Upper Upper Cispus River

Class V, 130fpm, ~390cfs

September 7, 2002

Ben, Jason, John, Travis, Nick Newhall

Author: Jason

John running the rapid above the 30-foot waterfall while Nick and Jason watch from below.


…So there I was at the take-out grilling Travis and John about the Upper Upper Cispus. The weather was fine, the flow was average, and the rapids above me were plentiful. Then comes Nick and Ben, barreling down the road to a shuddering stop in front of us. Ben was up to his usual antics as soon as he stepped out. His phone rang. "Can you hear me? – Can you hear me now? – Can you hear me…?" Then Nick steps out and the first thing he says is "Who has the Necky Gliss?"

"The Gliss is mine. I think it will do alright," I said. By now I’m getting pretty used to people noticing my chameleon nature. Fact is, I would love to be running a creek boat, but since that requires money, and having money usually requires a job. Then seven days off per week doesn’t help much. "May I take your order PLEASE. – May I take your order PLEASE. – May I take your order PLEASE…" My – future – is – soo – bright.

"Okay," shrugged Nick, obviously apprehensive.

On the river, I felt pretty good, stoked to be on some unfamiliar whitewater where the typical lush jungle-like scenery encompassed us all like an open casket. Ben and all the others but Nick had run the Upper Upper the week before and Nick had been down this creek several times over the years, leaving me as the only person experiencing this run for the very first time.

As the creek became more familiar, we arrived at the first major drop, pulling out on the river left to set-up for film, pictures, and safety. This 14-footer looked good to me, so I decided to go, but Nick was ahead of me. Ha, racing to get to be the first. I let him go and after he disappeared over the edge, I followed suit. Getting to the top of the drop proved a little awkward, but even so, I managed to get left and hit the flake and drop into the froth, flipping over but rolling up fast. The others followed in like fashion over the drop, giving me a good show. John flipped and Travis gets bonus points for cleaning it with style. I didn’t see Ben, so he’s not going to get any cheers. Anyhow, he’ll get plenty later.


Nick running the first waterfall.


After the waterfall, we were immersed in short boulder gardens. Most are, hit-your-line rapids. As such, we jumped out of our boats occasionally. In all of these upper drops there were sharp rocks and a lot of piton and pinning potential especially if you get off route. Travis and Nick eddied out on the left of one drop and neither was able to make the move back to river right. Travis ended up pinned between two tight rocks but was able to keep his head above water and escape. Nick wasn’t so lucky and ended up with his head under water and ultimately pulling. A raised paddle is all that hinted that something was amiss. Three of us jumped out of our boats, grabbing two throw ropes at the same time. As soon as we arrived at the scene, we could see he was out and noticeably peeved. One rope was for the boat and one for him. All of our strength and Nick’s kicking finally released the boat into the grasp of the river, which politely permitted us to pull his boat to shore. I drained it and also helped John and Travis tow Nick to shore.

Somewhere on the gnarlist stretch of Class I Travis decided to get a cool shot with his headcam. He held a log and flipped and a moment later, we all turned around because emanating from his boat was the distinct intestinal sounds of a wet exit. Whoops! "That was the first time I ever pulled from my creek boat," he pronounced, shaking his head in disgust.

As if the above wasn’t enough entertainment for the day, "Dude, your boat looks a little bent," commented John. In one of the gardens with a tight route, I slammed a rock pretty hard, but I didn’t think THAT hard.

"Wow, sure does," hoping it was just the dim light of the canyon playing tricks.

After that enlightening pronouncement, we came to a descent-sized chute on the far-left wall. This sucker takes you for a ride, so hold on to your hat with both hands.


Ben running the chute on the left.

Photographer: John


The next big drop is Island Drop. And there really is an island, so scout both routes from there. At first, I wasn’t going to run this cause my boat definitely looked bent. I decided to wait until Travis and Ben ran the drop instead of following Nick to the portage route on the far left wall. There are two ways to go, left or right. Deciding it looked like cake, I followed the others. I headed right. Ben’s words of wisdom where, "Boof." He boofed perfectly, so I thought I could. Turns out, my piton was even better than his boof. I was summarily munched and recovered, feeling everyone looking down on me. Putting one hand on the rock to make some room, I took a river moment (one-second real time) and paddled hard over the second half of the drop. In the pool below, I could see my boat now had a very peculiar upward curl in the front. Thus Ben started calling me, "DONALD! Now you can really playboat." My words of wisdom to Travis, "Boof."


Jason running the second drop of Island Drop.


With my pride sufficiently diminished, I came to the next hard drop that is much like Cheese Grater on the MF Nooksack. Lean Left. Down river a bit from that comes the rockslide where we had to make our second portage due to logs.

So after lugging the boats across part of the rockslide, I decided this time I was going to play it smart. I shouldered my boat and followed Nick over the rest of the sharp jumbled boulders to a pool on the right. After Ben and Nick headed out, I followed them to a ledge on river left.

The rapids below the rockslide looked a lot bigger from below. John got worked a bit after flipping in the first drop. Before long, I was peering over the edge of the falls, salivating. The others were preparing to get their own look. Everything looked good to go, then all of a sudden behind me, at that place and moment, I hear the worst sound imaginable like that of a seal sliding into water. I’d swear I could hear it grunting just to mock me. Turning around, I saw Travis jump in and snatch his paddle and the others looking to their boats, but I saw poor battered bent-nosed DONALD slip just out of Travis’s reach. My own desperate reach was like a bon voyage. DONALD was setting out on its first unaccompanied maiden voyage over the lip of the unportagable, inescapable 30-foot waterfall amply named Behemoth. I was left dumbstruck and dry mouthed at the top of the falls. Nick ended up heading out right away. I watched him go and then asked what happened. Slippery rocks and lots of boats seemed to be responsible. A good lesson learned, I guess. Now it was time for: how the heck do I get out of this mess 101? Thankfully, I could see my boat making its rounds in the pool on the right side of the falls. At least for the moment my boat is safe, I thought. Of course, my boat is down there and I am up here.

Ben ran the drop next and pulled out on the right wall beneath a hole that follows the falls. Here is where my cheers for Ben come in. Travis, John, and I watched as Ben tried to skirt the bottom to no anvil. Next with much gesturing from us, he started up and thanks to his climbing skills made it up to a tree where he tied his throw rope. Next he rappelled down using just his butt and a biner. At the bottom, he was able to reach out in the water and after a few attempts, grab my boat.

In the meantime, I was climbing along the ledges, looking for a good platform. About then, Travis sailed off of the drop. Looking at Ben, I made as if to throw. I didn’t want my new paddle with me (this was its first trip). Seemingly understanding, I gave it my best throw off the slanted, slimy ledge towards Ben. I watched it go about halfway and just like the boat, he was able to grab it. Studying the drop, I knew I had to get out a ways in order to get caught up in the whirlpool, which would transport me to my boat. If I didn’t go far enough, I would head left into the hole below the next drop and that would suck. Next, I looked up at John, then down at Ben, and finally into the meat of the waterfall, which was where I planned to land…I never did feel myself hit the water, though and it sure felt like I was under there awhile. As soon as I came up (in the whirlpool? Yes!), Ben made a perfect toss and pulled me in. Now DONALD, my paddle, and me were together again. Ben somehow managed to climb his rope to the tree from which he rappelled. Once more salivating, I watched John run the falls and head straight into the hole. I couldn’t make it to the easier line on the left either. Lining up my boat, I hit the same hole about two feet from the right wall. In the pool, I could see everyone was relieved.


John running the Behemoth.


John and Travis in the pool below the hole below the Behemoth. The slide on the left is the preferred route.


The whole escapade had taken well over an hour.

The only advice they shared with me for the next section was "Stay right all the way." I have to tell you, there’s nothing like linking the bunch together. Like a dozen doughnuts laid before me, I was a chubby kid leaving Crispy Cream. Before I knew it there was none left and all my peering around the corner wouldn’t summon another horizon line (or doughnut). My sweet tooth was content.

For the remainder of the trip, the Upper Upper Cispus was on all of our minds. Explaining my thrill and relief would be hard enough. All I know is that the coming workweek didn’t cross any of our adrenaline-hazed minds. Isn’t that what paddling is all about? Every weekend is another adventure and every Friday is just another horizon line. We enjoyed this weekend's drops. The planning of the next one will have to wait a few days. In the meantime, we raced the last mile of flatwater to the car…