The Upper Little White Salmon

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The fact that the Upper Little White Salmon is rarely mentioned in paddling circles speaks volumes about the excellence of the classic Lower Little White run. That said, we were quite surprised at the quality of whitewater on this section, and I think that if it were located anywhere else it would be run much more often than it is. I had run the lower Little White 30 or 40 times before I finally got on the Upper, even though I had always wondered what lay upstream.

Josh Knapp and Steve Stuckmeyer at the put in for the Upper Little White Salmon

The creek starts off in an utterly relaxed fashion, winding past heavily forested banks with a house or two. Soon the gradient starts to pick up, and we encountered some smaller class III type drops, which gradually increased to class IV. One of the rapids in particular (pictured below) would be very difficult to scout, due to gorge walls and non-existent eddies above it. Luckily Josh was able to scramble into a pseudo-eddy on the river-right side and guide Steve and I through it, so we didn't have to get out of our boats.

Josh runs the blind drop in the class III-IV warm-up section

Soon we reached a bridge, which is an alternate put-in for those only interested in the big drops downstream. Immediately below the bridge the creek entered a narrow flume that was very similar to the mini-gorges on the Farmlands section of the White Salmon (not surprising considering that they cut through the same geological strata).

Steve bashes through a hole in the flume-drop below the middle bridge.
This section is very similar to the Farmlands on the Upper White Salmon.

The flume-rapid was quite long and flushed around several winding corners before we encountered a large horizon line which merited a scout on the left. This turned out to be the infamous 'Shroom Tripper', a drop formed by a large, mushroom-shaped boulder at the bottom. All of the water crashes into this boulder, which is generally boofed off the center.

Steve boofs over the 'Shroom' rock at Shroom Tripper while Josh watches from upstream.

The main thing to be concerned about when running Shroom Tripper isn't the rapid itself, but what lies just downstream. Below Shroom Tripper is a short, moving pool and then the river turns right and accelerates into a long, complex rapid. The left side of this drop has a wicked pin spot in the blind pourover (most of the flow pours onto a boulder) against the left wall (pictured below) and the right side has some sharp, unfriendly rocks in the main chute. You have to paddle like you mean it to get to the right, because most of the water pushes hard to the left and into the pin spot. This entire rapid can be scouted or portaged on the left, where a faint trail winds along the lip of the gorge.

Josh enters the rapid with the nasty pin spot immediately below Shroom Tripper.
Only about half the rapid is visible in this photo, it continues for some distance downstream.

Below this drop the creek started to resemble the 'Gettin' Busy' section of the Lower Little White as it careened down some truly impressive boulder gardens...
Josh watches from an eddy as Steve runs one of the steep boulder gardens in the lower section

The boulder gardens are abruptly interrupted by a hatchery structure, which is runnable on the river-right side..

Josh runs the ledge at the fish hatchery while Steve watches from above

Below the hatchery structure the creek gathers itself and then roars over one of the largest single boulder gardens on the Little White. This drop is huge! The entire thing can be scouted on the right, but it wouldn't be easy due to the rugged terrain. A better strategy is to eddy-hop down and check the blind spots at river level. The lines are not always obvious and there is at least one pin spot, so first-timers should exercise caution on this one.

Below the final large boulder garden the creek mellows for a hundred yards or so and then tears down a long, twisty flume which leads to Willard Falls, the ledge-drop visible from the put-in for the Lower Little White. The hole on this falls gets more powerful the further left you go, so a melt-down on the right seems to be the highest percentage line.

Josh gets ready to melt down at Willard Falls while Steve waits his turn upstream, in an eddy on river-right.

Flows and Access: Access is simple; the upper put-in is a campground near the road. This section is run at much higher flows than the lower because it is wider and less congested. We ran it at 3.3 feet on the bridge gauge, but I think this is on the lower end of the recommended flows for the upper (that's a great flow for the lower section, though!)

For more info, pick up the Bennett Guide to Washington Whitewater, a book no serious Northwest paddler should be without.