The Sandy Gorge

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The Sandy River Gorge is an Oregon classic; the river twists its way through a dark, mossy, Tolkein-esque gorge with some fairly challenging and sometimes intimidating drops. This section is a great place for aspiring class four boaters to get a feel for harder whitewater without a lot of commitment; all of the large drops in the gorge are easy to scout and/or portage.

Jon Fowlkes at the put-in for the Sandy Gorge

Once on the river paddlers soak up some of the best gorge scenery in the state while cruising down the many class II-III warm up drops. The rapids slowly build until you get to 'Boulder', the first of four class IV rapid in the gorge.

Boulder deserves a scout because it often collects wood. In some years it is run on the right, and some the left, but that depends on the current wood arrangement. The left side is always a little sketchy because much of the water goes under the huge midstream boulder marking the drop. That said, the only portage line is over the boulders on the left side, visible in the photo below.

Jon Fowlkes cruises down Boulder Drop.

The next few drops (Rasp Rock and Drain Hole) come in quick succession. Rasp should always be scouted because the river funnels through a narrow, bouldery drop that sometimes collects wood..

Pete running Rasp Rock. The log on the midstream boulder is gone now, but more wood may appear at any time!

On my first trip down I was following Pete, and when we got to Drain Hole and Pete said "Ok- this one is easy but it looks bad. Just go where I go.." "Um, Ok.." I said. At Drain Hole the river rushes down and crashes into a couple of massive boulders that have narrow, wood filled cracks separating them. Some of the water is forced through these narrow cracks, creating a giant sieve that is "Not where you want to be.." to quote Pete as he instructed me how to run it as we sat in the eddy above. After it hits the boulders the water does a ninety degree turn to the right, and then another sharp turn to the left. Pete went first and started far left, directly above the sieve. "Geez, that looks reeeeally sketchy.." I thought as he appeared to plunge directly towards the sieve... then suddenly he shot to the right and was in the eddy below. I went next.... After I was through I figured the best way to run this one is to not look where the water is going as you round the corner and ride up on the pillow- it detracts somewhat from what is really a fun rapid!

Steve Stuckmeyer makes 'The Move' at Drain Hole while Jon watches from the eddy. The boulder sieve that forms the 'drain hole' shown below is extremely dangerous and should be approached with caution! This drop is very easy to scout and/or portage on the right.

Downstream is some easier water above Revenue Bridge Rapid, which is easy to scout or portage on the left side. This drop is visible from the take-out bridge, but first-timers should take note: this drop is bigger than it looks! We run Revenue Bridge rapid down the meat, staying left and going with the flow through some sizable holes...

Jon Fowlkes blasts through the main hole halfway down Revenue Bridge rapid.

FLOWS: Pete Giordano has run this section as much as anyone, so here's the scoop on flows, from Pete:

A good minimum is about 2000 cfs on the Sandy internet Gauge at Bull Run.

There is also a new gauge below the dam which reflects the gorge better. This gauge basically subtracts the diversion from the dam (300-600 cfs) minus the flow in the Bull Run. I don't have a good feel for this one but I'd say a good minimum is probably 800 or so. Max is yet to be determined but I ran it last year at 6500-7000 cfs and it was completely good fun, the boulders at Rasp Rock covered, etc..

Lots of people use the foot gauge and that probably ranges from 9.5 ft. to 13.5 ft. respectively. I've run it at minimum summer flows of 475 cfs and everything was runnable.