Tshletshy Creek, WA

“–the Best whitewater in Washington!?”

June 25-28, 2012

It was a bit of a surreal experience driving north with the understanding that the next day we would be hiking into Tshletshy Creek again, less than a year since the previous trip. Brett Barton was fired up to the Tshletshy again this year and we made plans well in advance to make it happen. Scott Baker met up with us late Thursday night and we started hiking the next morning. At a leisurely pace we made our way up the trail and enjoyed the nice weather. We had one more paddler that was going to join us sometime on saturday so our plan was to make it to the water and wait.. As it turns out, the hike into Tshletshy doesn’t change and whatever trail conditions you choose will determine your pace.

The next morning just before we started our long day of hiking Scott Matthews had appeared on the trail just below us, already 5 hours into his hike that day. Our group was now complete and we set off to reach the snow and make it over the low saddle down into the Tshletshy drainage.

The next morning we dropped almost straight down the hill from camp and ended up above a gorge that held 3 waterfalls which none of us had seen before. Scott Matthews had been here before, in 1989 when Tshletshy was only 12 portages… We eventually found what we hoped was a suitable put-in and headed down the creek only to have our nice flowing creek end in a wall to wall log jam. Some scrambling up and over put us back in the water and heading toward the 1st Canyon.

Tshletshy Creek is a good test of endurance. Everyday you go at it all day long and everyday you get more and more tired of carrying/pulling all of that weight, that you have to have with you, around the logistics of Tshletshy.

Our water level on this trip had been very similar to last years flow up to this point, but once we were down in the 5ft and longest gorge it filled in a little more. I had been able to remember quite a few land marks throughout the bottom gorge, but there are so many rapids in there and quite a few surprise ones… We paddled out into the Queets river near dusk to beatiful view of the Queets valley. When we set shuttle 4 days prior we had to park just down stream of Matheny Creek due to a road closer there whitch added about 7 more miles onto our paddle out. We had one more camp as the sun set on us just a few miles from the take-out and we were out early the next morning. Once again, it had taken us 4 days, 4 nights and a couple hours to finish the trip.

Flows for this run:

July 3-6, 2011

I have been looking at that description in the ‘Paddlers Guide to the Olympic Peninsula’ for 10 years now, wondering and dreaming if it really was what I had been imagining. I tried to go a couple times this spring, but since summer arrived much later than expected this year I thought my window for getting in there this year was gone. Finally, Brett Barton sent a message that said, “Tshletshy next weekend?” After looking over the logistics again and understanding that we were still going to have to deal with 6 feet of snow at the top of the pass, we made plans. Our plan – Hike in on Monday, boat on Tuesday, out on Wednesday, sounded good at the time.

Looking up the Quinalt River Valley

I tried hard to convince a couple paddlers to go, but in the end it was just Brett and I. The Tshletshy is a major undertaking. Once in the N.F. Quinault valley you have to hike up and over the pass by Bear Creek gaining about 3,000ft in elevation, then drop into the headwaters. We met up on Sunday and decided to start hiking. After about 4 miles and gaining about 1,400 feet in elevation we set up camp.

Skyline trailhead
Our ticket to the Tshletshy drainage
Crossing a tributary to Big Creek
4 miles in & Brett is still smiling

The next day we hiked up to the snow line, which started @ 2,800 feet, many hours later we hit the top of the pass at 3,608ft. And started the descent into the Tshletshy.

6 miles in..
..almost at the top.
Gearing up for the descent into Tshletshy

It took a long time to get down and we eventually ran out of daylight and had to camp in a bare tree well surrounded by snow. The next morning we leisurely rolled out of camp while we listened to the elk calls from the hills above us.

We had lost the trail the day before in the snow and were going off our maps and GPS to get us down to the put in. The trail down into the Tshletshy had been long abandoned making progress to the river a little harder.

Trying to reach the headwaters

Snow melt at the put-in

At the put in we had what looked like a low flow, but later in the trip it all evened out.. We paddled down to the first gorge with high hopes and found wood in the inner gorge blocking 4 of the 6 drops. We portaged on the right, crossed the gorge and finished the portage on the left. After the second gorge there were many signs of massive flooding in the valley. Many of the tributaries had blown out and sent old growth trees down the creek placing them in mid flow at the wider sections of the creek.

Looking down into the last drop in the first gorge

After a few portages over downed trees we set up camp early and rested for our next big day.

Camp #3
There was a lot of this..

Day 4 – We reached the third gorge called “The Tshlasm” within 20 min. out of camp. Here the creek dropped deeper and deeper into a gorge over a series of large waterfalls. We portaged on the right, continuing to look into the gorge, as we passed by a few drops that looked intriguing.

Brett looking, deep, into the third gorge.

At this point I was beginning to wonder were the Best Whitewater in Washington was.. After a couple more log portages, there it was. Miles of read and run, class IV & V drops in an untouched pristine gorge. We saw many signs of wildlife, even paddling by a bear cub down in the deeper part of the gorge.

Getting into the goods..

We reached the confluence with the Queets River at about dark and set up our last camp on a comfortable gravel bar. The next morning we woke up to light rain and decided to paddle out early.

Leaving camp #4 at 5:30 am, Queets River paddle out

All of the paddling reports that Brett and I had heard of were from 8-10 years ago. Either people had never heard of it or wanted to go check it out.. We went in knowing that there was a big wind storm in 2007 that downed many trees and littered many of the creeks in that area. As well as a couple floods in the past 10 years. We had our fair share of portages in the flat rocky sections, over and under some of the largest trees I’ve seen in a drainage. In the end it was an amazing trip, which does hold some of the best whitewater in Washington, worth every bit of effort that went into it. The scenery is mind numbing and the overall experience is unforgettable! I would highly recommend a map and GPS for this trip, it helped us from walking to far in the wrong direction with a loaded boat a few times, since much of the upper trail was covered in snow.


5 thoughts on “Tshletshy Creek, WA”

  1. Wow, great adventure! Haven’t heard of anyone getting in there in a long time. Dare we hope to see some video? Love to see more of the miles of good read n run.

  2. Do you think it is possible that Tshletshy would hold for the weekend of the 22nd? Two weeks from now? Had a NF Quinault/Elwha trip planned, but with the high water we were going to divert to BC. Been eyeing Tshletshy for forever. Any advice on catching it with adequate flow? Any help much appreciated.


  3. Brian – Probably going to sit on the video for awhile, taken a vacation from paddling for a bit, but you’ll see it very soon!

    Kirk – We had what I would consider a low flow for most of the trip, more like med/low in the lower gorges. I think about 4,000cfs on the Queets would be a good flow, we had less than 2,700 in the Queets the whole time we were in there. There was still a lot of snow at the top, but I think timing will be key. If you see a few hot days with the Queets already around or above 2,000cfs it could be good in there. Keep an eye on it and if you go in, be safe out there. There was a lot of wildlife.. It is the most beautiful place I have EVER paddled!

    Also, I’d leave yourself an extra day for the trip. If you think it will be 3 days, it could be 4. There are a ton of logistics in there.

  4. Nice work! I’ve been wondering about that one for years, and though that getting to the put-in would be next to impossible. I can’t wait to see the video.


    High mountains, the stars, and wide ocean,
    The forest, so silent, the stream,
    Loud torrent from mountain lake tumbling
    Through boulders for ever a-rumbling,
    How troubled my spirit’s vague dream:
    Faint prayer in the midst of commotion!

    I feel the lash
    Of rapid’s dash,
    The thrill of lunge and glide;
    Though rude the shock
    Of hidden rock,
    There stands my Indian guide!

    Lo! Primitive man with full quiver
    Launched forth in his mystic canoe.
    All scornful of rock-scattered danger,
    His soul to wild terror a stranger,
    Bold magic of arrows’ he knew
    For demons who haunted the river.

    One glimpse of past,
    From secrets vast
    Yon ancient spruces hide:
    Old courage runs
    From sire to sons,
    To this, my Indian guide.

    No star in the heavens may reckon
    True course for this frail little bark;
    Each lurch with the torrent’s new veering
    Responds to the paddle swift steering
    Past Death lurking low in the dark.
    Some eagle this Indian doth beckon!

    Heart aglow,
    Deep waters flow,
    My fear doth mingle pride;
    Behold the sea
    I’m safe with thee,
    My Quinault Indian guide!

    – Edmond S. Meany.

    Reprinted from “Forest Club Annual – 1915”, Published by The Members of the Forest Club, College of Forestry, University of Washington, Seattle, Volume III.
    “Dedicated to EDMOND S. MEANY, the first to foster and teach forestry in the University of Washington, the members of the Forest Club respectfully and lovingly dedicate this, their nineteen hundred fifteen, Annual.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s