I’ve wanted to do Hagen Gorge/NF Washougal for years now, but seem to always get skunked every time I’ve made an effort to get on them. Now at the beginning of the 2010/2011 winter boating season, I decided to give it another shot. After talking with Chris the night before, it looked like there might be a good chance of it coming in. Even if it didn’t, we could once again use the Upper Wind, Panther Creek, or the Truss as a backup; you gotta love the Columbia River Gorge!
Saturday morning, Shawn drove up from Roseburg and picked me up before heading north to meet with the fellas up there, Chris, Eric, and Nate Bell. We drove through Portland and across the Columbia before turning east and up the Gorge on Hwy 14. We pulled off at one of the exits to meet-up with the others before heading to the Washougal to check water levels.
The NF Washougal drains into the main Washougal, which is the first major drainage to the east of the Portland/Vancouver area, on the Washington side. Even with the relatively close proximity to the city, it’s quite a drive up the drainage as you leave the urban environment and enter into a rural setting.
As soon as we reached the takeout for the NF Washougal run, we walked down the road to check the flow. Hmm, it looked a little low and Hagen was definitely not in. We debated for a bit before deciding what to do. Since we had already driven all the way up the drainage and Nate confirmed it was still a fun level to do just the NF, we decided to give it a go.
We left one car at the takeout before heading to the fish hatchery (about 1 mile up the road) to change and use the facilities. After gearing up, we headed to the put-in. To be honest, I wasn’t really paying attention on the drive, so I don’t specifically remember how we got to the put-in. I do remember that it was about a mile or so upstream from Teakettle Falls and it was at a small bridge crossing.
Between the put-in and Teakettle it was pretty scrapey, although with some more water you could see how this section could be pretty fun. Even so, it was enjoyable to be on the water in such a beautiful location. Soon the steam made a hard left bend and over an obvious horizon line, and Chris indicated that we had reached Teakettle Falls.
The write-ups I’ve seen for this drop call it a class V, and I could see that at higher flows, but I wouldn’t call it that when we were there; more 4/4+. The drop is broken down into two parts, both of which are more of a slide than what I would consider a true waterfall (obviously this is subjective). The first can be run a multitude of ways, but our group chose center-right and hard right with me doing the latter. The more centered route had a small hole to punch through, but it wasn’t much of an obstacle. The hard right was a shallow scrapey slide. Either way, it spit you into the center of the river and above the second and harder/more consequential drop.
This second ledge could also be run a couple different ways, but for the most part you wanted to stay away from the right side which was a hole backed up by a rock. It might go at higher water, but looked bad in its current state. The preferred line was either angling high up on the left side of the banking ledge and boofing into the eddy, or dropping down the left-side tongue. We split these options in half between the group, and I chose the eddy boof, which was great fun!
Below Teakettle there were some more fun rapids, but once again we were wishing for more water. Before too long we reached another horizon and everybody got out to scout. In front of us was the “double falls”, which I’m not sure if that’s the actual name or just a description. Either way, it’s a great looking (and intimidating) drop that I had been excited to run. Before I contemplated the entrance, I wanted to check out the narrow exit slot and undercuts. After a prolonged inspection it looked good to go, and we moved onto looking at the first part of the drop, a 12’ to 15’ waterfall. Once again, more water would have been nice as the flake was very shallow and stalling out was certainly a possibility. Further, the left side of the flake slopes down into a crack against the wall, and did not look like a pleasant way to start the drop. Even with the less than optimal entrance, the consequence didn’t look too bad so Chris and I decided to give it a go, while Eric was still on the fence.
Chris went first. Starting high he flew by and drove hard toward the right side of the flake. He came off centered where he needed to be, and got a good boof, although he did slow up a bit on the shallow flake. He finished the drop up through the narrow slot without issue and joined Nate and Shawn down below. After watching Chris’s line I also decided to put in a bit further up to build up speed.
As I slid into the current I was carried further right than I wanted to be. Since the entrance was shallow, I struggled to get back on line so that I could come off the center of the flake with the right angle. Basically, I forgot how to kayak for a moment, which lined me up perfectly for the crack I was trying to avoid. Once sucked into this path I had no choice but to give’r and hope for the best. Miraculously I came through the crack and landed the drop nice and flat. Pleasantly surprised, I drove for the bottom slot and came through textbook style! Even though I had made it through the drop fairly clean, I was not at all happy with my line, and indicated so through shouts of frustration. Not letting the botched line get me down, we continued down the river, enjoying our surroundings and the fun drops along the way.
My botch line at double falls:
The river carried on through class III water until we came to the next horizon line, a nasty slot drop called Bowey Falls. None of us even considered running this drop as the narrow slot is extremely undercut on both sides with the water flowing back and forth underneath them. We quickly shouldered our boats and used the great seal-launch/slide to enter the river below the falls; this option seems to be more fun anyways.
Below Bowey Falls the river steps up a bit and a couple of drops verging on class IV keep you entertained. One was a stepped ledge that was pretty benign at this level and was easy on the left side, avoiding the hole on the bottom right.
After this were some fun mini-gorges that also were pretty mellow at this level, but I could see them being more exciting at higher flows. Once again, we came to another ledge where I got out to take photos and give it a look. The hero line for this one was a slot against the right wall, but it didn’t look very clean and you might get punished in the hole. The line of choice was the shallow slide on river left which fed back into the main current. Everyone in our group ran this line without issue. While taking photos of the group, I turned around to see an awesome cliff wall with colorful moss lining it; what a beautiful place!
Directly below this drop, Chris pointed out a sweet eddy boof against the right wall. You had to skirt the corner of a hole to get into it, but Chris made it look pretty easy. By the time I was sitting above it, Eric had joined him and the eddy was getting a little cramped. I motioned for one of them to pull out so I could come in, but they just motioned back to me to join them. As I cut across the current I didn’t have the proper angle and hit the hole a little further left than I wanted to. This blunder got me some surf time in the top hole, much to Chris and Eric’s amusement. Fortunately, with minimal effort I was able to surf out on the opposite side and head downstream.
Between here and the fish hatchery was more fun boogie water, but nothing too memorable, however, there are a couple of hazards. The first is a river-wide log around a right-hand bend that snuck up on us but was easy to eddy out above on the left. The second is a man made weir just above the hatchery that also sneaks up on you, so be aware. The hole that it forms is a deathtrap that has caught at least one person that I know; luckily he was able to get out of it. That said, there is easy passage on the far right.
There is one more significant drop below the hatchery. This one was once again a sliding ledge drop. The shallow left side looked like the only sane option as the right side flume fed into a nasty looking hole. I once again got out to take photos and look at the drop. I hiked all the way down to the bottom where I noticed the left wall at the base of the drop was extremely undercut with quite a bit of water going into it. The drop itself was actually straightforward, and as long as you lined it up correctly it would shoot you toward the center of the river and far away from the hazard. Nonetheless, I signaled to the others about the undercut before they dropped in. Undeterred, they fired it off one by one with everyone having great lines. For some reason I just didn’t like the look of it and made the decision to do the easy portage around it.
Once below this final ledge, it was a short distance to the takeout and our awaiting vehicle. After changing into some nice dry cotton, Eric and I waited for the others to round up the other two cars. On the way back home we stopped at a nice little grill in Stephenson for some grub. From here, we parted ways as Shawn and I headed back south.
I have to say that even with the low water, the NF Washougal was a pleasure to paddle and I’m glad we decided to do it. That said, I'm really looking forward to getting on it with more water and adding in Hagen, as I’m sure it would be a true classic. Thanks to the local boys for showing us southerners down another great run!
Head-cam footage of our run down the NF Washougal: