Northwest Boaters Ride Flood Nirvana

Paddlers cash in on rare treats, and fire the Little White at 5.2 feet

By Eric Adsit

This winter has been uncharacteristically dry in the Pacific Northwest . . . until last week. On February 6, a winter storm hammered the region, dumping up to a foot of snow on parts of western orgon and southwest Washington. Portland all but shut down, and local rivers, already running low from lack of rain, began to lock up with ice. Dangerous driving conditions exacerbated the situation, keeping even the most die-hard winter paddlers inside Googling for cheap airfares to New Zealand and Chile.

Then, over President’s Day weekend, everything changed. Warm winds swept into the Columbia River Gorge, bringing with them three back-to-back storms that sent river levels through the roof. Crews from all over Oregon and Southern Washington took advantage to explore new or rarely run creeks, and test the limits of high-water runs on the classics.

Locals Niko Peha and Chase Nobles found a steep set of waterfalls on the North Fork of the Palix River in southwestern Washington, while Andrew Bradley and the Rogue Specimens found just enough water to run 45-foot Beaver Creek Falls. Further inland, Nate Pfeifer and crew caught Henline Creek, which drops 250 feet in a half-mile stretch deep in the Opal Creek Wilderness.

On February 16, Rush Sturges, Louis Geltman, and Ben Marr charged the famous Little White Salmon at 5.1 feet. Hours earlier, Todd Wells and William Griffith set the unofficial high-water record on that Northwest classic, at 5.2 feet.

That same day, Nicole Mansfield made the first female descent of 70-foot Outlet Falls. And perhaps rarest of all, the Trestle Wave on Oregon’s Lower Deschutes made its first appearance in nearly two years, providing endless hours of play.

—Portland-based writer and kayaker Eric Adsit didn’t miss the high water. With Tom Whipple, he enjoyed some suburban kayaking in Lacamas Park, unfortunately getting rejected on the main event—a 30-foot slide known as Little Norway—due to recently deposited wood in the landing zone.

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