The Little White Salmon has achieved legendary status in steep creeking circles, and its reputation is well deserved. Few runs anywhere have as many high quality rapids and falls combined with such a long season. This creek almost always has enough water to run, which is very unusual for a creek that is so small and so steep. For those who have the skills, the Little White really shouldn't be missed.
The average gradient on this run is 238 fpm, and it's continuous nature provides an exciting ride for even the most well traveled boaters. That said, it would be easy to get dangerously out of control on this section so I feel obligated to say that tentative class V paddlers should NOT attempt this run.
The Little White has some nice scenery and the stunning aquamarine water has to be seen to be believed. Below the put in you'll find some small class II-III drops in a very narrow creekbed with small eddies. Soon the creek tilts on edge and careens down through 'Gettin' Busy', a half mile long rapid that will keep even the best boaters entertained. This long!! boulder garden requires full-on, non-stop reactionary boating and can either be great fun or a terror-fest depending on your ability level and flow. At lower flows (below 3 feet) there are plenty of small eddies and at high flows (3.5 feet and above) it becomes a non-stop gauntlet of burly holes and powerful hydraulics that are guaranteed to put your skill and nerve to the test.
(The photos on this site range from 2.5 to 3.9 feet, but I consider 3.2 feet to be an optimal medium flow). Gettin' Busy also has logs, undercuts, and sieves to keep boaters on their toes, so when in doubt, scout! (For those who can relate this rapid is like a slightly steeper and much more constricted Miracle Mile...)
Jesse Coombs catches an eddy in Gettin' Busy.
The whole half mile is just like this, non-stop action! (flow: It was pretty high this day, like maybe 3.9 feet..)
(Photo by Josh Knapp)
Jurgen Nickles clears the hole below Boulder Sluice (flow: 3.6 feet)
Below Boulder Sluice there is one more big, bouldery drop known as 'Island'. Portage or scout on the right, but stay on your toes as it is easy to get blown into this one! Island is usually run down the middle or middle-right at lower flows, stay away from the far left side as it has pinning potential.
The first big drop in this section is Sacriledge. Here the creek accelerates over a series of ledgy slides that culminate abruptly with a folding ten foot ledge with a wickedly powerful hydraulic and a large cave under the river-left wall. (This is known as 'Dave's Cave').
Paddlers end up in the cave every year, and it usually takes an hour or so to retrieve boats and gear from under the wall when they do. I remember one exciting trip when I didn't quite clear the hole at Sacriledge and I started cartwheeling so fast I didn't know what end was up. I had been leading up to that point, and as Josh came down he said he saw my stern go up as he boofed over me; he could have 'high-fived' my boat as he went by! Luckily I flushed a few seconds later (fortunately not into the cave) and rolled up.
Below S-Turn are a few more ledges and boulder gardens, then you reach the Bowey Hotel. This drop is very deceptive (especially for first-timers) because it has a long lead-in (about 50 yards) culminating in an abrupt left hand turn where the creek drops over a five-foot ledge with a very powerful hole. Swims here are very dangerous because Wishbone Falls is 100 feet downstream with no significant eddies in between. The hole gets more powerful the further left you go, so boofing right is recommended!
In the Spring of 2003 a paddler swam in the hole at the Bowey Hotel at 3.1 feet and was swept over Wishbone Falls; he had no pulse when he was recovered from the pool below, and was resuscitated and airlifted out. Take this drop very seriously!
Andy swims into the cave with a rope at the Bowey Hotel to retrieve
boat after getting pounded in the hole.. (flow: 3.6 feet)
Note the large surge of water coming from the hole against the river-left wall. This hydraulic is extremely powerful!
Immediately downstream from the Bowey Hotel is Wishbone Falls. Here a steep ledgy rapid plunges directly into and over a twisty twenty foot waterfall on the left and an unrunnable cascade on the right.
You pretty much have to run Wishbone because it drops into a steep vertical walled gorge with almost no way in or out. There are ways to portage, though. I ran the falls twice my first time down because John was willing to haul my boat up from the rim of the gorge and belay me as I scrambled up a tree to the top. The tree I climbed has foot pegs driven into it (by fishermen in years past) which makes portaging easier. Ever since I broke my back running Spirit I now do a throw-and-go at Wishbone, which is almost as fun as running the falls used to be!
The second drop (known as Horseshoe) is probably one of the most under-rated drops on The Little White. This U-Shaped ledge has a large, submerged boulder backing up the flow about eight feet downstream of the middle of the 'U', making the middle of this ledge-hole a nearly perfect drowning machine that is very difficult to escape from if you don't make the move. The tricky cross-currents just above Horseshoe are greatly amplified by the walls and tend to funnel unwary paddlers into the middle of this drop resulting in prolonged, highly dangerous swims.
I personally watched
friend get recirculated
many times (out of his boat) in the middle of Horseshoe one time at 3.1
feet before he
was able to pull himself (underwater!) along the back of the ledge and
escape the hole on the river-right side.
It was agonizing watching him get pounded but I was the only thing between him and Stovepipe so I had to stay in my boat and watch. Not pleasant.
This was not the first near-drowning at Horseshoe, and it won't be the
last. Swims here
are always life-threatening because the V+ drop known as Stovepipe waits 40 feet downstream.
(It is highly recommended that you set safety at Horseshoe. To do this, you have two options: 1. At lower flows (below 3.5 feet) you can get out on river-right above Horseshoe and hike downstream, or 2. Have someone has to run it first, then get out on the right just above Stovepipe and traverse back up to just above the hole.)
I seen a few people run the main left-side line at Stovepipe, with a variety of results. I saw a professional kayaker clean it one day, but on another day I watched a local paddler have a gruesome line resulting in a smashed-up boat and minor injuries; He was very lucky to have gotten off so easily.
GAUGE INFO: The Little White almost always has water, which is a minor miracle considering this run is so small and steep. This creek is fed by a large underground aquifer that tends to smooth out dramatic fluctuations in flow. In other words, the LWS takes awhile to get going, but once it is running it drops very slowly, like around an inch a week in the spring and summer during snowmelt (it is often very stable in the winter as well, once it gets going). The creek has a very long season, running from November through late July in most years, or year-round if you don't mind low water. There is no online gauge for the Little White, but someone on the PDX Listserve usually knows the flow, or John at the Kayak Shed in Hood River. Also, you can check the internet gauge White Salmon at Husum, which often (roughly) approximates the flow in the Little White, especially in the spring and summer during runoff.
A few inches makes a lot of difference on the Little White. In years past we used a stick gauge referred to in the Bennett Guide at the hatchery just upstream of the put-in, but this gauge was removed by hatchery personnel around 2001 (if memory serves). After the removal there was some uncertainty about flows on this run, especially for newcomers who had no way to 'guesstimate' flows at the put-in based on prior experience.
Luckily for the paddling community, before the old gauge was removed local paddler Ron Reynier placed his own gauge downstream by the put-in bridge and carefully correlated flows. In the Summer of 2002 Ron placed a new stick gauge under the put-in bridge (on the river-left side). I have found that Ron's gauge corresponds pretty closely to the old gauge.
This eliminates any guesswork associated with flows on this run for future paddlers. Thanks Ron!
NOTE: IN MY OPINION, THIS IS THE BEST CREEK IN THE WORLD, BUT IT IS ALSO A VERY SERIOUS RUN;
TWO PADDLERS HAVE DROWNED AND BEEN RESUSCITATED ON THIS CREEK THAT I KNOW OF. THIS RUN IS CLASS FIVE, WITH EVERYTHING THAT RATING ENTAILS.
THESE FLOWS ARE ACCORDING TO THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE AVERAGE CREEK-BOATER ( SUCH AS MYSELF ). I HAVE RUN THIS SECTION OVER FIFTY TIMES AT A VARIETY OF FLOWS, BUT THIS IS ONLY MY OPINION. BE CAREFUL AND HAVE FUN!
|What this means in english||Comments|
|  Insanely low ( 1.5 ) to low ( 2.5 )||Only run below two feet during drought years when extremely bored and desperate. Kayak optional, mountain bike recommended (backloops off Spirit!)|
|  Low ( 2.5 ) to medium-low ( 3.0 )||3.0 is the best first-time flow for mortals, feels similar to 3.0 feet on the Husom Gauge for the White Salmon runs (Green Truss, Farmlands, MWS..)|
|  Medium-low ( 3.0 ) to medium-high ( 3.5 )||This is the most popular flow range on the LWS. It is often at this flow in the winter, and usually in May-July when we have a normal to above-average snowpack. Gets pushy at the high end of this range.|
|  Medium-high ( 3.5 ) to high ( 4.0 )||Previous Little White runs at lower water highly recommended unless you are a professional kayaker or equivalent.|
|  High to Very High||Running the LWS significantly above 4.0 feet is V+, though it is being run higher and higher these days. Many previous runs down the creek and/or an experienced guide is required at these flows unless you are a professional kayaker or equivalent.
According to those who run the LWS this high, every inch over four feet adds a disproportionate amount of difficulty to the run.
|  Very High to Insanely High||I really don't have any clue what happens to the Little White at these flows. It boggles the mind.
The highest known run down the Little White was a solo run between 5.0 and 5.2 on the foot gauge by Hood River high water hero Erik Boomer. Erik did the run solo and portaged S-Turn and Spirit. Erik returned shortly after his record-high run and did the creek several times at 4.8 feet with local Pro paddlers Tao Berman and Todd Anderson before it dropped out. According to those who run the LWS this high, every inch over four feet adds a disproportionate amount of difficulty to the run.
A parting shot...