Short and sweet exploratory run with nice bedrock and some fun yet challenging whitewater. This run ranks in the Top 5 Favorites of the Columbia River Gorge.
Class: IV+ – V
Portages: 2 – 4, Depending on wood.
Shuttle: Shuttle takes about 45min at the end of the run.
Put-In: 45min. hike-in on the N.F. Stebbin Trail
Take-Out: Bridge over Stebbins Creek (W2000), just downstream of Doc’s Drop on the Washougal River.
December 13, 2010
Winter paddling requires an early start, which is something that hasn’t happened on the last couple missions, but it has worked itself out… luckily. Dan Laham, Matt Horton, and I got off to a late start. Late enough that it started to be questionable if we even had enough time to get out before dark, but the water was high, higher than last time I was here. On the way to the put-in we ended up missing the trail-head and driving past it up into the snow line. The sign is hard to spot…
This is the elusive sign and trail just off the side of the road
After getting stuck and turning around, thinking that we had been snowed out and unable to access the put-in, we drove past the sign. We stopped and got excited all over again and then checked the time. 1:00pm, 3.5hrs of daylight left for today… We ended up putting on the water at 1:45pm and raced down the creek.
There was a lot of new wood in the In-between rapids, some we had to portage, some we could paddle by. There was a new tree down in the first ledge drop, but it was just to the left of the main drop. Lethal Injection, although free of one piece of wood was still a portage at this flow due to the log on the left. The new log at the top of Tsunami Falls was still in place and covered with enough water to paddle over it. Zoom Tube had new logs in bad places and there were a couple more logs in the run out just below Bongo Fury that required a portage. We made it out at 4:05, but we hustled the entire way. At this flow the new log at the top of Tsunami Falls was covered enough to paddle over it, but at lower flows that won’t be possible. Hopefully this one gets pushed out soon. Awesome run at this flow, pushing the upper limit of safely stopping above wood portages. The Washougal gauge was reading about 7,000cfs and rising when we put on and it seemed as if the creek was on the rise while we were on it.
Here is Dan Laham fighting through Tsunami at high water
This past week in the PNW was a phenomenal couple days of rain and water run off down the creeks and rivers! Mother nature kicked in and dumped rain for two days straight sending the rivers and creeks out of their banks, but it wasn’t going to last long. Watching water levels during this was tough! I waited up until 1am to see the gauge refresh and it was still the same, everything was going straight up! The next morning at 5am, to my disbelief, the water was dropping very fast and had dropped almost as much as it came up.
For example:Literally, overnight we went from having only the White Salmon and other low water options to paddle to having too much water in the lower elevations! This takes most creek boaters back to dusting off their list and heading into the hills in search of the best option since the freezing level went above 7,000 feet. We had two in mind, but the first went way too high and that left us driving into the Upper reaches of the Washougal drainage to see if the water had dropped enough to run Stebbins Creek. At the take out we were pretty apprehensive seeing Mad Dog Falls pretty well covered with brown water rushing down the creek. Luke Spencer, who was the only previous Stebbins padder here said, “this looks like twice the flow that I’ve seen in here before!” Thinking back to the photos I had seen of Tsunami Falls, that sounded about right so optimism prevailed and we headed to the put in. We were 7 strong with 6 first timers and lots of water! This usually makes for an Epic day!
My hat is off to the first explorers in this drainage. It’s not often that I get so turned around on logistics that I feel totally lost, but I did here. After finding the trail we knocked out the 2 mile hike in about an hour and the water level looked a little more reasonable at the N.F. put in.
The first half mile was great read and run boogie with one portage due to wood and then we came to the first big one. We scouted a beefy ledge drop, on river left, that had a long run out through some big fluffy reaction waves that lead directly into Jet boat Falls.
We all had good lines here down to Jet boat. I gave Keel, Luke, & Tony verbal directions and they routed off the right side of the falls. We even had enough water that a few people ran the far left side of Jet Boat. Below Jetboat was a class IV boulder garden with a clean line down the right and sieves on the left…
Tony in the first big boulder-garden.
More eddy hopping and fun rapids later we had one more scout on a random rapid and then we arrived at the top of Lethal Injection. I knew it as soon as I peered over the horizon, sharp drop off with an extended wrap around wall on the right creating a pinched run out on the left that is blocked by huge old growth logs. (Note: these logs are half the size they were in previous photos taken here and it looks like they would get blown out in the next few years) We hiked up and over the left wall which dropped us on top of Tsunami Falls.
The portage around Lethal Injection
Looking back up at Lethal Injection from the lip op Tsunami Falls
“Now this is why we came here”, Keel said, as I got fired up to drop in. Tsunami looked pretty stout, but the line looked fluffy and fast! The crux was making the turn behind the entry rock so you would miss the log in the first drop and keep going into the second, third, and fourth part.
Scott Baker at the top of Tsunami Falls
Ryan Scott clearing the log and the first hole
Dave Hoffman charging the bottom drop
A few more followed the left line and then Luke decided to try his luck with the right side lead-in line.
From where I was he dropped out of site long enough to get very concerned. Eveyone started to scramble for their ropes and then he came flying down the slide and back into a more hospitable place. Apparently the hole on the right side had stopped him when he dropped in and he was going into battle with with a very sticky whirlpool.
Everyone else ran Tsunami and we moved downstream at a quick pace. Our last scout was at the Zoom Tube. With an almost certain line into a seived out pile of wood in the center, Keel was the only taker on this one and he took the small amount of flow going far right past the mess of wood.
The next section was some of the best read and run boogie water. We had picked up a little more flow below Tsunami and the already full creek was getting better. We came around the corner at the take out went off Mad Dog Falls and dropped into the swollen Washougal Rvier.
Keel Brightman running Mad Dog Falls
This was one of the best days of paddling an exploratory creek in the gorge for me. The weather, flow, crew (Luke Spencer, Dave Hoffman, Scott Baker, Dan Ingerson, Tony Skriv, Keel Brightman), and quality of rapids was a great mix on the Stebbins Creek Post Flood Mission 2008. Check out the video below.
Directions: For directions to this creek, as well as many others, check out the best source for exploratory creeks in the Pacific Northwest at Oregonkayaking.net
Flows: We had 12,000 cfs on the Washougal River when I left for the creek, we took off with the Washougal at 6,000 cfs. However, Stebbins did not seem to lose much water while we were on the creek.
Other whitewater nearby Stebbins Creek, WA
To the west…