Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Green Truss (7.11.10)

The last two weekends have been spent in Hood River, (big surprise) and included a couple of runs down one of my favorite rivers in the PNW, the Green Truss section of the White Salmon. This run is truly a classic, but often overshadowed by the Little White Salmon, its neighbor just down the road to the west. There is also a great run above the Truss called the Farmlands (IV/IV+) which can be used as a combo during the longer days of late spring, when light permits. Just below the run is the Middle White Salmon, which is a super fun class III/IV run where most folks run their first waterfall at Husum.

Both weekends we ran the Truss it was ~2.75’, which is a nice medium flow. I’ve run it at a variety of levels and the range I prefer is between 3’ and 2.5’, so this was right in there. The stick gauge that is used for the run is located a couple hundred yards below Husum Falls, just above a road bridge that crosses over the river. It should be noted that there is a difference in flow on the Truss at the same reading between winter and summer, at least for the top half of the run. Unlike most runs which are opposite, the level in the winter will feel higher than in summer at the same reading. The main reason for this is due to the springs below the first gorge that feed the river from underground aquifers. These springs are locked up in the winter, so most of the flow comes from upstream. The springs are pretty impressive during the summer when the walls have water blasting out of them through the cracks. There is also a significant drop in water temperature below the springs.


The stick gauge at Husum (~2.75')


For reference, there is also an internet gauge that can be used and found here, but the correlation changes based on the seasons, and typically, I only use it to determine if the level has gone up or down since the last time I recently ran it. On 07/11 (the day we ran it) it was reading ~2.4'.


The internet gauge reading for the day we ran it (~2.4')


Once again, we had back-to-back weekends on the Truss, and the photos shown in this trip report were taken from both; however, since I have such a bad memory I’ll focus on the one that just passed.

Roman, Bobby, and I left from Eugene early on Sunday morning to meet the rest of the crew at Lewis & Clark State Park, which is on the outskirts of Portland as you travel into the Columbia River Gorge. We would be meeting up with Jason (up from San Diego) and the Portland crew, consisting of Chris Arnold, Nate Bell, and Matt Jordan. We were also joined by one of the veterans of the sport, Stephen Cameron, who I had not previously paddled with. Once we had all met up and exchanged greetings, we headed up to BZ Corner, the takeout for the Truss. We sat around in the sun for ½ hour or so waiting for “Late Nate” before heading to the put-in.

The put-in for the Truss is at the green trussed bridge that gives the run its name. Although this is private land, the land owners have granted access for recreation. To get down to the river from here is actually an adventure in its own right. Basically, you either do a sketchy scramble down an extremely steep slope with your boat on your shoulder, or you lower your boat down using a throw rope. I always opt for the latter, since my balance on technical scrambles is not confidence inspiring. Once I reach the large rock shelf just above the river, I typically use the fun 10’ (or so) seal-launch down the rocks and into the water, although this is optional.


The green truss bridge marking the put-in



Looking downstream from the put-in



The path down from the top to the put-in



Bill plays catcher for boats being lowered down at the put-in



Shawn utilizes the fun seal-launch at the put-in


Once we had all made it into the slow moving water at the put-in, we headed downstream. The first mile or so of this run consists of really fun class III/IV drops with a couple that require some moves through or around holes and other obstacles; this acts as a great warm-up for the bigger stuff below. The first big drop you come to, which signals the first gorge section, is Meatball. Meatball has a lead-in ledge right above which creates essentially one rapid. This initial ledge does have the power to surf you at certain levels, so I typically run it center-left and put-in a right boof stroke to hit the left eddy between the two drops. The one time I did get an extended surf the level was ~3’ on the Husum gauge (in early summer). Luckily I was able to rodeo out of it and avoid a swim over the bottom ledge, which is not recommended. Regarding the bottom ledge, the only good line that I know of is through the narrow chute left of the boulder in the middle of the river, which gives the drop its name. At anything other than low water, there is a nice boof opportunity on the left side of this left chute, although the move can be a little tricky since the water flows back to the right, around the rock, to the center of the river. Since I’ve never gone right of the “Meatball” boulder, I can’t say for sure what’s over there, although I’ve always been told you don’t want to be on that side...

Just below Meatball, and a slow moving pool (at medium to low levels), is Bob’s Falls. The hole that this ledge forms packs quite a punch and is supposedly the most swum drop on the run. Although I’ve been lucky enough to avoid its clutches, I have had a couple of close calls and have personally watched a few people get hammered. On the last two trips that we were there, a total of three paddlers were caught by its grips and swam...it was feelin’ extra hungry. My preferred line at Bob’s is to start from the center of the river, angled right and off of a kicker flake on the hard right side of the ledge; it should be noted that this flake disappears at low water. The main problem that I’ve seen people have when running this line is that they start too far right in the pool above, and get knocked left into the hole as they slide down the ledge. The other popular line on this drop is on hard river left using the same approach of starting in the middle of the river and angling that way. There is a much more pronounced flake on the left, but a missed line (not uncommon) puts you into the worst part of the hole, thus my reason for running right, where the hole kicks out.


Roman does it right at Bob's Falls.
Meatball is the drop just upstream.



Aaron Goodwin takes the right line in his playboat
(taken on a later trip)



A little too far to the right while running the left line at Bob's...



... and hammer time!



"Need air, must pull"



The boat went for an extended ride
even after the boater was on shore


Immediately below Bob’s is another ledge, about 8’ or so and far less sticky. The preferred line here is to run the right side, angled right. This is easiest done from the river left eddy above it, if you can get over there after running Bob’s.


Matt runs the fun ledge directly below Bob's


Just below these two back-to-back ledges is another small twisty ledge that dumps into a generous (slow moving) pool above Big Brother, the single largest drop on the river. This classic 25’ waterfall has been the backdrop for many photos and videos. Just as famous as the image it provides is the cave at the base, which has corralled more than its fair share of unsuspecting boaters who miss the line off the flake by a mere foot or two to the right. I can speak from personal experience, as more than half the time I’ve run this drop I get in some good cave time. Luckily I’ve always been able to paddle out of the cave and have never swam Big Bro. The problem with running the flake more left is the potential for a shallow landing on that side. Essentially you have to thread the needle and land between both obstacles at the base. At this level I wasn’t feeling it (a little high), so I made the portage around with most everyone else. On the second weekend, Chris Arnold and Nate Bell both fired it off and managed to avoid the cave. Nate got a little excitement as he was hammered by the curtain for longer than I’ve seen before on this drop, but he fought it out and stayed in his boat, nice!


Looking down at the drop leading into the pool above Big Brother



Looking back upstream from the pool above Big Brother.
The top ledge of the three is Bob's.



Big Brother from above



Looking over the lip of Big Brother



Chris grabs some style points on Big Brother



The author having one of his better lines at Big Brother
(taken on a previous trip by Mark Buckley)




Aaron Loft nails the line perfectly
(taken on a later trip)



Chris lays it out of Big Bro
(taken on a later trip)


Sitting just below Big Brother is its younger sibling, Little Brother. This ~15’ waterfall is a total classic, and a great place to practice your delayed boof off the rolling lip. Although it is a fairly friendly drop, it can dish out some punishment if you land sideways and/or are too far to the left. I remember the first time I ran Big Brother I was so elated that I got complacent and a little cocky, which is just what this drop was looking for. I came over the lip, missed my boof, and penciled into the base of the falls on the left side. A throttling ensued, and I swam out while tasting a little bit of humble pie. Sometimes you just need to be reminded…
In order to run Little Brother you have to either run Big Bro or access it via a sketch route down the cliff wall between them on river left. Although there is usually a rope already set-up for lowering you and your boat down, getting back in your boat can be an undertaking depending on water level. That said, you do have the option of portaging them both which I’ve done on a few occasions.


Shawn makes the portage around Big Brother to run Little Brother



Jason lines it up perfectly at Little Brother



Wild Bill enjoys a good line at Little Brother



Aaron Goodwin shows how to do it in a playboat. Freewheel style!
(taken on a later trip)



This photo was actually taken just after the first time I ran Big Brother
and was about to get throttled by Little Brother. Ain't that a mother?!
(Photo by Chris Arnold)


After a couple of fun twisty rapids below Little Brother, we were sitting above the next major drop of the run, Double Drop. This monster squeezes the whole river through a narrow chute over two ledges with barely enough time for a stroke in between. It drops a total of ~18' and is always entertaining from a spectator’s perspective, for it’s sure to dish out a couple of dynamic mystery moves and barrel rolls. Even with the shit show that usually plays out, it's remarkably friendly and you'll most likely get shot out of the bottom hole like a watermelon seed into the pool below. This is also a drop I prefer not to scout and just run blind, since it looks much more terrifying than it really is, and you only have a couple of line options. The two that I usually summon are either 1) put my head down and paddle as hard as I can right down the gut, or 2) attempt a boof off the small kicker on center-left of the first tier to stay high on the pile for the second; usually the latter results in a stern-squirt leading into some kind of new rodeo move at the bottom. Regardless of what happens, I'm usually laughing too hard at the bottom to care about how good my line was. This is probably my favorite drop of the run.


The author enters Double Drop
(photo by Chris Arnold)



Chris nails the line on the first tier of Double Drop...



... and on the second



Shawn having one of those typical exciting lines at Double Drop


Below Double Drop and the small ledge just below it (with a powerful hole on river left), the river mellows out considerably for a good mile or so until you reach the next named drop, Cheesegrater. Its location can be determined from upstream by the sight of the lava rock dome wall on river left. Although this drop is certainly not the largest or most complex drop on the run, it does deserve some respect. Like the many other ledges on this run that form powerful holes, this one is no exception. The meat of the hole forms on river right, so the safest route is typically to run it left. I actually had one of my worst beatdowns/swims here at ~3.25' when I was typewritered to river left all the way from the river right hole, and shoved into an undercut wall with a recirculating eddy feeding into it. After an extended stay out of my boat at this location, I was eventually able to work into the current and flush downstream; however, my adventure was not over as I was flushed for probably another 1/8 of a mile downstream before I got to shore, completely wiped out. Since this experience, I walk the drop about half the time, which usually depends on my memory of the day the incident occurred. That said, I think this was somewhat of a freak accident and as long as you line 'er up well, it's good to go.


Jason goes for the hard left line at Cheesegrater



Shawn opts for going more center at Cheesegrater


Not far downstream of Cheesegrater is Zig-Zag Canyon, which consists of both an upper and lower rapid separated by a pool that can either be calm or fast moving depending on the water level. Both Upper and Lower Zig-Zag accelerate through sheer vertical walls with the current slamming against them forming large laterals and offset holes. Upper Zig-Zag is often the mental crux for people due to its claustrophobic feel and difficulty that would be associated with portaging it. Also, at higher flows (> 3') the pool between it and Lower Zig-Zag picks up some speed, which increases as the level does. That said, I (and many others) feel that Upper Zig-Zag gets easier with more water and cleans up quite a bit. As levels drop below 2' the entrance can get quite trashy, making it hard to set-up for the rest of the ride. These last two times we were there the levels were good, and everyone made it through without issue and smiling.


Roman gives Upper Zig-Zag a quick scout



Shawn lines up perfectly on the top part of Upper Zig-Zag



Upper Zig-Zag from below. Stephen coming through nice and clean!



Stephen letting on to his slalom skills at the bottom of Upper Zig-Zag



The crew relaxes in the pool between Upper and Lower Zig-Zag


Lower Zig-Zag has always given me pause, and I've never made the choice to run it. This is mostly due to the wood that has dropped (and continues to) between the walls that frame it. Most everyone that I have talked to says it’s easier than Upper, and even with the wood the line is still the same. Even knowing this, I just don't like the look of the drop in its current form, but I guess everyone has a few rapids like this...
Once again, I made the decision to portage along with everyone else in the group, except Chris and Steve, who both cleaned it up. The portage on river left is not too difficult, and takes about 15 minutes total if you have a small group. It requires you to lower your boat from a rope at the end creating a bottleneck in the process, so it will take longer for larger groups.


The entrance to Lower Zig-Zag.
The section above is the run-out of the upper.



Chris in the middle of Lower Zig-Zag



Chris finishing up Lower Zig-Zag.
The logs below him just recently dropped.


Just below Zig-Zag Canyon the Orletta stretch starts. This section is best with more water and has lots of fun class III/IV splashy rapids. A couple of favorites, and bigger ones in here, are Triple Drop and The Flume. Triple Drop can sneak up on you as you round a hard left-hand corner of class II/III water. It has some tricky hydraulics that has flipped me more than once. The last tier, which forms a deep diagonal seam, is the one that would usually get me, but I've finally learned to run it as an airplane turn from hard left. The Flume is just pure fun, and you can pretty much run it anyway you want. There is a huge set of diagonals at the very bottom which you can catch some serious air off of, if you hit it correctly.

Just below The Flume and after a large pool is the lead-in to BZ. This lead-in is only class III, but the eddies (on river right) get smaller and more difficult to catch the closer you get to the drop. In fact, one of the days we were there an experienced boater slipped out of the last eddy and fell over BZ backwards. Remarkably, he flushed right through and was able to roll up in the pool just below. His buddy was not so lucky, and after intentionally dropping over the lip he was served a good beating which included a recirc or two out of his boat. To be honest, this drop has never looked appealing to me as the whole river basically folds onto itself, and into a stompin' hole. At lower water it does look much better and a nice boof forms on the hard right. On this day, no one in our group considered running BZ, and made the portage around it. There are a couple of options for portaging, 1) seal-launch beside the meat of the hole using a ramp that is etched into the right cliff wall, 2) seal-launch from high up on the cliff into the pool below, or 3) hike all the way around and down to the under-cut cave well below BZ (where there is a rope lined along the wall with carabineers).


The lead-in to BZ Falls



Looking over the lip of BZ Falls



A bad photo of BZ Falls, which doesn't do the hole any justice.



The boys wait their turn to portage BZ Falls



Jason lends a helping hand while Steve gets ready to
use the seal-launch right above the meat of BZ Falls


Once below BZ Falls, it’s a mellow ride to the takeout at BZ Corner. You can takeout above or below Maytag/Top Drop, the first rapid of the Middle White Salmon (the run below). The hike-out of the canyon is slightly easier if you start it from above the rapid, but obviously you miss out on one last hurrah. Whatever decision you make, celebrate with a couple beers in the parking lot while you wait for your buddies to run the shuttle. You just ran a PNW classic!

What a couple of great days on the river with good friends. I could tell that these last few trips made Jason homesick, so hopefully it will help get him and Cleo back up here sooner…


Here is some head-cam footage of a summer time run on The Truss:

Summertime on The Green Truss from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.


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