North Fork of the Cispus River

Copyright © 2001, Oregon Kayaking. No part of this page may be reproduced, linked, or copied without the express written permission of the Oregon Kayaking Webmaster.

After a mellow day in the Green River Gorge Mike and I headed up to run the North Fork of the Cispus, a wonderful little creek that drains the Northern Cascades near the mountain town of Randle. On Saturday we headed out and hit the snowline twenty miles from Randle. I was cruising along at 45 mph when a car in front of me slowed abruptly to pull off the road. When I swerved to avoid them my car fishtailed crazily and I did a couple wild 360's and slid off into a parking area, eventually coming to a stop on the edge of the treeline. The engine had stalled, so I fired her up and took off without hesitation. That was a wild way to start the day!

We arrived at the put in and there was plenty of snow, which only added to the feeling of isolation. Located deep within the Gifford Pichot National forest, this little river is almost totally untouched by man. Massive old growth trees line the river and create interesting obstacles in some of the boulder gardens. The NF descends through a small canyon and is unforgettably scenic. We saw fresh cougar tracks in the snow while scouting one rapid, and large red Salmon flitted around in the crystalline pools between drops, their fins cutting circles around our boats like little sharks.

It was a great day to be boating... the put in on the NF of the Cispus.

The NF is great fun with continuous, steep boulder gardens in a narrow, winding streambed. We knew there was a least one large boulder garden that is usually portaged that is known locally as 'Big Death'. We were stoked about BD- with a name like that it had to be good! Nevertheless, we moved pretty slowly the first mile, scouting most blind drops until we arrived at an enormous horizon line that could only be what at this point jokingly referred to as 'Most certainly probably a Big Death....'

Nice scenery on the North Fork.

Big Death is essentially three large boulder gardens in a row separated by small moving pools. The first (shortest) drop we deemed too dangerous to run, so we portaged it on the right. Below this was a short pool above the much larger middle and lower section. The middle section looks tough- the pool squeezes into a boat width chute that slides into a violent, churning hole backed by a rock, then into a short recovery eddy into a wild slalom through some large hydraulics and a strong ferry back to the left to avoid the wall at the bottom. I opted to portage on the first day, so I ferried across and dragged my boat down while Mike got ready to run it. I stationed myself downstream above the bottom section as a safety and Mike ran it with ease. We later watched the video of Mike running it and the rapid looked just horrible, but when I ran it the next day it wasn't too bad. We both ran the lower part of BD with no trouble on both days.

Mike getting ready to boof into the steep boat width chute at the top of the middle section of Big Death. This was a tricky move as we had to boof past the big boulder that all of the water was piling up on and land in the chute just under mike. Check out the water color!

Below this small pool the river drops into.... The lower section of Big Death... (Mike's run)

My run...

Below here there was an interesting rapid created by a landslide. This one ends abruptly in a log jam, making the moves more exciting that most. You could paddle under the jam on the left, but on the right side the current went under the logs. On the first day we portaged but on the second we both ran it with no problems, though Mike got uncomfortably close to the wall of wood on the left after trying to boat scout it. The rest of the river was mellow with nice scenery. This one is worth trying if you are in the area, but I think it is hard to catch when the road isn't blocked by snow.

Personally I think this run is worth doing once or twice but there is a fair amount of wood and some portaging involved. The scenery rivals the nearby Upper Upper Cispus, but the UUC has way better whitewater and much less wood.