Unplugged: Washington’s Canyon Creek

Enormous logjam created two years ago by flooding flushes out in more floods


By Christian Knight
Published: March 6, 2011

Two years after a record storm dragged an estimated million board feet of downed trees into southern Washington’s Canyon Creek, another record flood washed all of them out. So, now, the classic whitewater run is once more runnable—and boaters are running it.

“The wood is totally gone, said Seattle-based kayaker Brett Barton. “I’m very surprised. I thought that logjam was going to be there forever. It was the biggest logjam I’ve ever seen on a river anywhere and the biggest logjam I’ve seen a picture of.”

Luke Spencer, the organizer of the Canyon Creek and East Fork of the Lewis races, discovered the news recently through Mountain Buzz. “I thought I wouldn’t be paddling on that river in my lifetime,” Spencer said. “It was definitely a blessing.”

Spencer has since paddled Canyon Creek several times since the logs washed out. And, he says, he’s noticed one significant change: The floods transformed a couple of bony Class III rapids into a single recirculating ledge drop with a piton rock on the right.

“People have swam out of there,” he said. “You have to run it down the gut. If you aren’t aware of the change, you’ll just flop over.”

In response to a flurry of emails and phone calls asking if the Canyon Creek Race is back on, Spencer has decided to plan for the East Fork of the Lewis Race on April 16 and the Canyon Creek Race on April 17.

“As an organizer it created a dilemma,” Spencer said. “I don’t have a ton of time to organize two different races. As soon as people heard it was open, I started getting messages asking if the Canyon Creek Race was back… Popular demand.”

When photos of the quarter-mile-long logjam popped up two years ago on blogs, facebook profiles and web stories, many local kayakers figured Canyon Creek was a lost treasure, buried under hundreds of tons of trees.

The logjam removed an early spring favorite from this lists of local paddlers who were looking for a rare combination of easy access, steep canyons, clean waterfalls and manageable Class V whitewater. Gone also was the Canyon Creek Extreme Race, one of the most popular races in the area.

Still, some kayakers, like Barton, did make exploratory runs of the creek with the logjam in place. “We had sunny day and the wood was dry,” Barton said. “And it still took us a half-hour to portage the logjam. Sometimes there were big holes through logjam that would go down into river.”

The river was low on February 20. But news of a newly-clean Canyon Creek lured Barton from his home on the banks of the Skykomish River, three hours south, back to Canyon Creek. And despite the low water, Barton shared eddies with as many as 20 others with a new zeal for an old classic.

For more information, check out NorthWestCreekComp.org.

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