Ohanepecosh River

Class V (V+), 128fpm, 500cfs (1650cfs Cowlitz at Packwood)

March 29, 2003

Ben, Travis, Leo, Eric, Shawn, RT, and Bryan

Author: Bryan Smith


The seven of us traveled up to the Ohane early on the morning of March 29th for what would turn out to be an epic day! Nestled into the base of Mt Rainier, the Ohane is a stunningly beautiful paradise and challenging five mile stretch of Class V steep creeking. The Ohane does not let down until you take off! While not quite as burly as the neighboring Clear Fork of the Cowlitz, the Ohane is a mentally and physically exhausting run that rewards paddlers with perhaps the most scenic gorges in Washington! Needless to say… when we completed this run we were all absolutely stoked.


RT and Shawn only a ¼ mile from the put in… the gate was closed so we had a good hike in!



The Cowlitz gauge was at 1650cfs when we headed up to the river. It was a rare warm, sunny day for March. The sunlight cascading in the gorges and penetrating the brilliant emerald green pools was mind blowing and an inspiring element to the day. Pick a sunny day to run the Ohane and make sure you have a full day if you plan to boat both the upper and lower sections.

The run starts out as a very nice Class II-III boulder garden, but quickly gives way to narrow chutes, giant boulder filled rapids, and serious commitment. After the first drop to the right the river narrows into a moss covered canyon. There are two huge logs that block the entrance to this pool now. There is a small eddy on river right and a quick portage around. Unfortunately this wood could end up getting pushed to a worse place downstream during snowmelt.

After a few more nice boulder gardens with some drops in the 3-4 foot range, comes the first major horizon line and drop. There is limited eddy space behind a big rock on river right. Get out here to scout or portage this burly one.


Ben lining up the entry to the first big drop. Only the left slot goes!



In the photos this drop does not look so bad. In person the hole at the bottom and the consequences of not sticking the line make this boulder chocked drop an easy portage on river right. All the water slams into the rock on river left and the drop requires a nice line and boof to clear the backed up hole at the base. Some shallow rocks also make the entry move a bit sketchy. You can see from the picture that the river continues with countless Class IV and V drops as you enter this gorge.


Leo running the second tier of first meaty drop.



This drop should be a big check in for anyone attempting the Ohane! Most of us walked this, but this starts to give the flavor of the rest of the run.

Unfortunately I did not get many photos from between this drop to Secret Camp. It becomes very difficult to separate rapids due to the continuous boulder garden type drops in the 4-8 foot range. Although Ben, Travis, and Leo knew the run, there were several drops that we still spent a good amount of time scouting. One of the boulder gardens ends in a bouncy boat width chute on river right and the next horizon line marks the slide in the next shot. Catch the eddy on river left and have a look.


Leo running the slide on river left. All the water feeds right and requires catching an eddy immediately to set up for another set of complex boulder chocked drops!

The view from Ben’s cockpit running the slide!



The slide can be portaged on the left, but this was one of the more fun drops on the run! Have a close look at your line after the slide. There are several tight slots that produce some funky hydraulics. At higher water there is a 10 ft waterfall on river right of the slide. If you look at the Hummel brothers trip report and Rackley’s site, you’ll see some shallow rocks that make this move risky. Shortly after this drop comes Secret Camp. It took us close to three hours to run this upper three-mile section. It was sunny and all of us were boating very well, so it seemed like a thumbs up to enter the lower canyon! If things are not going well at this point or you question the amount of time you have, you best get out here. The bottom section is more of the same continuous Class V action!

Just after Secret Camp is a nasty drop that bends to the right and back left again. Scout this on river left by crawling up the big boulders. You will know this one by the crack on river left of the drop that all the water backs up into. The steep right side of the drop is also undercut at the base. A lot of water was backed up here! Leo, Ben, RT, and Shawn ran this drop, but everyone just barely missed getting sucked back into the hole.

The river calms down a bit for a short section before Rail Slide. Have a look at this rapid from river left. It is a simple slide onto the log to avoid the hole below, Two of us missed the log, which really sucked!

Shortly after this move Summit Creek enters the Ohane on river left. You will see a river wide horizon line that looks quite intimidating shortly after the creek. This is a river wide 9-foot ledge that is run on the far right. This was a super sweet drop! The boulder gardens will pick up following this ledge. When the canyon walls begin to rise up out of the water and big water lurks in the distance, Elbow Room appears out of nowhere. Hug the left side of the boulder gardens to get to the portage and scouting option on river left! This is a nasty V+ rapid that once had a good sneak route on the left, but is now blocked with wood!


All of us having a close look at Elbow Room! You can see how well filled in the rapid was and how to sneak the left side of the upper boulder gardens to get to where we are scouting from.




Travis decided to run the left side of Elbow Room, despite the fact that the other six of us considered the rapid ugly and a certain portage considering how good of a day we were having. From the picture above you can see that the rapid is well filled in at this level with some super pushy water. Lets just say things got interesting at this point! Travis got hung up on the wood blocking the far left channel. Once he freed himself from this mess, he floated into the undercut rock at the bottom of the drop, swam from the boat, and his boat was left pinned under the rock.


Travis attempting to sneak down the left side of Elbow Room



Leo and Eric having a closer look at Travis running Elbow Room



While I think most of us considered his boat a loss and glad that his boat was the only thing pinned, Ben was busy thinking about how to put his climbing and mountaineering skills into action to retrieve the boat.


Ben rapping down in to the gorge…the boat is under the large rock at the bottom of the rapid



After a series of several bouldering moves Ben got him self on top of the rock. If you want to see the full step by step photo sequence check out the complete photo album at www.bodyboatblade.com. Ben made it look smooth as we all supported from the cliff.


Still a long ways away, but inching closer.



Ben ancoring himself to the rock. Travis’s boat is pinned on the river left side of the rock



Ben hooking the boat after a long struggle for position!



Getting Ben’s boat back to him, before we portage around Elbow Room



It took us over an hour to get out of this one, which we actually thought was pretty good considering. It felt good to pull of the rescue smoothly and the experience was a valuable one for sure. We all learned a lot on this one I hope!

Just below Elbow Room is a fun little slide that is run on the right side of center. It is not very step, but a nice long bouncy slide that ends in a calm pool. The river continues just a short distance before another big horizon line appears. This is the biggest vertical drop on the trip. A challenging four-foot entry drop leads into a 15-foot vertical falls. There is an easy scout or portage on river right. At this level we ran the entry move center to avoid the big hole on river left and then ran the falls center. The narrow falls that is in the opening pages of Bennett’s book on river left was difficult to get to at this level.


Ben snaking the right side of the big hole before the 15 falls!



Ben hitting the boof off the flake very smoothly.



Travis, Leo, Ben, and Eric anticipating the last three of us to come over the falls



Immediately following the falls is the last big rapid of the run. As you approach the horizon get out and have a look on river left. It consists of three distinct ledges and several moves to negotiate hazards. The entry into the drop is either the very tight center drop that a couple of us ran or a bouncy chute on river left that was also good. The most difficult part of the rapid is just after this first entry drop. There is a big rock in the center of the river that you need to eddy out behind! This is more difficult than it looked from shore, but a very fun technical drop!

Once you complete this drop you have an easy float to the take out and hopefully a big smile on your face. On river left you will see a rope swing… this is the take-out that leads up to La Wis Wis Campground. The Ohane is an awe-inspiring, intense place to paddle. A day I will never forget! Thanks to everyone on the trip for a killer day despite the carnage in Elbow Room!