Rock Creek
Washington State, Columbia Gorge

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Rock Creek Washington is yet another great Columbia Gorge run. This rain-fed creek cuts through the same geological strata as the Little White Salmon, The White Salmon, The Wind, and Trout Creek, with similarly impressive results. Paddlers running this section for the first time are certain to be impressed by the clear water, fun drops, and great scenery. We are very lucky to have creeks like this with such easy access so close to Portland.

Rock Creek is not as hard as any of the runs listed above, but it is a quality class four creek well-suited for paddling groups of mixed ability levels. Class four boaters will have a great time, and those who are looking for some super-chunky gnar will find drops that get their blood pumping; Rock Creek has drops/portages that will test the nerve and skill of even the very best paddlers (most of which are usually portaged).

Below the put-in Pete and I found some nice little ledgy drops and some great scenery. The surrounding hills had a light coating of snow, and the air was crisp. It was a great day of winter boating. Pete had run this creek before, so it was nice to have someone who knew where to catch eddies above the portages.

Pete Giordano, below the warm-up drops on Rock Creek.

The first major rapid on this run is a blind, 6-foot river-wide ledge that pours into a short, vertical-walled gorge. I call this ledge 'blind' because scouting this drop is somewhat of a challenge due to the slick, loose walls on the river-left side. Of course, I am used to this sort of thing in my never-ending quest for boating photos, so I managed to grovel my way downstream to get the shot shown below of Pete running this drop. That said, I can't imagine trying to portage this drop; plan on running it if you do this creek.

Pete runs the blind ledge. Note the steep, slick walls on the river-left side upstream.
Because of this, scouting and/or setting safety on this drop is quite challenging, and portaging would be very difficult.

I think I mentioned the portages on this run. Ah yes, the portages. There are two on this run, Heaven and Hell and Three-Swim Falls. Soon enough you arrive at Heaven and Hell, a double falls dropping a total of about 35 feet. The two falls are separated by about 100 feet of moving water, and are usually portaged down the river-left side.

The first part of Heaven and Hell is a twisty falls that careens off the walls into a narrow hole against the wall. This drop looked very sketchy to me, though I'm sure there are people out there who would run it. (this drop is visible upstream in the photo below)

The second drop on Heaven and Hell is much more runnable, but still demands a strong move to the left to avoid cratering into the large, midstream boulder shown in the photo below.

Pete stands between the first and second drop on Heaven and Hell. The second part of this rapid drops into a large hole (just below Pete in the photo), then accelerates down the sloping rock face. Paddlers running this drop must drive hard to the river-left side to avoid cratering into the boulder in the middle of the drop. (bottom of the photo)

Dan the Man Coyle cleans the second drop on Heaven and Hell.
Note the boulder to the left side of the photo that the main flow pours onto. A missed line on this drop would be very, very ugly.
Photo by Gabe Flock

Below Heaven and Hell are more fun drops and great vistas, but stay on your toes because Three Swim Falls lurks just around a corner, waiting to surprise unwary boaters. The lead-in to Three-Swim is a fast, splashy class three boulder garden that bends around the corner to the left. At higher flows be very cautious when running this drop as the eddy above Three-Swim gets small and hectic!

Marc Strabic portages Three Swim Falls
Swimming this falls is doubly dangerous because of the proximity of a class five drop just downstream.
(photo by Pete Giordano)

I had an interesting conversation with long-time Washington Paddler Val Shaull awhile ago. He asked if I had ever seen someone run Three-Swim, and I said no. He replied: "I was on the run when it got it's name. Three people in our group swam it.." Enough said.

Below Three-Swim are more fun drops, including the sweet ledgy drop shown below. The scenery also stays great the whole way down, with mossy walls and waterfalls pouring into the creek from above. As if all of this weren't enough, there is a great play-hole about 100 feet downstream of the take-out bridge; doing a few hole spins here is a great way to end any run down Rock Creek..

Pete runs a fun slide below Three Swim Falls


First, flows according to Pete: "You want about 500-800 cfs in Rock Creek, which can be checked from the take-out in Stevenson. I'd say it is similar to NF Washougal which uses the EF Lewis as an approximation (about 50% of the EF). Usually a couple solid days of rain is sufficient or the Clack about 3000 cfs, after a significant rainstorm."

Other beta: Below the take out for this run Rock Creek meanders through several miles of class II before dropping over several waterfalls in the 30-50 foot range. I know some of the PDX guys ran at least one of these falls recently, and Doc Loomis is rumored to have run the falls in an inflatable kayak (due to the shallow landings) back in the nineties. I also heard one scary story about a raft running one of the falls by mistake on a particularly bold multi-raft descent in the nineties, but for most boaters these falls present long, difficult portages that just aren't worth the effort.