Class IV+, 78fpm, ~300cfs (1500cfs Cispus at Randle)
December 22, 2001
Jason, Josh, Ben
Author: Josh Hummel
Jason entering the first rapid a short ways below the put-in.
Being unemployed has its perks. The downside, of course, is money. Specifically the lack thereof. Normally, I would be resort skiing this time of year, but since I have no money kayaking is the cheap alternative.
Over the last year, I have been kayaking several times each week. Lately, the cold has been making my trips Ö brrr Ö and without a dry suit I think you can understand why. As a result, a dry suit tops my needs list with a ski coat in a close second.
The next installment to our growing list of adventures was Yellowjacket Creek. At Class IV+ we expected plenty of excitement and perhaps a little danger. With a gradient of 78 feet per mile we knew there would be some very fun rapids and with a length of 5 miles through a deep, lushly forested canyon we knew we were in for a beautiful, exciting, scenic float. How could anyone not be tempted?
As usual, with any trip headed south, my dadís house near Morton was the likely spot to camp out. It being the holidays and all, made us that much more welcome. Jason and I arrived Friday night after my two interviews with Washington Mutual in Lakewood and Olympia. Yes, soon I would be employed again and have nice gear that rarely gets used. A true weekend warrior.
Ben showed up early Saturday morning interrupting my brother Cameron and I playing Halo on his new X-box. We were well on our way to conquering the game but decided to save the rest for later. Soon we were off to Randle and from there, down the 23 road, which leads to the take-out. We left Benís Mazda at a campsite next to the bridge and changed into our kayaking gear before shuttling the Sport Truck. Higher up there was going to be snow. Changing at this lower elevation would offer us a few extra degrees of warmth and allow our bodies to warm up our wetsuits on the way to the put-in. As for our wetsuits, they never seem to dry out since we are constantly boating. It's always a chilling experience to put them back on.
We had some trouble with snow on the way to the put-in. There was a good foot of leftovers on the road and it had just begun to fall from the ski in large white chunks. This would not be the first time we kayaked in snow. We started out last winter with no wetsuits or drytops. This winter we were better prepared but still far from comfortable.
In no time we reached the pullout on the left side of the road. You will know you are at the correct spot if you see a large sliding waterfall falling off of the cliffs to the north. From here you can simply seal launch from the road into the river. I wish. You must first hike down about 500 vertical feet until you reach the river. With snow on the ground we had some trouble finding our way. We discovered later that there isn't much of a trail. All of us fell at least once. Slippery kayak booties donít have the best traction in snow, especially on a steep hill. At last we made it to the river with a few scrapes and some bruises, but what we saw made us feel better about the hike.
Waterfall galore! Behind us was the large sliding waterfall, across from us was a waterfall, and above us was a magnificent 40-foot waterfall followed by two 10-foot slides.
Josh and Jason at the put-in. We approached from the right.
This run begins with a mellow set of rapids. You will know you are close to the difficult stuff when you see McCoy Creek enter from the right. First, you go over a series of gentle slides while avoiding a large logjam on the left. This rapid is called The Meteorite.
Jason and Josh running the final slide of The Meteorite just above McCoy Creek. The undercut depression is in the center where the water is splashy. It is fairly easy to avoid as is the logjam on river left.
We had read stories about McCoy Creek and its waterfalls and so we decided to hike up it. We followed its bedrock banks for about a quarter mile but regretted not seeing anything beyond Class III. Where we turned around you could almost feel that there was something big just around the corner. We floated down the portion of McCoy Creek that we hiked and were soon confronted with Godzilla.
After McCoy Creek there is a short Class III before the walls tighten and the horizon drops. This is the first difficult rapid. Godzilla consists of three consecutive plunges, the last of which ends in a sticky hole. To scout, get out on the right and decide which of the drops you want to run. We ended up getting out on the left but at this level we ran all the drops and punched the hole, no problem. Ben went first and climbed back up the portage route so he could take photos of my run. Higher levels will make the last hole very sticky. Ben found out the hard way three weeks later.
Josh running the second drop of Godzilla.
Josh playing chicken with the last hole on Godzilla.
After Godzilla the river opens up a bit but there are still plenty of holes to watch out for.
Josh running a small slide below Godzilla.
The scenery may tempt you but don't let your guard down because the biggest drop is yet to come. Look for a log extending from a large boulder on the left. You can scout this rapid from either side. Ben climbed the log on the left and took a photo of Jason on the rapid above the falls and another of me going over the falls. I opted to start center and shoot off of the falls to the right avoiding a nasty part of the current that plunged into the left side of the canyon wall. Both Ben and Jason ran it a bit nasty. At higher flows you should run this drop on the far right. Three weeks later we did just that.
Jason running the rapid above the falls.
Josh running center on the 7-foot falls. Far right works better at higher flows.
Jason running left on the 7-foot falls. The log above us is the best way to recognize this rapid. That is where the previous photos were taken from.
After the falls there is a hole to watch out for. Look for a large sliding waterfall on the right hillside. The river takes a gradual left below the waterfall into what looks like a fairly innocent slide. Ben boat scouted down the center and found a hole. Jason followed him and got stuck but was able to roll out of it. I went a bit further right and almost got stuck. Far right worked well at higher flows.
Josh punching the waterfall hole.
Next comes a long section of holes and waves. You enter a deep canyon with logs strewn in the most unusual places. One old growth log was wedged at least 10 feet above our heads. I could hardly comprehend what this creek would be like at such flows.
Ben running a drop into a canyon.
A bit of flat water leads to more cool boulder gardens and small ledge drops. One rapid is particularly nasty because there is a logjam on the left where most of the water is flowing. We were able to make a strong ferry above the logjam and run it down the center. At higher flows it is best to portage or run the shallow boulders on the right. Just below here is a boulder garden that looks much bigger than it really is. Look for an enormously tall and overhung cliff on the right. Down river you will see several large boulders on the left pushing all of the current to the right against the cliff. That is where you run it. Afterward, you suddenly find yourself confronted with three routes: left, center, right. Left is usually easiest. Logs frequent here but it's easy to scout or portage on the left.
Jason above the cliff.
Josh running the final boulder garden against the cliff.
Canyon walls appear and disappear and eventually melt into the hillside. Soon you are left with a one-mile section of Class II. The channels become braided but the water remains fast and it eventually carries you to the bridge.
Ben's Mazda needed all the clearance it could get so we left Jason at the take-out with our gear. A half an hour later we were back with warm trucks. Overall, a very fun river that offered the treat of beautiful scenery and the spice of good rapids, a tasty delight for all.