Tuesday, August 21, 2012

White Salmon River Rafting

White Salmon River Rafting

The White Salmon is a nationally designated Wild and Natural river. And just last october they removed the 100 year old damn on the lower river opening up the flow from Mt. Adams to the Columbia. Watch them blow the dam <condit dam removal>.

My company (Intel) had set up a thing for several hundred employees to raft down the river on this hot summer day and I was lucky enough to get a ticket. I don't have very many pictures of this trip, taking a camera isn't very easy unless you have one of those helmet mount GoPro cams (must think about getting one).

The White Salmon is on the Washington side of the Columbia just a few miles West of the Hood River Columbia crossing. This is a unique river for this area as it is almost continuous white water for miles and miles. And even more so now that the Condit Dam has been removed.

Unless you have the equipment and safety training for something like a class 4 rapid, I suggest you take advantage of one of the many professional guide services that run on the river. We used Wet Planet, out of Husum. You park at the site, pay your $60, and get in the bus that takes you and your fellow rafters the 10 or so miles up stream to the put in site.
At the site is a set of rails that are designed to slide the rafts down the step side to the river. A elegant engineering setup. We entered the raft right in the middle of a rapid, so we were working right away. These rafts are 6 rafters and a guide in back. Everyone wears a farmer john wet suit, a PFD, and a helmet. Why a wet suit in the middle of the summer? The water is 40 frigging degrees is why. You are thankful for the wet suit the first time the guide puts your side of the boat under the water (and he tries to get both sides equally wet).
Our guide has been doing this sort of river touring for like 15 years. He does the spring and summer in Oregon, and then goes to the east coast for West Virginia rafting in the fall. In the winter he lands at some ski mountain. Wow. There is a life. He was a very good guide, he knew every bird on the river and had a lot of knowledge of the history and geography of the river.

So, want some of that? The water in the river is mainly from Mount Adams. I must have a picture of mount Adams:

Adams is the one with snow

It starts as the glacier on Adams and gets filtered through thousands of feet of basalt before it emerges through ancient Lava tubes to enter the White Salmon. It takes 10 years for the water to filter through. And any of you who have hiked Ape Caves know how cold it is underground around here. And that is why the water is 40 degrees. Unfortunately about 20% of the river is agricultural run-off. So you don't want to drink it. We saw quite a few of the lava tubes and many springs feeding the river.

This is another trip that I think is for swimmers. We had one guy in our boat that told me he couldn't swim and I was sort of worried about him. When I wasn't being worried for myself. Going down rapids like this is pretty exciting and I really didn't want to go into the river. It was cold, rough, lots of rocks, and lots of trees down in the water, which I find even more frightening because you can get pulled under them or skewered by them.

The river was really full the day we went. Our guide said that there were more people at the bridge jump site than he had ever seen on the river. Wow.

There is one class 5 drop on this river, but the water was too high for Wet Planet to let us try it (they are an ultra-safe org, I guess) Another tour group was doing the falls and we watched while our group portaged around. They were having around a 60% success rate. Success is no one goes into the water.


That is NOT my hand.

There was one boat that went over the fall. They completely dissappeard for a second under the water, and then popped to the top. Everyone stayed in but the guide. He caught a bump and went flying out. But his crew didn't notice he was gone and they all started cheering and cheering. But no one was steering. And they soon floated into the next rock and went over dumping them all. We cheered and cheered.

At the end of the run you get to the place that used to be the lake behind the Dam and is now the very new river trying to find its way through 100 years of silt and backup. A currently ugly but interesting place. Many houses for sale with their docks 50 feet above the current river level.

The cool thing? This next season White Salmon (yes, the reason the river is named that is because it has its own species of fish) will be swimming up the river to breed for the first time in 100 years. Must go back and get pictures.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Scappoose Bay Kayaking

Scappoose Bay Kayaking

When you want to do something a little different from hiking here in the southwest, there are always a number of alternatives that use our abundant local rivers. This weekend I headed out to Scappose Bay Kayaking center with my friend chip. The town of scappose is North West of Portland on Highway 30 along the Oregon side of the Columbia river. The "Bay" is little indent in the river that is off the main current, so it is calm, sheltered, and full of interesting things to look at.
We rented Kayaks at the center, we got a couple of nice flat bottomed plastic jobs. Good for novices (which means hard to tip over). I think Chip was interested in one of the faster sexier looking models but I was happy to have something east to practice with.

The guy running the place took our ID, slapped a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) on our backs and plopped us into our Kayaks. We were out on the water in 15 minutes (would have been faster except Chip has so much STUFF). 

We paddled south (up river, at this point) to a place where there was a "creek" that runs through the islands in the center of the river. These islands are just built up mud and vegetation. THe shore reminded me of the coastal waters of South Carolina, with their deep shoreline of Pluff Mud and Marsh Grass.  But now fiddler crabs here, it being fresh water.
Fresh water, but it is tidal. We were on the outgoing tide most of the time we were out, but the current wasn't really something you notice that much unless you are trying to hold completely still and take pictures of creatures coming out of the trees.  Chip says that current isn't the thing that affects you so much as the wind. And we had narry a breeze on this fine summer day.


Scappoose Moose
Pluff Mud !!

Chip always looks so serious
Of course, look what we are heading into

I don't know what it is with me and Kayaks, but they always seem to veer left on me. I will be going along doing just fine and then all of a sudden I am streering left and have to do like 5 or 10 left only strokes to get back lined up with straight again. Chip had a word for it….. Edging. Not that knowing I was edging did me any good since i didn't know how to stop doing it.
Once we got back up into the trees on the interior of the island we had some real fun. There were a lot of snags and such in the water and you had to steer around and through them. Sort of like a slalom course. And there were enough hidden submerged logs to bump into to keep up the excitement. It wasn't hard or anything, you just had to go slow and work your way through. 
And then there was the invasion from the Sky. Everywhere we went we were attacked by strange creatures that descended from the trees on thin lines of silk like so many army infantry men hot lining down from a Blackhawk Helicopter. They were even the same color as the infantry men. Green. 
They were inch worms. They had spun a little thread and were coming down from the trees. Presumably they were trying to make it onto land, not sure why they would want to do that, but there were failing miserably. They would descend down, hit the water, and then crawl back up a little bit and just hang there. It was their first and last "oh Shit" moment. 
The effect on me and chip was that we had to paddle right through scores of them and we got them on the boat and down our backs. Luckily they don't have very big mouths. Or perhaps they just don't like Kayakers for lunch.
Invaders from the Sky !!
How do I get myself into these messes?


We got a couple of miles into this maze of green and then ran our of water. So we just floated there and had our lunch.
One thing about this little outing that I realized while eating, if you need to have a bathroom stop while you are out there you are in trouble. There just isn't any good place to land and get out of your boat. The shore is mainly 5 foot high mud walls and in the places where you could land your boat, there is even more mud. And you sure can't just stand up and let it fly. So don't drink a bunch of water before going out.

And why the 5 foot high bank of mud? Chip says that in the Spring, when the river is high with winter rain and snow melt, the whole area if flooded a foot or so above the banks. So then you can kayak all over this area without having to wind you way up the narrow waterway. That sounds sort of cool. He says there is a Heron rookery back here somewhere that you can get to at that time of year. That would be something to go back and see.
I am guessing that in the Spring you need to be a little more aggressive in your clothing selection. I am betting wet suit.

A little aside. I am a good swimmer. If I flip my boat over, I will be wet and pissed, but I won't be scarred. I am pretty certain i could swim to shore if I was not capable of getting back into the kayak. I think this is important. Especially since you are more likely to flip one of those things if you are nervous and making the wrong motions. So i don't recommend this activity unless you don't mind too awfully a dip in the water and you consider yourself a good swimmer.

We saw some good wildlife. The predominant animal out that was bovine, but we also had some glimpses of some Herons (they were shy creatures) and even got so see one fishing on the mud flats. He spoked a bunch of his prey right by us under the boats. I am pretty sure they were bullfrog tadpoles. THere are 2 kinds of big frogs in Oregon. The native Oregon frog and the southern Bullfrog, which is evidently displacing the Oregon native species.

a quiet lunch spot
low bridge

We also saw a number of fellow kayakers out on the water. It is pleasant to paddle up to them and have a little chat in passing. It is sort of cool to get your first glimpse of other kayaks through the trees. At first you just see these synchronous flashes of color which are the tops of the paddles as they flash by 4 foot in the air on a stroke. Later you get to see the actual boats.

We got back to the dock after around 3 hours of paddling. Then the hard job, getting out of the things. This is easy to do, unless you don't want to flip over; then it is hard. I used the trick of putting your paddle behind you and flat on the dock and then pushing down on the paddle and sliding your but onto the dock. The paddle stabilizes the boat for you. Says so right here.

My Film Crew did good on this one.