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My Introduction to Wicked Uncle Ernie...

Snoqualmie, N. Fork
Class: V+      GMap
3. Spur 10 Bridge to 428th St. Bridge (Ernies Canyon)
Trip Date: 3/22/2009
Written on: 3/22/2009
Written by:

I've been waiting for about 10 years to get in and check out Ernie's Canyon. Since before I moved to Washington, since before I ever saw the Bennett Book, this run was near the top of my Washington "must do" list. But life happens, and if you're edge gets dull, this is no place to be.

One of my best paddling buddies lately was in a similar boat, so we've been watching the levels for the past few weeks. I always felt that picking the right flow for my first run in there was important, and today we caught it at a very nice, medium or medium low flow. I wish I'd brought  my camera, as much as we were out of our boats anyway. Next time for sure! Meanwhile you'll have to allow me to paint with words...

Three of us hiked in early enough to casually spend time scouting. Brian had done it a few times, and while Scott and I were quite happy to thoroughly scout (we plan on coming back for sure and want to get to know it), Brian's prior knowledge saved us at least a hundered yards of not having to get out and scout. Seriously, though, I'm glad he was of a chill disposition and willing to scout. This is no run where I want to blindly follow anyone or be pressured to do so.

We were scouting right off the bat, and the first few drops were manageable enough. Soon we got to a very long and complex rapid. I think Scott called it "Raft Catcher" at the top. The right and left sides both have routes, but the right side was harder to scout. The left side was quite runnable, but at its crux it flowed straight into a very fatal looking sieve. Scott and I decided to be prudent this early in the trip and portage. We set safety for Brian though, so he could run it.

There appeared to be so many routes one could choose from, but often on closer inspection, at least half of them dumped right into gnarly sieves or undercuts. I'm sure there are more clean routes than we saw, but we elected to quickly choose the most visible and viable lines. We kept scouting and running, with occasional short lived sections of boat scoutable rapids, and the trip flowed smooth. Later Scott and I would agree that while we felt like we belonged there, we took it seriously. While we both were able to boat relatively smoothly, we had our nerves tickled most of the way down. Both of us are paddling every weekend these days, and running lots of class V. This run is way harder than Robe Canyon, I think it's safe to say. It is no place to boat sloppy. The lines are doable, and at the flow we had today, it's possible to break the run up into two to three drop chunks that are fairly digestible between eddys and scouts. But the lines are so tight, right next to hazardous undercuts and sieves, that the margins for error are quite slim.
Many paddlers charge into difficult whitewater, take their lumps, and spit out at the bottom. Be advised that this is no run to use your balls as a crutch. A fair amount of precise boat handling is required to run Ernie's smoothly and without incident.

Lots of runs have a big rock or two named "House Rock" or "house Rocks" ect. Well I've seen quite a few of them and most of those so named are barely the size of shacks, or large RVs. In Ernie's, there are legit two story, 5 bedroom Craftsman style house rocks all over the place. For real. This is part of what makes the run appealing for me: Having your entire downstream view eclipsed by one or more such gigantic boulders! It's actually uncharacteristic of Washington to find so many on one run. Ernie's is unique in this respect.

So we were methodical, and the trip went smooth. We all portaged a gnarly spot where the whole river pinches down against the right wall. Brian saw some ugly runs there, so we took his word for it. Plenty of action in here for everyone, no need to get greedy.

There was a rapid that had to spouts of water on either side of a boulder. Both poured into a boily mess that sloped and kicked left, into two large boulders. Looked like you'd flush through after getting slammed and grinded into them. The left drop poured right into the hazard, where as the right drop had a greenwater flake you could boof, landing on a boily pile draped over some medium sized boulder. This route buys you an extra 10' of safety before the current shoves you left. I still ended up closer to the left than I wanted, but cleaned it none the less.

There was a constricted passage that was unique for the run, but more typical of Washington runs: A greenwater flume sped into a sizable hole with a steep climb out and a large, wide boil cushion coming off of a large boulder on R. Left. This cushion needed to be somewhat overpowered to avoid a surf in the hole, but it also kept you from careening into a tiny but ugly sieve. Once past this the current aligns you in the center as you zoom toward a boof. Driving right over a well lubricated peak of rock, you land in a fairly powerful hydraulic, negotiate a strong pourover boil, and boogie through the runout along a sheer vertical black wall of solid rock! A beautiful falls pours down its side.

Another drop was scoutable, but by no means practical to portage. Everything else on the run seemed like you could portage it if you really wanted to. This drop was fine. A spout up against the left wall. It's the only place that flipped me on the run today, and I was motivated to execute my offside roll here, as I was floating directly toward yet another nasty seive.

Two thirds of the way into the trip, it seemed as if we'd exited the canyon. Trees lined the banks to match typical busy class II rock gardens. It gradually picked up again, then quickly went from class III to class IV in a few hundred feet. Jacuzzi snuck up on me just as Brian and the Guide books all warned it could. In fact, Brian, already out of his boat, had to grab my boat so I could stick in the shallow manky eddy. There is a last chance eddy further down, but once you're facing upstream-well, I'm glad I didn't have to flirt with Jacuzzi! It's a monster of a sloping falls (about 20' tall or so) and it thunders into a nasty undercut gorge. We hiked high above it on the left, and I broke out some snacks. After completing my third portage, I seal launched back into the river with the others to meet the remaining action on the trip.

It didn't take long before we were at "Crash Test Dummy", or "Manky Manikin", named for obvious reasons when you are there. It was certainly one of the mankier rapids on the run. We ran it all the way left, and I was glad when it was over. I think this is where Brad got stuffed into a sieve on a previous trip.

Not long after that the run tapered off, and we were paddling through class II, with cabins lining the banks. At the take out, the stick gauge on the Bridge read just slightly under 6.2'
I'm not sure how long we were on the river. I left Seattle at 10am, we dicked around in North Bend for the better part of an hour before setting shuttle and hiking in. I was back in Seattle by 5pm at the very latest, again after dicking around running shuttle and changing after the run.

It is interesting to note that the run was abnormally free of wood. Almost 100% clean, at least in so far as I don't recall any wood being in play.

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