Friday, July 17, 2009

The Chelan Gorge is Neat-O

I learned to boat in Colorado, and spent the majority of my first decade kayaking in there, so that's my main point of reference in this activity we call "kyaking" [sic]. That's also where I met Todd. We often reminisce about, and occasionally poke fun at the Colorado boating scene - perhaps even on this blog from time to time. Recently, the PacNW's latest Colorado transplant chimed in on the comparisons of the two regions with this post. It got Todd and I talking about Colorado boating again on our latest trip over to the East side of the Cascades, which happens to be very Colo-esque in climate. One conclusion we settled on was that, by comparison, photography is extra challenging over here in the deep, dark, well-forested runs of Western WA. Such would not be the case last weekend, however, as the Chelan Gorge has nary a tree nor a shrub in its bedrock crack, and nothing but crystal clear blue skies above. It also possesses plenty-o-sol allowing - practically requiring - shorties to replace the standard issue drysuit.

Prior to last weekend the Chelan gorge had only been run on one other occasion - during a flow study almost ten years ago as part of its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) re-licensing process. Yet, this may be one of the most well documented rivers in the nation. This stretch is now in a three year review process with many stakeholder groups evaluating our actions on and off the river, which means even more documentation (such as here and here). And now, I guess, adding my own two centavos, and Todd's photos, makes it that much more documented. Hopefully all this will help future boaters determine if this is a run they are interested in and qualified for, as safety is the number one concern for boating this run, but it would also be good to show as much interest as possible over the course of these next three years.

A final note on the nature of this run during the review process. The agencies involved in these releases have been particularly concerned about liability issues surrounding our recreational activities. Participants must register on the Chelan PUD site, sign waivers, and check-in the day of boating. Realize that this is one of the more difficult sections of water to boat on FERC releases, and it is located in an area with no other class V boating options, so the community is not accustomed to the likes of us waterfall-loving types. However, you wouldn't know this by the welcome you will receive. The waitress at the Apple Cup Cafe asked about our adventure, a crowd of thirty or more spectators gathered on the bridge spanning the canyon, and the PUD folks were very excited to facilitate the process, working over the weekend and even baking us brownies. So, play by the rules, be patient with the paperwork, and come out to support this decade-long effort by AW!

I don't have a ton to add to the previously mentioned commentary. The run is fun. It's probably not destined for the fame of Tatlow or the fanfare of Robe canyon, but it is a truly unique gorge with amazingly beautiful water ... and did I mention that its hot and sunny over there. Time for the photos! (all photos by Todd Gillman)

Sequence of Bellingham-by-way-of-CO resident Leif Embertson in the 3-part first rapid.

Jonathan Ehlinger in the middle of the entrance rapid.


The bottom of the first rapid is formed by a tight constriction with plenty of funny water in front of it. The hole, at 350 cfs, is small in size, but curiously strong .. and difficult to hit with the proper combination of speed and angle, which produced some interesting results. Above is Scherdle on the approach.

There was one really nice cross-current boof..

... and a drop that was eerily similar to Monkey Cage on the Top Tye...

Chris on the Monkey Cage doppelganger.

The water spilling off the top of Lake Chelan was around 60 degrees, which, with the 95-degree air temp, was almost too warm. In fact, the excessive heat at one point had me feeling lethargic and lazy. On a day like we had you could easily get away with paddling in just a PFD.

The Chelan's stunning color and clarity is something more commonly associated with "butt-ass-cold," not "my-skin-is-melting-off-hot."

Directly below the Monkey Cage look-a-like rapid, there's a not-so-bueno big rapid that leads into a portage around a sieve. I think everyone portages both rapids all the time.

Some locals told us of the old days, before the dam, when as kids they'd hike into the gorge and play in the swimming holes. A member of our group discovered at least one "swimming hole" designed, it seems, just for kayakers.

The Chelan Gorge with water in it is indeed a "Chelan Beauty", but be advised if you're contemplating a long drive to take advantage of one of the scheduled releases: the run is short, like only 5 rapids short; there's a bit of mank to contend with on the way into the gorge; and there are 2 advised portages, one of which takes some time to move a group through. None of this is meant to dissuade anybody, just being clear about it.


Steve said...

Beautiful fellas. The gorge, drops, shit even the pools. Gooood stuff.

Anonymous said...

Sweet, I almost thought you two stopped boating!! I can only check the site 3 times a day for an update, for so long.....
TG - the pics are great
SR - great write up
-TS ;-)

Shane Robinson said...

Don't stop checking TS :)
I was gonna blog about our Colorado class II adventures, but it seemed too brown or too stout or too whatever.
We'll try not to keep you waiting for so long this next time.

EJ said...

Sweet Sweetness.

greg said...

Beautiful water!

jason said...

spectacular shots TG. Two months between posts left me wondering if you fellas had found other pursuits. Nice to see TRL back in action. Thanks for sharing.

Melina said...

this is too beautiful, the water is unreal. Next time, skin to wind?

Anonymous said...

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jeffrey Clark said...

Shane, came onto my radar via Kayak Sessions article. Looks like you've been a busy guy, good stuff. I'll have to keep checking in now that I got a bead on the blog. Still boatin' in MT....

Shane Robinson said...

Yo Jeff,

Good to hear from you. Thanks for tracking me down. Yeah, I try to keep at it as much as possible. Always a project or two in the works. is the latest. Check it out.

Also, shoot me an email or find me on the book of faces so I can get your official contact info. Shanecrobinson gmail com

Glad you're doing well.