Sunday, May 01, 2005

China Gorge of the Cle Elum

The Cle Elum in China Gorge.

Sunday broke wide open with a warm, sunny morning after days of clouds. As I rolled north towards North Bend from Kanaskat Palmer State Park and the remnants of the party following the Green River Cleanup, fog obscured the Cascades until suddenly I was above the fog, and the sun shone the rest of the day.

Nick, Shaun, Bryon and I met in North Bend for breakfast before the drive out the Roslyn. We spent an hour or so hunting for S-Turn so we could see what we were dealing with wood-wise, but never found the drop from the road or side trails. Given the only guy who had done the run had bailed and we had a torn neck gasket on a drysuit, we opted to run just the China Gorge section of the Cle Elum. Although the run from Triple Drop to Salmon La Sac is commonly called 'China Gorge' China Gorge proper is the canyon below the Waptus Confluence and at the base of China Point to the north of the river.

Photos from the trip are available in gallery 1 and gallery 2.

Triple Drop on the Cle Elum.

We launched from the Davis Peak Trail and enjoyed some class III boogie water down to the Waptus Confluence. The hole was one of the biggest I have ever seen on this low a flow. Water was recircing back up from 15 feet below the hole. The right side sneak wasn't there so we rode a small flushing seam on the left for a clean run.

Shaun runs the drop above the Waptus confluence.

Nick sneaks far left to avoid a massive hole.

Shaun doesn't think the hole is that big. Why not run it sideways?

Below the Waptus confluence, the Cle Elum flows through a magnificent gorge. We found many enjoyable drops in the III-IV range. Everything was free of significant wood, and most everything can be boat scouted.

Shaun enjoys the canyon scenery.

The notable exception is 10-foot China Falls. Perhaps we were just seeing very low water, but the descriptions out there on AW, Rackley's site, and Cascade Classics do not do justice to this ledge. It's a broken ledge, with a furiously surging undercut on the left, below a nasty looking fold we couldn't see. The right side sneak was completely de-watered. The entrance to the ride side involved a class V move that had a 10% chance of success before dropping squarely onto a submerged rock throwing plumes of water 6 feet in the air. The decision to portage was unanimous and quickly made.

China Falls from the river right portage trail.

Below China Falls, we found more excellent III-IV pool drop actions. There were some bog holes, but the lines were friendly and eddies plentiful. The sun continued to highlight the excellent canyon walls and incredible water color in the deep pools between drops.

Shaun lines up on a typical drop.

Bryon, loving the sun.

Shaun leans into a brace.

Nick goes hole-bashing.

Nick in a typical drop.

There was one drop that might have been a true class IV drop. A couple big holes, some exposed fang rocks, and an undercut headwall make this a memorable drop with a fun line threading the rocks and holes.

Bryon lines up then makes the move in the biggest drop.

Shaun lines up and makes the move.

Nick in the same drop

Nick throws his weight around on a small ledge hole.

Shaun in the stunning canyon.

Shaun lines up for one of the last drops.

The final rapid above the takeout is a class III hole-bashing fest that ends in river-wide ledge hole. I'm really curious to see how this one changes with high water!

Nick and Shaun punch the ledge hole in the last big drop.

We all agreed this was a much better run than any given mile of river has any right to be and look forward to getting back in and adding the upper gorge to this run just as soon as we can.

After the takeout and shuttle, we opted to get a visual on the Cooper, so we headed up to Wall of Voodoo to take a look at flows.

Wall of Voodoo on the Cooper at a healthy flow.

The pool below Wall of Voodoo. What a lovely river.

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