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Elkhorn at the last minute (in the winter)...

Class: V+      GMap
1. Dosewallips Falls to Elkhorn Campground
Trip Date: 11/25/2009
Written on: 11/25/2009
Written by:

 The calls came early, but not early enough.

Rob: Howyado'in, champ? We're goin to run Elkhorn Canyon. You wanna go?

jP: Hell yeah! Who's goin?

Rob: Me, Darren, and Dan Parnell

jP: I'm in.

Rob: Cool. I'll swing by and pick you up I'm leaving Monroe right now...

I called Darren and immediately told him I was going. I've been wanting to run this one for years but could never seem to catch it at a good flow. I hung up and looked at the clock. It was almost 9am. I'm lying in bed, and suddenly the math cascades down on my half asleep head. By the time Rob gets here, we load up, drive all the way down and around the sound, up through Hoodsport, ect, drive up the Dosewallips road, start hiking at least 2.5 miles...

Sheee-it! We ain't puttin on before 2:00pm. No way. No way we'll start hiking before noon. No way. This is a half-cocked plan if ever there was one. It's winter. It's the O.P. Those two factors alone do not inspire confidence in a 2pm launch,not to mention both of them combined. I'm picturing being in some O.P. canyon, laboriously portaging around log jam after logjam, not to mention all the almost-runnable-OP style drops we're sure to find. I started dialing the cel...

Darren: Hey

jP: Hey. Look, I changed my mind. I really want to go, but you guys shoulda planned an earlier start. There's no way we'll be on the river before 2pm, it gets dark by, like, 4:30... This is fucked.

Darren: Come on...

I graciously backed out and called Rob back to tell him the same. It was a bad idea. Those guys were asking to get stuck in that canyon in the dark. Mo'fo's better bring headlamps, ect. I hung up.

It's probably 9:05am. I'm still laying in bed and passing up this trip is already eating a hole through me. I can only think of a few other people I'd like to do such a trip with. One of them has a bum shoulder at the moment. Another one is working today. Yet another really good friend has a real life and thus barely returns my calls. I have a headlamp. In fact, I have an extra one for Rob, that bastard! I started dialing the cel...

20 minutes later I'm hastily heaping all of my gear into the back of the Rob-mobile, and soon we are zooming down the highway. I assure Rob that I will cheerfully accept this fate, doomed though I know it to be. We have blasted off, he says. We are about to leave the stratosphere. And I know there is no turning back. We are so fucked. The Dosewallips is only two drainages North of the Hamma Hamma. Hamma Hamma means "Stinky Stinky", and yeah, that class V run stunk like a skunk! Two drainages over. The geology has to be quite similar: Meteorites randomly dropped in all the landing zones where nature normally carved out nice greenwater pools. like some giant, or Paul Bunyon was walking through the canyon sayin " I'ma go'n Fuck with these smart ass kayakers!", dropping boulders where they don't belong. That's the Upper Hamma Hamma. Marginally runnable with lots of wood (in all of the drops that would be clean), and a fair amount of Devil's club. Don't bring your good drysuit. So this is what I'm preparing myself for. All this plus early nightfall and cold winter temperatures. And rain. Plenty of rain. Yeah, we're going to start hiking by noon thirty, if we're lucky. We are so fucked.

As we turned off onto the Dosewallips road, we saw a truck with boats (presumably Hoover) driving toward us headed south. Probably to Jefferson to meet up with Mike Harms and the crew. We couldn't stop to chat so Rob just mashed the accelerator instead. We got to a washout, still ahead of Darren and Dan, and clearance wasn't looking so good. Fuck! Why didn't I think to take the Van? So I got out and saw one of those brown, flimsy metal road markers you see all over, lying prone beside the road. There were heaps of gravel shoved out of the way by the stream that likes to run through there. I didn't waste any time: I grabbed the flexible brown road marker and started grading the washout. Moving the high points of gravel into the low spots, trying to make the washout at least marginally passable. This is the OP. If you want to get to the put in you need to come prepared to do a little road work. I'm catching on.

Darren arrives in his fucking station wagon. Hard telling which vehicle was going to make it to the put in, if either. We are so fucked. Yet both vehicles managed to negotiate this washout (testament to the indefatiguable spirits of the drivers, no doubt) and we continued on...

Well I know I'm dealing with a bunch of ADD folks on this here internets, so I'll cut to the chase as best I can. By 12:30 we were hiking from as far up as we could drive. There is a huge blown out section of road requiring you to hike up a trail through the woods then back down to pick up the road again, past Elkhorn C.G. We tried to keep crackin the whip on ourselves, hiking as fast as we could.

We managed to ferrit out the right spot to duck through some burnt forest straight down to the river to below the lower Dosewallips Falls. Thanks, Jeff, for the beta, BTW... Sure enough it had to have been 2pm by the time we put on.

Almost right away we were confronted with a steep narrow torrent that twisted around an ugly pourover and into an overhanging, undercut canyon wall on R. Left. We felt obligated to run this first challenge, unsure of what the rest of the run would be like. It would later stand out as one of the more difficult rapids. What followed was a mad dash down a class V run none of us had ever seen before. We tried to keep it to only one and a half boaters out scouting at any given time. Soon we got into the rhythm in this fashion and we managed to run fairly efficient and swift. We had a good team. Every boat was right on the heels of the last, with minimal time spent waiting for the last boat or the person who got out to scout.

While I had to regret rushing down this incredibly beautiful run, the fast pace really was working for me and I was astonished at how fluid the run was. We had but one brief wood portage that was an easy 15' out of our way, over a boulder and back in the water. The Matron Saint of OP rivers was benevolent to us this day!

We found some really steep drops that were filled in and padded out with a nice medium flow. One particular double drop was really steep and constricted, yet had a nice intuitive flow to it: Boof the left shoulder of a large rock (maybe an 8' boof), land in the downstream current, then line up for the second boof, an offset mirror image of the first. The gauge read 500 cfs that day, and we guessed that would translate to about 250 in the canyon itself.You could link up moves and really enjoy paddling in here. There were two other rapids that contained hazardous wood. While it was a bit close for comfort, both of these remained runnable by dodging or ducking.

The run flew by in a delightful flurry, and then we were out of the canyon, just like that. We all excitedly proclaimed our appreciation of the run during the class II as we floated past Elkhorn C.G. We floated under a bridge before "The Maze". This rapid is normally on the section below Elkhorn Canyon, but due to the road being washed out we ran it on down to where we were parked. It was chock full of wood, and hiking past it on our way to the put in we expected a portage but now found a secret passage along the right hand bank, hidden from the road!

We got to the cars by 4:11 with daylight to spare! This is a fabulous run, and it's about as clean of wood as it'll ever be. So you should put it near the top of your agenda. Just get an earlier start, willya?

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