Eagle Creek

By Ryan Scott

Location: Oregon, Columbia Gorge
Class: V to V+ depending on flows
Gradient: 155 fpm, pool-drop with a capital D, gradient includes the relatively flat one-mile paddle out
Nature: Massive runnable waterfalls and tough ledges in a vertiginous emerald gorge that defies description

Torture Factor: Medium

Click here to watch a kayaking video shot on Eagle Creek, produced by James Bagley Jr. and Ryan Scott.

Copyright © 2006, Oregon Kayaking. No part of this page may be reproduced, linked, or copied without the express written permission of the Oregon Kayaking webmaster.

Eagle Creek has been a test piece for class five kayakers in the Pacific Northwest since the mid-90s. This run has also made prominent appearances in several big-budget kayaking videos, including the Priestly Brothers 'Breathe' and Chris Emerick's 1999 video 'Full Circle'. In addition to alternately thrilling and pounding the bejezus out of local kayakers, Eagle Creek gorge is also the most popular hike in the greater Columbia gorge.

This run is known for huge, runnable waterfalls and ledges located deep in a vertiginous moss-lined gorge. On any given day when the weather is nice, there will be more hikers than kayakers in the gorge, so count on having an audience when you run the big drops.

Eagle would be out of reach for everyone if it wasn't for the trail that was cut into the rock walls years ago by the forest service. Originally intended for the hiking public ( because no one would ever be crazy enough to float the creek! ) the trail now serves as a road to the sun for the regions top waterfall warriors.

Jim Pytel during the long hike to Skoonichuck Falls, the put-in for Eagle Creek.
photo by Bryan Youngs

The run starts at Skoonichuck falls, which is located about four miles upstream from the trailhead. Most of the rapids in this run can be scouted from the trail or High Bridge on the hike up, allowing you to make an informed decision about whether or not to put on the creek.

There is one rapid between High Bridge and Skoonichuck falls that you cannot easily see from the trail. This hidden drop is located in an hourglass-shaped part of the gorge where the creek plunges through a tight, narrow rapid. If you havenít heard of someone running it in the same season you plan on going, this one may be worth a look for new wood.

Once you arrive at Skoonichuck, you can start above or below it, depending on how good you are feeling that day.

On March 11, 2006, a large group of local kayakers converged on Eagle Creek to celebrate Nate Garrís 30th birthday. At Skoonichuck we all took a break, scouted the falls, and decided where to put in. After much deliberation, only Chuck Taylor and Nate Garr decided to put in above it. Chuck went first and had a great line as usual. Nate dropped in, rolled at the base of the first falls, and came up quick before dropping the second tier of the falls.

The best 30th birthday present ever: Nate Garr fires off the first tier of Skoonichuck falls, the warm-up drop Eagle Creek.
photo by Bryan Youngs

Below Skoonichuck the canyon tightens up and the creeks squeezes through some very narrow rapids. The first major drop is a six-footer which plunges through a tight channel against the right wall. Scout or portage on the left.

Immediately below this drop you can see the hourglass-shape of the gorge downstream. This marks a rapid that drops a few feet into a hole then twists through a narrow gorge, spitting you out the bottom. The whole rapid drops about twelve feet and cannot be portaged once you enter the canyon.

The spectacular and awe-inspiring Eagle Creek gorge.
photo by Bryan Youngs

The next rapid is the one you can see upstream from High Bridge. The line ( like most of the rapids above Punchbowl Falls ) is straight down the main flow. From above, it looks like there is an obvious-looking boof line on the right side, but it lands on a bedrock shelf and should be avoided. The next rapid is the one directly below High Bridge (on the upstream side). Here the creek tightens up against the left wall and drops through a seam at the bottom. Keep it straight here and you will go right through.

After a relaxing float through a deep, narrow flat-water gorge below high bridge, the gorge opens up and continues with tight teacup drops. The first one has a tight channel against the right wall and a strong seam at the bottom that pushes back into a big cave on creek right, then a sloping pourover. Scout and set safety on river left.

The next mile is mainly read and fun until you get to and obvious horizon, where the canyon tightens up again and has a significant horizon line downstream. This drop is a narrow eight-foot pourover with a strong seam below it that kicks to the left wall. After about a hundred feet of class two, take out on river left to scout the lead-in drop and Punchbowl Falls. If you decide not to run Punchbowl, eddy out on river right and start climbing back up to the trail.

The lead-in to Punchbowl Falls is a narrow six-foot auto-boof with an eddy on the left below it. Peel out of the eddy with left angle, hit the reaction hole in the center, tuck it up and free fall about thirty feet into the pool below.

Punchbowl is always a hard hit at the bottom regardless of how aerated the boil seems from above. Experienced locals theorize that the big recirculation coming off the left wall breaks up the tongue at the lip of the drop, creating irregular pulses of water that fail to fully aerate the pool below. Therefore, the pool is almost always more 'green and hard' than it appears.

Chuck Taylor styles Punchbowl Falls while the rest of the crew looks on..
photo by Bryan Youngs

On the Garr Birthday trip, everyone had great lines and most took a hard hit at the bottom. Once you drop out of the pool below, Little Punchbowl is just downstream. Eddy out on river right and decide if you want to hike out here or run one more then hike up and out, because Metlako Falls waits just around the corner.

Metlako Falls is the last and largest waterfall in Eagle Creek Gorge and was also the last to be run. This monster drop features a ten-foot slide leading to a ninety-foot vertical plunge into a basalt-lined pothole. Oregon kayaker Dave Grove was the first to run Metlako in May of 2004, followed two years later by Trip Jennings then a few months later by local wild man and kayaker Rolf Kelly on an inner tube, as documented on the kayaking blog The Range Life.

Portage up and around Metlako on the trail you came in on and drop back in once you see a way back down to the creek or hike the next mile out to the parking area.

Every drop between Skoonichuck and the take out has been run, and a few drops upstream as well. The most notable of these upstream descents occurred during the filming the local video 'Breathe', when Isaac and Jordan Priestly hiked six miles up the creek and claimed the first descent of a fifty-five plus foot waterfall far above the regular run.

For flows, unless you have already hiked in and scouted the gorge its hard to know the right level. Eagle Creek originates at Wahtum Lake and runs downhill for seventeen miles until it hits the Columbia River. It has a similar flow pattern to the West Fork of the Hood ( rain will bring it up fast ) the snowmelt in the spring goes pretty quick so rainfall is a more reliable flow driver.

There is a low head damn at the end of the parking area. The day we ran it there was just enough water going over it to slide over in your boat. If you see a big hole at the bottom of this dam, the run is too high. Ideally, you should hike in check the flow and find a gauge rock for yourself at the take out.

To reach Eagle Creek Gorge, take I84 East out of Portland to exit 41 ( eastbound only, there is no westbound access ) turn into the parking area, continue to the end of the parking lot. A Northwest forest parking pass is required here.

The most often run section of Eagle Creek is indicated by the red line below. There are more big, runnable waterfalls upstream.