Kayakers and rafters sat alert as the weekend approached. By the time the storm had passed and the temperature had risen, most boaters found themselves standing on the banks, dumbfounded at the surging floodwaters in front of them.
The White Salmon River splashed over the Husum gauge this past weekend, passing the 7 ft. measurement, dwarfing Husum falls into a boiling, massive hole.
The combination of heavy rain and high temperatures during the winter means a strong and abrupt shift in the water cycle. The snowy volcanoes dotting the landscape of the Pacific Northwest, such as Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, and Mt St. Helens, extend their white blanket farther and farther south as the winter passes, snow falling at elevations as low as 640 ft. in the town of White Salmon.
Higher temps over the weekend melted the snow as additional rainfall swept away the stored water, all cascading toward the nearest river bed. Local kayakers debated which runs to hit while flows were manageable and which sections to leave for a big water, flood stage run.
At one point, all that could be done was to hike into a favorite river to catch a glimpse of the powerful force of nature ripping through the quiet river bed.
In Husum, several local girls hiked in to see the giant White Salmon River barracade whose days are numbered: Condit Dam. Usually only releasing water from a single chute, the brown flood waters poured over the 185ft. concrete wall.
Saturday, as water levels plateaued briefly before rising again later that night, a group of boaters (a Wet Planet Kayak Instructor included) caught the Little Klickitat River, just north of the town of Klickitat. This run flows into the main Klickitat River just north of every new kayaker’s favorite class I/II stretch of river. White water kayak instruction courses can be seen nearly every sunny summer day, using the river’s varying eddy lines and changing currents to refine their technique.
The Little Klickitat is about 9 steps above this level of paddling.
Usually flowing around 100 cfs, this little trickle must get 10 x this size in order to safely descend in a kayak. That is roughly 1,000 cubic feet of water per second on a tiny, little creek.
Rapids form over rocks untouched by water for decades, trees along the banks become hazards and debris caught in this stampede of flow can become dangerously trapped in the river bed.
Each time a group enters this small and unassuming canyon, they must be prepared for anything new.
On Saturday, the group scouted rapids, tested different lines and found the river to be one of the most exciting runs in the area. Without letting up, the Little Klickitat surged for over 10 miles, hardly ever slowing down to anything below class III. Several bigger rapids kicked up the adrenaline appropriately for a group of whitewater addicts, even throwing in a waterfall for good measure.
Local kayakers in the Columbia River Gorge chose to stay here year round for days like this. While many retreat to work on degrees or pursue employment, all make a point to be on-call for high water days. This round appears to have brought so much water that rivers and creeks will be flowing for the whole week to come, ensuring that every paddler can make it out at least one day.
Susan Hollingsworth absolutely loved exploring the Little Klickitat during the heavy rains, as well as looks forward to instructing this summer on the main Klickitat River.