteen foot waterfall. Before the explosion, locals would park at Yew St. hike five minutes to the falls and make huck after huck. Presently the falls is marginally runnable due to logs placed at the base. No longer a good place for intermediates to practice running waterfalls. From Pixie falls to Yew St., there are some more fun splashy rapids and more unnavigable man-made fish habitat.
At Yew Street watch out for the hole under the bridge. The dilapidated fish ladder creates a very sticky hole at higher flows. Some modifications here would create a great play hole. The City of Bellingham should capatilize on its recreation potential.
The next bridge is Velencia St, and this makes a better take out because there is some parking and the street is less busy.
The run is currently navigable down until Man-Eater, the first drop of the rapid can be run, but once the mini gorge is entered it is difficult to portage and after the first drop there are numerous insurpassible wood hazards.
If anyone has any info on trying to get the city and the park to open the lower section of river for paddling as well as adjusting logs to allow for safe passage of paddlers, fishermen and swimmers, please post to the river stewardship forum about Log removal or contact me directly through this site.
There is a foot gauge just upstream of the Valencia st. Bridge over Whatcom Creek. I don't think there is any way to get the flows just right on this run, but 3.2 to 3.6 should be good for a first run. To run the hardest drops on the run safely, the water level needs to be so low that the rest of run would be a scrape fest. Likewise to make pixie falls and the rest of the run good, slide for life would be class six. The above recommended level is just to get you down the run with out scraping too much, but still give the hardest drops a serious look.
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