The West Fork Gorge – Major Creek, WA

Small drainage that starts out tiny and steep. Beware of blind corners and when the waterfalls start use extreme caution! Much of the main stem is class II – III with a couple class IV’s as you approach the take-out.
Class: III – V+
Miles: @ 2.5 miles on the W.F and 2 miles on the main stem.
Portages: 3 – 5
Put-In: Hike in under the power lines or ask permission to put in at the entrance to the gorge, but beware.. Don’t disturb the locals and do your homework ahead of time!
Take-Out: Old hwy 8 off of I-84.

The West Fork Gorge flows south between two major drainages in the Columbia River Gorge. Many paddlers have driven over the main branch of Major Creek, but few consider actually looking upstream enough to find the gorge. I had heard tales of fifty foot waterfalls and an un-runnable gorge. Needless to say, that was enough to keep it in my mind for years. I ran the lower stretch with a small group back in 2007 which turned out to be a short and fun class 4 run with the right flows. Access prevented us from going further upstream until Hans Hoomans took a few weeks to hike around and dial in the access. To my surprise, he found it on the opposite side of the gorge from where I was looking. After looking at all of the falls with no water in them it was imagination time as Hans, Tom Marley, Nate Herbeck, Jarred Jackman, and I dropped 600 feet down the canyon wall to water level with our boats and gear. The hundred plus foot waterfall was our land mark and we put in just downstream of that. A couple months later the 20+ portages we had on our first trip faded down to the single digits in my mind again and Hans and Tom were willing to go back in.

On April 1, 2010 Hans, Tom, and myself went back into the West Fork accompanied by Val, DJ, Dan Laham, & George White. This time we started above the gorge proper and dropped in as the creek formed. Hans and Tom dropped in as us kayakers took the high road until the creek properly formed. Hans & Tom found a couple more 30 footers and we reunited in the mini gorge upstream of the 100+footer. We ran a couple sliding falls and a tight mini gorge before our portage around the big falls.

Ryan Scott in the lead-in to the mini gorge / photo-Dan Laham
The crew taking a break at the BIG falls

*a climbing rope is recomended for the portage, but no rappelling required..
..more read and run brought us to the lead-in drop above DL Falls. Most everyone portaged quickly after scouting this one, but Dan Laham kept looking at the line. After a slick portage (mt. goat style), I waited at the bottom for Dan to come into view on the lip of the falls. He came into view falling into place and taking two quick right strokes then bounced past the landing zone and over the log just downstream. A big hit, but safe and ready for the next falls..

The next falls narrows at the lip and spouts out 30 feet into the pool below. Out of all the larger falls on this creek, this one had the largest pool below it.

Dan Laham on Spout

Downstream was more E.L.F. boating up to a clean 12 foot drop. On the first run we sent Nate Herbeck & Jarred Jackman off of it blind. Verbal beta was easy, “stay in the center.” On this run we all stayed in our boats and in the center.

Hans & Tom on the clean 12 during the first mission

More easy ledges, slightly blind corners, a couple portages later comes Breezy Falls. Locked in with a larger waterfall pouring in just downstream on river right, Breezy Falls looks nearly un-portageable when you first get there. A high climb up the left wall with a long traverse downstream then a hike back to the falls makes this one of the hardest portages in the Gorge area. The depth on the pool is pretty shallow compared to the others upstream..

Dan, Hans, & Tom contemplating Breezy Falls
Hans below Breezy Falls, watching the rest of the crew portage

After Breezy we had a mad dash to the main fork about a mile downstream. One lesson we learned on the first trip down was that just before you reach the confluence the wood in the creek goes from bad to worse. Once on Major proper we had no portages, mellow class II with an occasional class III bedrock rapid until we reached to lower run. This entire section was clean of wood and offered a few more class IV rapids and a clean culvert underneath Old hwy 8 at the take-out. There is one more mini gorge downstream, but don’t paddle around the corner without scouting from here. It leads quickly into a lead-in falls and the canyon pinches into a log jam at the end of the falls.

Other whitewater nearby Major Creek

White Salmon River

Little White Salmon River


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