Upper and Lower Dosewallips River
Class IV+, 82fpm, ~300 cfs
December 20, 2001
Ben, John Easton
John at the put-in above the campground bridge.
My first trip down the Dosewallips was a bit of a disappointment. The flow was awfully low so the IV+ felt more like III. I ended up getting a better feel for the riverbed than the rapids. We took out below The Pinch because neither of us could stand another 6 miles of scraping. I promised myself that I would return to experience the upper and explore the lower at higher flows. The rain returned in late November as did my dreams of sparkling froth. John Easton woke me in mid December and we agreed to give it a go.
I had paddled with John several times, mostly on the Green River Gorge. His job allows him to sneak midweek afternoons now and then. I was unemployed at the time so we were destined to hook up. John had just learned that his vacation days didn't carry over so he decided to spend what was left the week before Christmas.
Thursday was the day. The floods had let up and the sky was forecast to clear. John and I were the only ones available that day so we decided to do a bike shuttle instead of taking two cars. I was familiar with the road and didn't mind biking 12 miles so I agreed to drive. We met at the familiar Park n Ride in Lakewood and continued south along I-5. Two rights on HW101 led us along the spectacular Hood Canal until we reached the take-out near Brinnon in exactly 1.5 hours. We spent some time finding a stash for my mountain bike and finally locked it to a tree near a path figuring that nobody would be there to mess with it on a midweek. The flow looked decent. I worried that it would either be too high or too low but instead, it was too flat to tell. We returned to HW101, crossed the river and headed west on FR2610. We stopped halfway at 6-mile bridge to scout The Pinch and it looked good so we continued. A few patches of ice led to consistent snow. We ran into our first obstacle shortly after the road turned from pavement to gravel. The road had actually washed out. We got out to scout and both agreed that I could make it through with a little digging. I got the shovel from behind my seat and cleared a path on the right. Somehow, the Mazda made it through.
The snow continued to get deeper. There were tracks so we didn't bother putting on chains. I was more concerned about the bike. We eventually reached The Maze and my thoughts shifted from road to river.
The Maze looked fairly straightforward. We spent a few minutes scouting and did our best to memorize the entry.
The Mazda eventually came to a stop a short ways above the campground bridge. I had hoped to make it to Elkhorn Campground but decided to back down and turn around at the bridge while I still could. The tracks were scattered and I ended up getting stuck. We dug and pushed for awhile until I finally made it back on the road pointed down. I didn't want to risk parking at the bridge and getting stuck by myself so we drove back to The Maze and parked on the shoulder under a tree. Snow and ice was melting and pelting from high above so we put on our helmets right away.
The walk back to the campground bridge wasn't that bad. We followed the tracks while our kayaks slid along the foot deep snow to our side. We found a nice bank on the south side of the river. I took a photo from the bridge as a reminder of the wintry conditions. The cold had yet to set in. Between getting unstuck and hiking a bit, I was actually quite warm. I practiced my roll a few times because I knew there was plenty of warmth ahead.
We were both looking forward to The Maze. I led through the first series of rapids and eddied out above the main drop. We knew left was best but we were in ho hurry so we both agreed to take photos. John went first and disappeared in the froth. We switched places and John took a photo of me above the drop since I captured him too late.
Myself running left on the main drop of The Maze.
Photographer: John Easton
I flipped below the main drop but caught an eddy in time to pick up the camera and shoot John running the rest of the middle section.
John in the middle middle section of The Maze.
John in the lower middle section of The Maze.
We regrouped in the pool below the last drop and finished off the Class IV at the bottom of The Maze. There was a submerged log near the end on river right that could pose a threat to swimmers. We had no trouble boat scouting and avoiding it. A riverwide log below The Maze resulted in our first portage.
The 5-mile section between The Maze and The Pinch was still disappointing in terms of flow. We tried our best to play but there was nothing worth stopping for besides a few logjams that we had to portage. I would like to try this section above 500cfs.
We didn't bother scouting The Pinch along with several rapids above it that felt just as difficult. There was a logjam just below The Pinch that we portaged on the left. This could be a problem for swimmers at all flows. It wasn't there during my previous trip and I'm hoping that it will clear out with the next flood. Otherwise, debris will continue to collect there. Be sure to look beneath 6-mile bridge when scouting The Pinch.
The lower 6 miles are about as exciting as they look. The rapids and scenery range between what you see at the put-in and what you see at the take-out. The canyon provides a worthwhile exception. There are a few fun ledge drops before the walls close in. You can admire its depth from a peaceful pool but do it quick because its length is less admirable. There's also a heavenly shower that turns on when it rains. This may be your last chance to get wet because it's Class I to the take-out. Don't let the last 3 miles discourage you though. There are plenty of bends and channels to keep you entertained. We also saw numerous eagles during our trip. Be sure to save some of your attention for the logjams. We got lucky and didn't have to portage but a wrong turn may lead to a mandatory leg stretch.
We reached the take-out shortly before 3pm. John retrieved my bike from the bushes while I changed shoes. I wore my shirt, bibs and helmet and ditched the rest of my kayak clothing. Luckily, John reminded me of my gloves or else my fingers would have froze.
I figured that it would take an hour to bike and a half an hour to drive. I usually average 15mph on my mountain bike but I knew the 3 miles of snow would slow me down. I told John that I'd be back around 4:30pm.
The first half of the bike went well. I set a speed record of 41mph on one of the wasteful hills. The snow didn't slow me down as much as I thought it might. My average went from 15mph to 10mph. When I reached the washout I continued to worry. I had actually worried ever since I crossed it that morning because I wasn't sure that I could make it back. The least I could do was try but first I had to focus on the 8" track that allowed my bike to continue. I finally spotted The Maze and it wasn't long before I reached the Mazda. It was 4pm and I was still hopeful that I would make it back on time. I threw my bike in back and skidded down the road. The snow wasn't a problem but my heart pounded as I approached the washout. I knew that I would need a little speed but I wasn't sure how much. Coming in I had the benefit of a downhill but going out was a different story. Part of me went for it and part of me held back. I came to a stop about halfway through the 100ft mess. I tried to reverse thinking more speed might help but the Mazda was in no mood for a second try. My right rear wheel spun away any rocks that might have given it traction and proceeded to sink to roughly half its height.
My first feeling was anger. Then I started to laugh as I pictured the Mazda in Four Wheeler Magazine next to a Jeep buried in mud. Soon reality struck and I realized that I needed to get out of there. I had been stuck in snow countless times. The good thing about snow is that you can usually dig yourself to solid ground. There was no solid ground where I was. The stream was actually flowing beneath all four wheels of my truck. The saturated gravel disappeared when agitated. I could do little but think. I made one attempt to jack the sunken wheel back to the surface but I couldn't get beneath the springs or axle and jacking the frame did little to help. There was no other solution so I went for help.
I knew that there were a few houses down the road so I got on my bike and rode back towards 6-mile bridge. The first house on my left was empty. The second house on my left had two large dogs outside it. Their barking made me want to ride for the river but I stood my ground (several hundred feet back) until the owner came out. He calmed his dogs and I explained my predicament. Within minutes we were headed back up the road in an old 4x4. His truck had a wench but it wasn't working. His first attempt to pull me forward led too far left. I feared my truck might roll so he pulled me back. Getting around me was difficult because the right shoulder was completely eroded. Nevertheless, his beater managed thanks to its beefy tires and enormous lift. We switched the towing angle and I was pulled to safety on the next attempt. I thanked him again and offered him money, which he refused to take.
By then it was dark. Over an hour had passed since I got stuck and John was in the midst of planning a rescue. I drove the remaining 9 miles at a safe pace (well above the speed limit) and arrived at the take out at 5:45pm. Our gear was there but John was not. I stayed there, not knowing where he went, hoping he would return. Turns out that he walked to a nearby restaurant and called 911 at 5:30pm. He returned at 6pm and borrowed my bike so he could go call 911 back. I continued to load our gear. The rescue plan was to send a park vehicle up the road. It had yet to be commenced so we weren't in any trouble.
I told John the remainder of the story and apologized on our way back to Tacoma. It could have been much worse but I still felt bad for the 2 hours that we wasted and worried. A 4x4 was added to my wish list but that meant I needed to find a job. Perhaps something good came out of it after all.
The Maze and The Pinch are better at 300cfs than 100cfs. The rest still needs more flow.
There is a new logjam below The Pinch underneath 6-mile bridge that will cause trouble at all flows and should be scouted.
The road is washed out roughly 3 miles above the 6-mile bridge turnoff. Don't attempt to cross it unless you are confident that you can make it back. Four-wheel drive is recommended and some clearance is required.