Rivers are the thread that stroically and silently hold sections of an area’s natural history story together.
During the spring, the Klickitat River begins to rise. Gathering the run-off from increased rain showers and melted snow from the snow-capped Mt Adams, this wilderness run comes alive.
However, the pieces of story that the Klickitat links together are far different from any other whitewater rafting run in the Columbia River Gorge.
While the Klickitat shares glacial flow with other spring classics, like the White Salmon River, it flows through an entirely different ecosystem.
Crossing over the White Salmon on the way to the put-in we begin our rapid transport into the eastern Cascade desert. With every mile we travel, we lose an inch of rainfall per year. For us, this will amount to a 30 in/year difference in rainfall.
The road climbs until Mt. Adams pops into our view. The land has spread out, creating a vast marsh-lake, the central feature of the Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Since 1964, the area has provided safe habitat for endangered species like the Sandhill Crane and Spotted Frog.
Our van pauses to view the herd of Elk, numbered in the hundreds, grazing next to the marsh.
This lake will eventually make its way to the Klickitat River, although not until the dry summer comes.
Winding dirt roads soon lead us to the river.
We are now nestled deep in the Yakima Indian Reservation, with the Gifford Pinchot National Forest just to our left.
Sitting on a fallen tree, the rafters listen intently to Todd’s description of paddling technique.
They may not know that the massive log beneath them fell on its own accord. Harsh winds and storms can bring down some of the tallest trees with one snap. Coupled with local logging efforts, the Klickitat River is known for its dynamic forest environment.
By dynamic, I mean there are fallen trees everywhere – especially in the river.
We, of course, have scouted the section of river prior to the trip and removed any wood that blocked flow. However, the guides must remember several crucial moments when the river splits. One channel leads to a smooth passage; the other leads straight into massive log jam.
Soon after launching, we see our first steep canyon wall. Suddenly we feel smaller, now floating through a canyon. Guides explain the columnar basalt rock walls, formed from ancient eruptions of Mt Adams and other major geologic events.
These walls continue to appear around river bends, each more amazing than the last. Distinct layers appear in the rock walls, as if the mountains were sliced in half for us to see the story hidden inside.
Our rafts ride over fun wave-trains and spin on eddy currents, making this scenic wilderness tour even more exciting.
After a warm lunch of chili and bread bowls, the Klickitat River canyon begins to open. Sweeping views of the landscape provide a wider perspective of the land around us.
Side creeks tumble into the main river, often falling from steep rock outcrops all the way into the Klickitat. Each of these rivers connects a smaller canyon to the main branch, linking together another section of the natural masterpiece.
It is not until we are driving away at the end of our whitewater rafting trip that we see other people. For the past several hours, it has only been us and the river. We make our way out of the canyon, passing back into the wet ecosystem of the White Salmon valley. Whether our guests realize it or not, they have just passed through an area that very few people see.
Thanks to Alexa and Lori for providing our lunch and filming the trip!