JoesKayak's Submission - Entered on 11/17/2016 1:17:00 PM
Notes: Removing Sauk @ Darrington gauge (has been shut down)
Gauge Information (Last updated with USGS at 2/23/2017 5:22:01 AM)
SAUK RIVER NEAR SAUK, WA
||NWRFC | FC Page
3rd Party Gauge
||2/23/2017 4:45:00 AM
Minimum Recomended Level: 2000 cfs Maximum Recomended Level: 13000 cfs
The Sauk is a very easy river to access. The Scenic Mountain Loop Highway (FS Road 20) Runs along side the run for most of the duration and alternate put ins or take outs would be easy to set up.
As of summer 2009 a new bridge over the Whitechuck river has been built and we have access to our old put-in again! To reach it, head upstream from Clear Creek a few miles and cross the bridge over the Sauk river. Turn left soon after this bridge and cross over the Whitechuck River on the new bridge. This road soon leads to the developed put-in with parking and outhouses.
There's a few different options.
1-Many kayakers like the Clear Creek take out, which is at Mountain Loop Highway mile 50.6 by the Clear Creek Bridge. Paddle UP Clear Creek to the upstream side of the bridge and scramble over the rocks.
Rafters prefer the 2 spots downstream because it's an easier carry.
2-Bachman Park is 1 mile downstream from Clear Creek. Bachman park is located on Clear Creek road. Taking out at Bachman Park gives you a couple more good rapids and a couple great play spots. First timers are advised to scout the landing spot as it is easy to miss.
3-The final take-out is located downstream of Darrington near the Mill. Drive through Darrington and turn onto Sauk Prairie Road and follow down to the bridge over the river. This is a nice access spot and adds 2-3 miles of easy floating to the end of your trip.
Notes on flow:
There were 3 gauges on this river. Unfortunately, the one in Darrington–which was the most accurate one for this run has been shut down and now there are 2:
SAUK above WHITECHUCK
SAUK at SAUK
Here's a quick rundown on the different gauges…
SAUK above WHITECHUCK
This gauge is just above the put-in and above the Whitechuck river. So it will show less water than is actually in the run. The Whitechuck River will usually add about 50% more water to this flow, but that will vary… less when freezing levels are low are more late in summer when the glaciers on Glacier peak are melting.
SAUK at SAUK
The Sauk at Sauk gauge is the gauge that's been used by river runners for decades for this run. The main issue with it, is it is located downstream of the Suiattle River confluence, a major tributary. So you really have much less flow in the run than what the gauge says. The Suiattle is a glacial river, so it adds a much larger percentage of water to this gauge in late summer than in other times of the year. During cold winter rains, the Suiattle may only contribute 30% of the flow, however on hot August days it may be contributing 70% of more of the flow.
Here's a (very) rough comparison of relative flows. Sauk at Darrington shown for historical reference only since it’s no longer in operation:
LEVEL Sauk ab Whitechuck Sauk at Darrington Sauk at Sauk
ELF-Min 400-500 800-1000 1500-2000
LOW 500-700 1000-1400 2000-3000
MED-LOW 700-1200 1400-2000 3000-4000
MEDIUM 1200-2200 2000-4500 4000-9000
MED-HIGH 2200-3200 4500-6500 9000-13000
HIGH 3200-3800 6500-8500 13000-18000
VERY HIGH 3800+ 8500+ 18000+
Descriptions of various flows:
ELF-MIN: Late summer flows, Still fun but technical, very technical (but do-able) for rafts. Mostly class III
LOW: Technical flows. May be easiest for first time kayakers. Mostly class III
MED-LOW: The run is much more cleaned up at these levels. Still quite rocky. Class III (III+)
MEDIUM: At these levels the run is filled in well and great wave trains and holes the river is famous for come in. Class III (IV-)
MEDIUM HIGH: Great big water fun levels. The section of river starting at Jaws is very continuous for 1/2 mile. Some great catch on the fly surfs can be found. Class III+ (IV-)
HIGH: Some very big holes and waves. Continuous in many spots. Class IV- to IV
VERY HIGH: Gets bigger and bigger as the water rises. Has been run many times at high water but is very continuous and pushy especially as flows climb over 20k. Class IV to V
Awesome run in a very scenic valley. Can be linked up with the runs upstream and/or downstream for some of the best overnight trips in Washington.
Run Description [Season: Oct-July]
First off, this run is very similar to the Middle Middle on the Snoqualmie. The boulder gardens are similar and the gradient and terrain is also close. The Sauk offers some technical class III boulder gardens at low water (3000 at Sauk or so) but is more fun at medium to high levels when the big wave trains and holes start kicking in.
The Sauk is a young river and has changed several times over the years when significant flood events have occurred. Some rapids have improved, some have gotten worse, and logs change from season to season.
Below the put-in the first 2 easier class III rapids come up soon. The first is just below the put-in where the river splits around an island. At times, both sides of this island have had riverwide logs, so approaching carefully or getting a peek before putting in may be prudent. The second 3 comes up not too long after and is straightforward, but at medium to high levels, a big hole appears center left. If you have a newbie along blundering down towards the left, you may want to have a camera and/or throwbag handy.
Below here is a section with a steep dirt bank on the right that regularly deposits trees into the riverbed, so keep an eye out for wood hazards. Soon the river slowly works its way into a long class 3 boulder garden that marks the beginning of the best rapids. After this boulder garden there are 2 class III+ rapids: "Six of One" and "Half Dozen of the Other". Six of One has also been known as Alligator Drop in the past because of the large boulder on the right that supposedly looks like a giant reptile. Both of these rapids are currently a bit easier than they were in the past.
After Half Dozen of the Other, there's a nice eddy where you can stop on the right to scout Jaws (III+ to IV). You can recognize the spot as it is just upstream of where a small channel splits off to the right forming an island. Jaws is fairly straightforward at low to medium levels, but wood has been an issue in the past, which is the main reason Jaws is often scouted. Jaws itself involves a long boulder garden entry and then a steeper drop towards the end. At some levels a big hole appears near the end of the rapid (Jaws) just upstream of a big rock near the end (Demon Seed). At low and medium levels a standard line is to go right of Jaws and Demon Seed. At higher levels (10,000+) you can sneak down the far left side of the rapid. A couple hundred yards of III/III+ fun rapids with big waves follow below Jaws. At higher water (12,000+) this whole section becomes one long rapid.
The next named rapid is Whirlpool. The river splits around an island here. In the "olden days" the standard line was down the left side and you got to deal with the actual "whirlpool" as the river swirled over a pourover near the left cliff wall making some really strange hydraulics. These days 90% of the water goes down the right channel which is a straightforward ride through some big waves. This rapid is best around 8,000 cfs. At higher levels watch that you don't get pushed into the headwall at the bottom.
The next named drop is what used to be Popeye/Lucifer's Hammer. Unfortunately it was changed for the worse in the floods in 2003, and doesn't have the same features. There used to be a great wave train that drew you into a huge hole just above a midstream rock (the Hammer). It made for an entertaining spot to have lunch and watch carnage go down. These days it splits around a gravel bar into two channels. The left side is a little more straightforward, just miss a few shallow rocks and ends with a big rock pour over that can be a fun boot or a nasty keeper depending on flows, but is easy to miss. The right side has some fun holes and waves but tends to change from year to year and has sometimes has some tricky rocks to miss.
About 1/2 mile downstream from Popeye lookout for a log coming in from the right bank. It sticks out from a boulder bar with quite a few logs on it. Just above the log is a mid-stream rock that looks like a fun boof from upstream, but you really want to go left of the rock, as the log just downstream sticks out further than appears from upstream and the current pushes hard into it. There have been a few incidents here so keep your eyes open for it.
The river gets slower in the lower half. There's still a few good rapids, playspots and a few logs to watch out for. The only real item of note in this lower section is a rapid just upstream from Clear Creek. The river is real wide here and braids into three channels. Just be sure to avoid the far right channel, currently it ends in a very shallow boulder bar.