By Darren Albright
The Top Tye is a tributary to the South Fork of the Skykomish River in Western Washington. It comes alive with heavy rains, and in the spring with snowmelt. It needs at least 4000 cfs on Pat Welch's Skykomish at Gold Bar gauge to be doable (although we have done it at 3000 cfs); with 5000 to 6000 cfs being a great level. The river has several drops ranging from 8 to 20 feet (excluding 30+ foot Log Choke Falls), and ends with two steep, boulder gardens. There is some wood on the run, but you can work your way around all of it without portaging. You can scout a majority of the drops while shuttling. If you stop at the Deception Falls Recreation Area (you cannot miss it: look at logistics) you can scout Crack in the Earth and Monkey Cage Falls from the overlooking decks. You will most likely have tourists watching you run the drops if the weather is nice, so look good.
Starting from the uppermost put-in, you will find only a couple 3-4 foot drops to warm up on before the Spout. The Spout is a 12-15 foot drop that leads into the right wall. You can scout the Spout from the left wall and take the seal launch on the left if the drop is not to your liking. The usual line starts out on the right, boofing over the little hole at the top, while trying to hit the flake on the left. One guy on our last trip got endered out of the top hole and ran the big drop upside down. The picture of Tao is at a much higher water level.
Tao Berman runs the Spout. Photo by Jock Bradley.
About fifty yards downstream is Skin-So-Soft. Again, you can scout and portage left, but I have heard this is difficult. This is the drop in the kayaking video 'Twitch 2000' where Tao ducks under the log at the bottom. At more sane water levels, it does not pose as mush of a problem. The line is on the far right, avoiding the rock in the center. The entire drop is about 10 feet and most of it is a slide.
After a half-mile or so, you will come to a divide in the river. Take the left channel. Both are plugged with wood, but you can usually scrape down the left one without any problems. Next is Monkey Cage Falls, a nearly vertical 20 to 25 foot slide. There are hidden rocks on the left side of the falls that have broken many ankles. I have run it over there twice with no problems, but with further scouting, I would say it is a bad idea.
Editors Note: This drop was named 'Monkey Cage' by one of the first paddlers to explore this river because of the tourists who inevitably gather above the falls. The viewing platorm extends out over the falls, and sort of resembles a cage with the high railings. Picture it: you are running the drop with a gaggle of bug-eyed Californians hootin' and hollerin' like a bunch of monkeys from the deck immediately overhead. Hence: Monkey Cage Falls.
Monkey Cage Falls, photo shot from the 'Monkey Cage'.
This photo was taken at low flows and is courtesy of Bryan Swan's Waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest.
The next big drop is Crack-in-the-Earth, a 20-foot double drop about 50 yards below Monkey Cage. The first drop is about 15 feet into a 6 foot wide channel that turns 90 degrees to the right, then drops over another 5-foot ledge with a very sticky hole. This is probably the hardest drop on the trip and most people opt for the boof on the far right that avoids the double drop. Out of six people on one trip, three did the boof, two swam out of the hole below the 5-foot ledge after long battles and only one had a successful line through the gut. Immediately below Crack-in-the-Earth, another 5-foot ledge awaits. It catches many people off guard and is very sticky. It sucks paddlers back into it from downstream and there is no getting out of it once you are there. We ended up pulling one paddler out (w/o his boat) via throw rope once.
Christian Knight careens through Crack in the Earth. Photos by Jock Bradley.
Around the corner, there is a drop that has a piece of wood sticking out from the river left bank. It is runnable, but deserves a scout. The next drop is Log Choke Falls, so keep an eye out for the next horizon line. There is a new concrete bank on river left that is keeping the road from falling in the river that warms of the drop. Portage (or scout) on river right. Just below Log Choke, Box Drop, a 15 foot waterfall awaits. It is easy to miss because you actually put-in in the pool at the base of Log Choke. This is my favorite drop on the run as it tends to ‘auto-boof’ you. I have seen a few people actually land on a stern ender here.
Tao Berman, the only person who has run Log Choke Falls... This is his second time over. Photo by Jock Bradley.
Tao runs Box Drop, just below Log Choke. Photo by Jock Bradley.
The next horizon line is an unnamed 8-foot drop that lands on a rock. It is hard to see the rock, but you can run it far left without any problems. Downstream is Paranoia; a drop that gets its name for an underwater rock ledge that tends to break boats if you swim. I have seen and heard of many epic tales of this drop. I swam out of it on my first attempt, but have nailed the line ever since. The entrance tends to throw people off line for the big 8-10 foot drop. You can scout on both sides of the river, but the portage is easiest on river right.
The next good rapid is a triple drop. All the ledges are about 5 feet or so with sticky holes and usually run on river left. The rest of the river contains just class 3 boulder gardens with the exception of two class 4+ boulder gardens. Both are very steep and are usually run starting on river right and ending on river left. The last one goes into a wall that is sloping over the river. It does not appear to be a bad undercut, but it is difficult to roll if you get pushed into it.
The take-out is at the bridge under HWY 2. If you pass the bridge, be aware of class six Alpine Falls. There are very few eddies above this fifty foot, two tiered waterfall and it will probably kill you if you end up on the river right side of the falls. I have run Alpine Falls once, but I don't recommend it.
The line is on the left and requires a hard ferry to get to river left then a perfect boof to prevent pitoning before the 40-foot slide. If you screw up the first drop and get blown to the right side of the slide your chances of surviving the mess at the bottom are almost nil.
Alpine Falls detail, taken at lower flows. Your line over the first tier has to be perfect in order to line up for the nice slide on river left. If you end up on river right, you get to experience the 'nasty bit' shown in this photo... (Picture courtesy of Bryan Swan's website Waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest. Thanks Bryan!)
Tao drops over the left side of the main drop on Alpine Falls. Photo by Jock Bradley.
Put-in and take-out: Refer to Jeff Bennetts book, a guide to Washington Whitewater.
To scout Monkey Cage Falls and Crack-in-the-Earth, pull into Deception Falls Recreation Area. Take the trail that leads out of the right side of the parking lot (to the right as you pull into the lot) down to the first bridge. This is Deception Slide and has been run. Instead of going over the bridge, follow the trail along the river to the next bridge and go over it. Follow the trail for 200 yards and you will end up at a platform over looking Monkey Cage and further down the trail there is one over looking Crack-in-the-Earth.
To scout The Spout and Skin-So-Soft, take a left out of Deception Falls Recreation Area parking lot and go up the road about a ¼ to a ½ mile. When the road curves to the right and straightens out, pull over to the left side of the road by the guardrail.