Upper Upper White Salmon ( Green Canyon )

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The Green Canyon section of the White Salmon has long been a mystery to many Northwest paddlers, including those in my paddling circle. The Green Canyon is notoriously difficult to run because when it has water, the road is blocked by snow. By the time the snow melts, there is no water in the river; this one doesn't give it up easily. This uppermost section of the White Salmon was first run in the mid-1990's by several groups of adventurous boaters after particularly favorable conditions, but it has seen very few descents since then. ( The run is also notorious for wood, which probably keeps many paddlers away as well. I know one guy who took two days to do a solo run down this section, abandoning his gear and hiking out when he ran out of light on the first day, returning the following day to complete the run.. )

Well, Pete Giordano and I are two paddlers who don't mind a few logs here and there if we can see a new place and run some sweet drops, so this run was an irresistable challenge. Pete and I made several attempts on this river in the years before we ran it, and we were always stopped by snow on the road. We had managed to scout possible put-ins on both sides of the river after most of the snow had melted, getting some enticing glimpses of the whitewater below, but not much else.

Well, when the spring of 2004 rolled around we were determined to run this section, come hell or high snowdrifts! ( We decided that we would simply hike up through the snow if it came to that, an option you must be prepared to undertake if you are going to do this run in the spring ).

We selected a Sunday to make our attempt, and we were bolstered by the semi-successful scouting trip that Pete and James 'Honda-kaze' Bagley Jr. had make the day before.

James had managed to punch his low-rider Honda Civic through several of the larger snowdrifts on the road, hitting the drifts at 50+ miles an hour and managing to gain an additional mile higher than we had ever made it before. Pete reportedly aged 15 years or more during this trip, but managed to survive the experience (the condition of the car is unknown at this time..).

Mt. Adams, the source of the Mighty White Salmon River and the Little White Salmon, viewed on the drive to the put-in for Green Canyon.. only ten miles to go..

We decided to leave my little commuter car at the take out, and loaded up Pete's truck for the long drive to the put-in. After some extensive map scouting, we decided to try and make it up the road on the river-right side about six miles, which would put us above all of the major rapids and just below the put-in in the book.

Fortunately the week of snowmelt had cleared nice paths where James' Honda had punched through the week before, and we were able to make good time until getting stopped by snow about 1.5 miles below our targeted put-in. Pete, possibly inspired by James' success the week before, started plowing aggressively through one snowdrift after another, at ever-higher speeds. We were feeling pretty good until we encountered a particularly deep drift that stopped Pete's truck like a brick wall. As we backed out of the wall of snow, we heard an alarming screeching sound coming from under Pete's truck.

Upon inspection, we discovered that our repeated assaults on the snowdrifts had torn Pete's muffler off and stuffed it in a most undignified position under his truck. After some wiggling and cursing we managed to free the steaming-hot pipe, stowing it in a snowdrift for later retrieval.

Pete's muffler, torn loose after several successful snowbank assaults. This saved us quite a bit of hiking though, so I thought it was worth it, I don't know if Pete did though..

Shortly after this unexpected streamlining of the underside of Pete's truck we encountered a particularly large and impassable drift. Luckily we had brought snow shovels, so we got out and started digging. After about an hour we had managed to move the truck about 40 feet, but our progress was alarmingly slow. After determining our position on the map we decided it would make more sense (and take less effort) to just hike the remaining 1.5 miles to the put-in.

So, off we went. It was not exactly easy, because the sun was blazing down and the snowdrifts were deep and soft. We took turns post-holing our way up the road, and soon my water was gone. Fortunately I had an REI squeeze-bottle water filter, so we had an endless supply of water gleaned from nearby streams.

After an hour of so of grim labor, we reached the unnamed creek that entered the White Salmon on the river-right about a mile below the confluence with Cascade Creek. According to the guidebook description, putting in here would position us above all of the major rapids, so we began our descent to the river. After a hundred-foot descent we reached the water, badly overheated and craving the cold embrace of the river.

We put on and headed downstream, encountering many fun and splashy rapids. Soon the walls closed in and we encountered our first major horizon line, a narrow drop known as 'Snafu'.

Pete drops into 'Snafu', first major drop below the put-in.
Note the large snowdrifts on the banks, which made scouting and/or portaging quite difficult..

Below Snafu the river wound down through a beautifully wooded canyon, but there were a significant number of logs in the river. At one point I ran a drop and got hung up on a log hidden just under the surface about halfway down the rapid. I instantly flipped, and was pushed up against the log, upside down. The river was roaring in my ears and it was a little disorienting, but I managed to keep my bearings and grapple aggressively with the log. With one arm on the log and the other on my paddle, I managed to pull myself over it and was then heading downstream into the unknown, one hand on my paddle and the other flailing about. I managed to roll up just downstream, much to the relief of Pete, who was "Wondering what you were doing up there.."

Downstream the narrow, windy gorge continued, with more blind rapids. At especially narrow section Pete ran a blind drop and I could see that two large trees had fallen into the river and were pinned vertically below the first ledge, creating a 'pine-tree slalom' move that was pretty exciting.

There were some more fun slides and drops until the river started to open up again, and then we got to what we refer to as 'The Good Stuff'. This section started with some small ledges, then we came to a 15-foot, totally runnable falls that was blocked by a logjam perched right at the lip of it. It was pretty frustrating to walk around this one, but we completed the portage and continued downstream, where we were rewarded by some sweet rapids!

The author cruises down a fun rapid somewhere in the middle of the 'good stuff'..

Just downstream of the above photo the river entered a formidable-looking gorge. We scouted down the right side with only minor difficulty and discovered a couple of logs (surprise surprise!) blocking the flow. At higher water it would be easy to boof over the middle of these logs, but at this flow there was only a sketchy duck-n-tuck move on the right side. Pete decided to do this move while I crouched by the logs providing safety. He made it through ok, but I decided to portage it.

I put in right below the log criss-cross and ran the rest of the rapids in the gorge, which were of the III-IV variety..

The author runs the exit rapids in the short gorge section..

Soon we arrived at a horizon line where the river dropped out of sight. We scrambled around to look at the drop, and found the big one, named 'The Envelope' by the first descent team. There is supposed to be a log blocking the flow under the foam in there, so I decided to walk this one. Pete, on the other hand, figured he could get a good boof ( "I'll miss the log.." ) and decided to run it.

The lead-in to the envelope is a short, powerful hole in it's own right, and when Pete dropped into this first one he got blown off line, and he had to do a mad scramble back to the river-right side. Unfortunately for him he didn't have any speed at this point, and he dropped into the bottom hole with only a half-hearted boof, completely disappearing in the foam!

"Oh SHIT!!" I muttered, expecting to see pieces of Pete emerging at any moment as the log-hole combo beat him silly.. Then, just as I completed this unpleasant thought, Pete levitated totally upright out of the foam downstream of the hole, a crazy grin pasted on his face!

"Yeahhh!!" I yelled. I guess the log isn't there any more.. luckily for Pete!

Pete drops into the burliest drop on the run, known as 'Envelope'. I walked this one, the hole was a little too juicy for me..
(Pete did a mystery move through the middle hole, emerging unscathed downstream..)

Below the envelope the river mellows, then becomes downright ugly with no gradient and about two miles of log portages, maybe 8-10 more logs to portage below here. We were pretty relieved to see the take out, and we are determined to never do this run again unless we can work out the alternate access points described below..


I think there is a way to avoid much of the log portaging on this run. In all of our scouting, we have driven up both sides of the river extensively, and I believe that if you drive up the river-left side until the road ends, you can put in by scrambling down a steep cliff face just above the good stuff. This alternate put-in has not been confirmed, but I am 50% sure that it is the right spot.

The big trick is finding a take-out on river left that is above the last couple of miles of portaging but NOT on private property. I think a possible take out may exist (we were sure looking for one!) but someone will have to do some legwork and figure it out. If an alternate put-ins and take-outs are found, I think this run will be worth doing by your average boater. Until then, it will be limited to those of us who don't mind portaging tons of wood to see a new place and run a few drops..