We received word on Friday evening from PacifiCorp that the Lower Lowet White Salmon River, that new section from Northwestern Park through the previous site of Condit Dam down to the Columbia River, would be open for paddling on Saturday morning.  The following morning, a crew from JR Merit, the company doing the work to decommision the dam, removed the bouys and cables that marked the river as closed.  So, the river really is open for paddling! This is incredible news for everyone excited by river rafting in Oregon or kayaking in Washington.

Wet Planet was contracted by JR Merit to help with log removal and hazard assessment in the new section of river.  Working with them provided us an opportunity to make several exploratory trips into the lower canyon. In previous blog posts, we discussed the log jam in the Narrows and provided a quick glimpse of the Lower Lower from our scouting trips. We’ve now had a chance to paddle the Lower Lower White Salmon River. Check out the video for a taste of the new section of river, and keep reading for some of our thoughts on what it is like to paddle the Lower Lower White Salmon River and the hazards involved.

The section of river below Northwestern Park is incredibly beautiful. It is hard to describe what it feels like to paddle downstream from the park and through the previous site of the dam. PacifiCorp and JR Merit have done an excellent job with the dam removal.  It is almost impossible to see where the dam was. Really amazing.  The biggest indication of the dam site is that you float through the post apacolyptic area of the former reservoir, and then cross into a canyon that is lushly vegetated. An awesome experience for a river lover!

As cool as it is, this section of river is still very hazardous and needs to be approached with caution. Any swimmers below the dam site would be scary.  The hazards are most significant a short way downstream from the dam site where the river flows over Steelhead Falls into the Narrows.

Steelhead Falls – this is a river wide low head dam type ledge hole that forms the entrance to the narrows. The recirculation is significant, and the lead in is not straight forward.  It is possible to portage on river left, but the portage (as well as the hole) will become more difficult at higher water levels. As boaters start exploring the canyon and running this rapid, I am confident that we will see some scary swims here.  If you swim at Steelhead Falls, you will probably swim through the narrows.

The Narrows – the canyon below Steelhead Falls constricts to its most narrow point on the White Salmon River with vertical walls on both sides. The canyon can only be scouted from above. Wood hazards, which are certain to occur in this spot, are not possibe to see from river level.  Log jams have historically bridged the canyon walls here. After the dam breach, there was a significant log jam in the narrows. The mess in the canyon was cemented into sediment that came down with the breach. The crew from JR Merit did an incredible job at cleaning this up. Using heavy machinery and help from logging companies, they removed over 45 logs, a feat not possible on a boaters budget. However, there is still significant sub-surface wood in the narrows cemented into the sediment.

Be aware, the Narrows, and the canyon below the dam site in general, have real hazards due to the wood, narrow vertical cliff walls, and dynamic changing river bed. Use caution! If you paddle the Lower Lower, you will want to have paddling skills a full class above the level of the rapids you will encounter. Swims in there are not really an option. This is a new, changing section of river, and we will all be learning lots about it in the coming months. If we all use good judgment and patience, we can avoid learning lessons the hard way.

Good luck! Thank you PacifiCorp and JR Merit!

Author Todd Collins lives on the White Salmon River in BZ Corner and works year round for Wet Planet.