North Fork Cispus River

Class IV (V), 148fpm, ~700cfs (2800cfs Cispus at Randle)

March 23, 2003

Ben, Travis, Tom


We'd crossed this river many times on our way to the Upper Upper Cispus with little more than a trickle through it's tantalizing boulder gardens. Heavy rain over the past few days gave us a mouthfull but we felt confident after running Johnson Creek at higher than recommended flows the previous day (despite our spanking on McCoy that morning).

The first mile or so is a mix of Class III and IV boulder gardens. We boat scouted the majority and were pleased to find little if any wood. The river eases briefly before an obvious horizon line. Eddy out right or left (depending on the flow) for a look and most likely portage at Big Death. We chose right hoping to take advantage of the midway ferry but deemed the current too swift to even attempt it. After a long look into the maw, we towed our boats a couple hundred feet upstream in order to reach the left eddy. A short climb led us through the woods and down the bank. The lower half looked more reasonable but a peek around the corner revealed several river-wide logs, dubious for a boater and deadly for a swimmer. We opted for the extended portage up and down the left bank.


Upper Big Death. The midway ferry would take place somewhere above the left-center boulder fence. At higher flows is best to eddy out left above the first drop (partly seen in the background) and portage its entirety on the left.


Lower Big Death. Be sure to look around the corner if you're considering running this.


You may find this. New wood at the base of Big Death.


After a lengthy portage of the sole Class V, we were greeted with more Class IV, more portages, more portages, and more portages. I recall at least three log portages of varying difficulty. Fortunately, the final mile or so was another mix of clean Class III and IV boulder gardens. We arrived at the take-out bridge all too soon. I'd have done another lap but the others were bummed about the portages so we decided to call it a day.


Travis running some Class IV boulder gardens below Big Death.


Many recommend the North Fork as a supplement to the areas "classics" but I found it worthwhile on it's own. I can't say that I'd recommend it at much lower flows but it may ease wood concerns. I look forward to running Big Death if and when the wood at its base clears.