Skamania Mine Creek

Southern Washington, Washougal drainage near the Columbia Gorge
Class: IV+ to V, depending on flows
Gradient: 360 fpm, Continuous
Nature: Exploratory
Torture Factor: Low

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.

We did the first known descent of Skamania Mine Creek during our epic 'Four in Three' weekend. We were riding the high water following the 2006 New Years Flood, and we ended up doing four first known descents in three days.

On Friday Pete and I ran Wildboy Creek, then Saturday was Jackson Creek with Mike Long. Now it was Sunday and the group size had grown as word of the gold mine of steep creeks in the NorthWest Fork Washougal drainage spread. Sunday turned out to be the most epic day of our weekend, so Jon Fowlkes and James Bagley Jr. definitely picked the right time to get in on this exploratory bonanza.

After running Jackson the previous day, Mike, Pete and I set our sights on the uppermost reaches of the NorthWest fork Washougal above the regular put-in. Access is horrible for this section, so we drove around for a couple of hours trying to figure it out.

Finally we decided that the best way to come into the upper reaches of the NorthWest fork would be to paddle a no-name creek down into the NorthWest Fork. However, we were a little concerned because the map showed a section of extreme gradient on the no-name creek near the confluence with the NorthWest Fork.

We drove up the no-name creek ( which we were now calling 'Skamania Mine Creek' after a nearby mine on the map ) and parked above the high gradient section. After an hour or so of steep scrambling, we arrived at a breathtaking series of runnable rapids, dropping through a gorge with clear blue water.

We climbed back up out of the gorge with silly grins on our faces, feeling like we had just won the lottery!

Looking down into the Skamania Mine Creek drainage.

After climbing up out of the steep section, we continued up the road, trying to find a more reasonable put-in. As we continued to drive, we caught glimpses of what appeared to be more great whitewater with a very consistent gradient. However, the gorged-out stuff seemed to be limited to the short series of drops near the confluence with the NorthWest Fork.

Finally we came to a large 'No Trespassing' sign. We were a little confused by this because we had assumed we were on a forest service road. We continued cautiously upstream, drooling over the glimpses of whitewater below, until we came to a house that was right on the creek. At this point it became apparent that these folks had some sort of small mine claim on the headwaters of the creek, so we beat feet back downstream ( gold miners can be very territorial, and they are usually armed ).

That night we put out the word that we had found a new creek, and James Bagley Jr. and Jon Fowlkes joined us the next day. We drove up to the no trespassing sign ( about a half mile above the gorge ) and climbed down to the creek. Unfortunately the water had dropped since the previous day, it was pretty bony at the put-in. ( I think this creek rises and falls pretty quickly, so you have to get it just after a rainstorm ).

Downstream things seemed to deteriorate as our lack of water became apparent. The creek was very rocky, there was some sketchy wood, and we were very disappointed at the overall quality of the run. Fifty percent more water would have made this section much more bearable, but as it was we were taking a beating.

Mike Long, just below the put-in for Skamania Mine Creek.

Finally we arrived at the gorge and the creekbed narrowed and consolidated as it raced over a series of ledges. We got out to scout and the group fragmented somewhat; Jon and Mike decided that they were going to run the whole gorge at once, so they headed downstream to scout the whole thing ( which is a pretty serious undertaking ).

Meanwhile, Pete, James and I started breaking it down into pieces and running one drop at a time. The first drop is preceded by a series of small ledges before the creek goes over a nice double drop, shown below..

James Bagley Jr. runs the first ledge in the gorge section.

Halfway through the gorge we met up with Mike and Jon, who were returning from their long scout. Mike had this 'look' on his face, and we learned that he had slipped trying to do a sketchy rock climbing move and had ended up swimming the biggest drop in the gorge. "I guess it's good to go, I came through just fine.." he said with a grin..

Jon Fowlkes runs some drops downstream of the first ledge..

Mike and Jon caught up with us above the slide that Mike had so considerately swam over, which I dubbed 'Mike's Slide'..

Mike Long runs Mike's Slide in the gorge section. This marks the end of the short gorge section on Skamania Mine Creek.

Below Mike's Slide the creek joins the NorthWest Fork, and we headed off into the unknown. This unknown section of the NWF was the reason we ran Skamania Mine Creek in the first place, but it was a pretty big letdown. There was some sketchy wood, and no real rapids except for the powerful slide which is visible just upstream of the put-in bridge for the guidebook run.

It should be noted that this slide is very easy to get blown into, and that hole is pretty big. I was leading as we rounded the corner, and I quickly found myself out of eddies and swiftly approaching a very uniform horizon line.

With no options for scouting or safety, I picked the left side and hoped it was flushing. I ended up blowing through no problem, and I got out below and signaled the rest of the group that it was good to go.. ( at higher water this drop would become quite dangerous; it resembles a low-head dam and there are few eddies above it.. )

Jon Fowlkes charges down into the stompin' hole on the final drop above the take-out; which I probed blindly because I ran out of eddies upstream.. ( This is the slide visible upstream of the put-in bridge for the guidebook run on the Northwest Fork Washougal. )

We reached the take out bridge and headed off to run one more exploratory creek, which wrapped up our 'Four in Three' weekend. But, as they say, that's another story..

We ran this creek at the tail end of the 2006 New Years Flood. The flow is indicated by the blue bar below.
This creek runs off quickly, and we needed probably 50% more water than we had to make the section above the final gorge enjoyable. I think 5,000 cfs immediately after a good rainstorm would be just fine.

We ran this creek at the tail end of the 2006 New Years Flood. The flow is indicated by the blue bar below.
This creek runs off quickly, and we needed probably 50% more water than we had to make the section above the final gorge enjoyable. I think 3,000 cfs immediately after a good rainstorm would be good.

A map of Skamania Mine Creek, with the section we ran is marked by the blue line. The house marking the active? mining claim is visible on the map as the two little black dots by the tributary, upstream of where we put in. There is a lot of good whitewater upstream, but we didn't want to take our chances with the miners.