Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Clear Fork of the Cowlitz

The first thing you have to do with the Clear Fork is determine the level. The preferred method is to stand on the downstream side of the bridge on Hwy 12, and spot the "Oregon Rock". If you can see some water pouring off the downstream side of the rock, you have enough water, with more water being optimal.

The second decision is whether to run Entrance Exam or not. Entrance exam is a three tier drop, that cannot be portaged, and is difficult to scout. The first drop can be less than appealing to the eye, as it drops into a crack that is as wide as a paddle and turns 90 degrees. Oh-yeah, there is a hole in there too. The good news is that it usually flushes and you have a little time to roll, and an eddy before it drops over two 10 foot waterfalls. From the bottom of this drop (whether you ran it or opted to put-in below it) you know you're in for a truely awesome run.

Ben enters the first drop on his first Entrance Exam

photo by RT

Bryan Smith and Ben Glahn revel in passing the entrance exam.

photo by Andrew Oberhardt

After paddling around a few corners, you are at the next waterfall. Another clean 10 footer with a nice boofable ledge below it.

photo by Andrew Oberhardt

Another 10 foot drop and some great boulder garden work eventually lead you to Furious, a 4-part rapid that can be difficult to scout and is run on the right for each drop. When most of the water squeezes between two large boulders, you've reached Butt Crack, yet another 10 footer.

About half way through the run you will encouter the largest single drop, Bitch Slap. This drop squeezes through a tight slot on the right wall before falling 20 feet into a deep, meltable pool. Boofing can be difficult, so prepare for some downtime.

Bryan preparing for a backhand.

photo by Andrew Oberhardt

Matt lines it up.

photo by Andrew Oberhardt

After Bitch Slap, you get a slight break in the action, and its well timed as you pass under the Palisades. The Palisades are a huge cliff band of columnar basalt, rising straight out of the river. This impressive landscape also notifies you that you are entering the Bad Neighborhood, otherwise known as the portage. The Bad Neighborhood is often changing due to landslides and old growth tree placement.

After the portage, the defined pool drops are replaced with tighter and more complex boulder rapids as you negotiate Cortwright Canyon, Dead Beaver and Flake Falls to name a few. When the river chokes into a narrow channel that eventually pours through an 6 foot spout that is backed up by a big boulder you know you've made it to Pin Vader and the final class V rapid. You'll be ready to see the bridge, but will also be likely thinking about when you can do this run again.

Click here for video of the trip

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