Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Wynoochee Gorge

Wynoochee Gorge

In the waning days of autumn, with rivers at their annual minimum flows and no good water in sight, Shaun and I turned to a little-known gem on the Olympic Peninsula. The Wynoochee is a dam-controlled river whose minimum fish flow is a boatable 200 cfs. There are over 30 miles of paddling available on the Wynoochee, but the best are two gorge sections in the first 15 miles below the dam. Access to the takeout is controlled by timber companies, but the gate is open during the late fall for hunting season.

The secret to this run is its overnight possibilities. Once in the lower gorge, at low water, there are loads of stellar bedrock benches just perfect for sacking out. We enjoyed perfect weather in a lovely and little-seen canyon, at the worst time of the water year -- quite a find!

Gary Korb, Obi-Wan of the OP.

Fall colour and gorgeous weather.

Waterfall in the first gorge.

Shaun enjoys the action.

A typical Peninsula tributary.

Floating leaves and decaying old-growth. The perfect setting for fall.

Launching at the dam, the Wynoochee flows through some lively II+ riffles in an open valley before entering a narrow bedrock gorge. The gorge is almost totally slackwater due to the fish structure at the mouth of the canyon. A quick portage of this structure is recommended.

The next several miles are open braided gravel bars, with lots of good camping benches. Eventually, the river takes a sweeping oxbow and enters the second gorge. This canyon is longer, deeper, and more constricted. The first drop, Landslide is quickly reached. At minimum flows, this is a portage due to pin problems, but at 500 cfs or so, a nice IV line opens up in the middle. Portage left over a steep saddle 30' off the water, or right along the boulders.


This gorge is surprisingly pristine, given that the clearcuts extend to the very rim. But there is little evedince of logging from the canyon bottom, and the gorge itself is lovely and dotted with fun technical II and III riffles.

Shaun below a typical riffle.

The Wynoochee's claim to fame is the remnants of a train wreck from the filming of _Ring of Fire_. The rusted hulk of the wrecked train occupies the river bed as well as the left bank.

Shaun near the train.

Shaun enjoys another scenic waterfall.