Since our buddy Jason was unable to go on our annual boating trip down to Cali, on Memorial Day weekend, we decided to make a trip up to his area to get in some boating and other shenanigans. Being that he lives in Seattle, we’d have plenty of boating options, but we soon settled on the Cle Elum area to run laps on the Cooper – a true Washington classic! The plan was to head-up mid-day on Friday, stay at J’s house on Friday night, and then head east to the Cooper on Saturday morning. We figured that we could also hit Fall in The Wall (FiTW) on the way, a short/steep run on the SF Snoqualmie.
Just as planned, both Roman and I were able to get out of Eugene around 1pm, after a half day at work. Unfortunately we weren’t the only ones planning to take off early or leave town on the first hot day of the year, and we soon found ourselves in the worst traffic I’ve ever experienced, in downtown Portland. Since I don’t feel like reliving the agony or complaining too much about my first world problems, I won’t go into details, but the whole city basically became a giant parking lot, making it take two hours to go 10 miles along I-5. Almost as soon as we crossed the Columbia into Washington, the traffic all but disappeared (along with my stress level) and it was smooth sailing all the way to Seattle. We eventually reached Jason’s around 8:30pm, where we mingled with Cleo and him before enjoying some delicious Thai food and heading off to bed. We awoke the next morning to plenty of sun and a good breakfast -- a great start to the day!
We planned to meet Shawn, Chris, and Alex at the put-in to FiTW at ~11am, to give it a scout (and possibly run it) before heading over to the Cooper. When we made it to the meeting point, there was no sign of the boys, but there were a couple of other boating crews getting ready to run some laps. This was certainly encouraging, since the last time we were there it seemed way too low to run. Since we were still waiting on the others, we decided to hike down and see how the flow looked. Well, it certainly didn't look to be at optimal flow, and I'm not sure it even had as much water as the last time. Even so, we figured it was probably runnable, and since the other crews were suiting up, we figured it must still provide some entertainment. Back up at the car, we talked to a guy who was in-between some solo laps -- he verified that it was definitely low (too low by some peoples' standards), but still served up a good time. Since I'm always up for bagging a new run, even if it's only marginally runnable, I was the first to make the decision to give it a go, and soon after Jason and Roman agreed to as well. As we were getting suited up, our three other companions showed up, rounding out our crew to six. Both Shawn & Chris were far less motivated than the rest of us to jump on, but they eventually relinquished and also geared up.
|A boater hikes up for another lap|
After talking with the other boating crews, we decided to put on just above the Fearsome Foursome (FF), which is apparently where most folks start the run these days. Once we had gotten our boats down to the creek, I hiked down to the middle of the Foursome, to take some photos of the others coming through. This series of drops starts off with a fun three foot / 90 degree boof, depositing you at the top of the FF. From here you have a choice on which way to go around a midstream rock -- I believe that the left side is the typical line, however, at this flow, it looked like there was a high probability of a piton or flip. The right didn't look that much better, but that you could probably run it high right, scraping down against the wall without too much issue. Just below here are the second two drops of the FF, which are basically stacked on top of each other. Starting off with a sliding ledge, you enter on some diagonal current, threading the needle at the base of it to avoid being tripped up. Some fast run-out leads to the third drop off the FF, a fun boof, best run center-right. You can catch an eddy on river right between the second & third, which about half our crew did, but personally, I felt it would be cleaner/easier to just setup left on the first and bypass the eddy altogether. Directly below these two tiers, the creek pools up a bit before the last drop in the FF.
|Chris drops #1 on the Fearsome Foursome|
|Jason looks on from the eddy above #2|
|Shawn enters #2|
|Roman at #2|
|Chris lines up #3|
|Jason takes his turn on #3|
Everyone in the crew had good lines through the top three and eddied out to wait while I took my turn -- just like the others, I also fared well. It was certainly an exciting series of drops, but more water definitely would have made them better. That said, I'm sure there is a fine line between the right amount of flow and having too much, due to the gradient and constricted nature of the creek -- it's a pretty small drainage this high up in the hills.
The last drop of the Fearsome Foursome lay just below us. Since I watched (from above) another boater run down the center of the drop without issue, I figured that was the line. With that, I offered to probe for the crew, using the same line. Sure enough it was pretty straightforward, and fairly uneventful due to the lowish water level. Now below, I found a shallow gravel bar to get out and take photos of the others dropping over. Once everyone was through, we headed further downstream.
|Chris runs center-left on #3. More water please...|
|Alex finishes it off for the crew|
The next feature we came to was Island Drop, where Chris got out on the large rock in the middle of the river to give a scout. He soon motioned the line to us, indicating to drop down center-left, boofing the bottom ledge just to the right of another large boulder. After watching Shawn drop in, I took my turn, hitting the boof nicely and paddling away with a smile on my face -- it was actually a really fun drop. In the eddy below, I jumped out once again to get some shots of the others in the crew that were still waiting their turn.
|Jason with a nice boof on Island Drop|
|Chris with a similar line|
Just below was Fisherman's, where I jumped out to take a quick scout, along with a few others in our crew. What we found was a double ledge, with the second forming a bit of a low-angle hole. The hole supposedly gets pretty sticky, but at our flow, it looked pretty benign. I quickly gave beta to the others that were sitting in their boats, and then returned to the viewing platform to watch the show. Each of them made it through the double ledge without issue, after which, the rest of us followed with similar lines.
|Shawn enters Fisherman's|
|Alex on the first tier|
|Jason digs in on the second tier|
The next obstacle was a small ledge that we all ran down the left, following a majority of the flow and banking right. We quickly pulled into the left eddy which sat above another horizon line, known simply as the Green Room. As stated in other write-ups, this is probably the best drop on the run, due to the ability to go subaquatic for a few moments in the bottom hole. Since I was the camera guy, I got to give instructions and look on, which was quite entertaining! Almost everyone in the group went super deep, thrown into a vertical stern-squirt, or both. After everyone was through, I saddled up and dropped in. For my line, I threw in a last minute boof stroke at the bottom, clearing the hole. Of course this didn't sit well with the other crew members...
|Chris runs the drop just above Green Room|
|Shawn enters Green Room...|
|...and exits nicely|
|Jason blasts through the bottom hole at Green Room|
Below the Green Room was some pretty scrapey boating before we reached our takeout, just a little ways downstream. Below us still lay one more commonly run drop, “Rootball”, but it would have taken some extra time/effort that we couldn’t afford, since we still needed to get to the Cooper. After quickly loading up the cars, we stopped at Snoqualmie Pass for some lunch before heading on. Getting to the Cooper during the mid-afternoon, we were able to get in a lap before setting up camp. It was great to have some flow, which made it feel like a large river compared to FITW.
|Loadin' up after a quick lap|
Fall in The Wall was a fun little diversion on the way to The Cooper. With the low flow (~300cfs on the gauge), it certainly wasn’t a classic, and I’m not sure I’d do it again, having finally checked it off the list. However, if it had double the flow, I’m sure I’d have a much different opinion. It actually reminds me quite a bit of Sweet Creek, OR (albeit less intense), which is one of my favorite local runs when water levels are good. I can see how it would be a great after-work run for the Seattle folks, or as an addition to a larger boating trip agenda, but I certainly wouldn't make the long drive for it as a standalone run.