Thursday, April 17, 2014

EF Lewis, WA - Sunset Falls to Moulton Falls (4.12.14)

Although the EF Lewis (Sunset through Horseshoe Falls) is one of the most popular runs in the Pacific Northwest, especially for up-and-coming creek boaters, little is known about the section that lies below Horseshoe. Although it does get run from time to time, little documentation and word of landowner issues have probably discouraged most people from venturing down this stretch. The first time it popped onto my radar was when my good buddy, Joe Bushyhead, told me that they had run it and found great drops within a couple of small gorge sections. He also stated that they had done it when the gauge was reading pretty low, but it felt like a good flow, especially after a boney affair on the standard run, beforehand. I filed all of this beta away, and figured it would be worth a go, if I happened to be in the area when flows permitted.

Fast forward to the 2014 Northwest Creeking Comp (NWCC), where warm sunny weather and low flows were forecasted. Before I even headed up to the event, I did a little research on the run below (not finding much) and hoped I could find someone(s) at the festival who would be interested in running it as well. I ended up getting to the event on Friday night, after darkness had set in. Since I was already pretty tired, I decided not to expend too much energy walking around to find folks that I knew. Instead, I unpacked some of my gear, set up my sleeping quarters, and drank a beer before heading off to bed.

Home for the night

Sunset Falls during moonrise

The next morning I crawled out of bed and made some breakfast, before stumbling down the road to see if I could meet up with some friends for a day on the water. Eventually, I was able to find a buddy of mine, Quin, who was joined by a couple of his friends (Sam and Ben), who would be R2ing that weekend. We sat around for a bit and talked about plans, where I quickly offered up the idea of the section below the race course, which after some further convincing, they agreed to. Since both Quin and I would be kayaking and we weren’t planning to race, we set shuttle while the other two went to the pre-race meeting. We ended up dropping off the car at Moulton Falls, about 8 miles downstream, effectively doubling the length of the normal run (taking out a bit below Horseshoe Falls).

By the time we had returned, Max and Ben were done with the meeting and were putting their gear together. Since they had decided to race, and would need to wait their turn, I decided to head up to Sunset Falls, to setup for some photos of the racers coming through. I was able to get out to the rock in the middle of the river, right at the lip, which provided a great platform to capture some of the racers as they sailed off the falls -- here are a couple of shots:

A boater bombs over the left line of Sunset, during a practice lap

Gerd Serrasolses leads the mass-start race, with a nice line off the center of Sunset Falls.

Brian Ward, stage left, during the mass-start

After all the K1 / mass-start racers had gone by, Quin and I took our lines over the left side of the falls, with both of us hitting a nice boof and barely getting our heads wet. After waiting below the falls (and taking more photos) for some time, I got a little impatient waiting for our R2 boys, and decided to pack up my camera gear and head downstream. Of course, right after I did so, they came bombing over the falls with the most entertaining line/crash we’d see all weekend – Damn, I wish I would have gotten a photo! Here are some more shots of the racers, this time from below:

Jacob Cruser, taking the center line off Sunset, at the start of the timed race

Another racer, who opts for the left line

Although Max & Ben had numbers on their chests, they weren’t planning to take the race too seriously, which was good, since the low water lead to quite a few pins in the shallow boulder sections. After we had made our way through Hippie Johns and Sky Pilot, we pulled over above Screaming Left Turn, to give a scout, take photos, and let the racers behind us pass by. With the low flows, making the left turn looked like a bit of a chore, especially if you were racing and needed to forgo the right-hand eddy above the drop. We sat around and watched as a few racers struggled to make the turn; eventually they all made it through safely, and headed towards the next drop just downstream, Dragon’s Back, which at this level wasn’t much of a concern. After I had a chance to take photos of both Screaming Left and Dragon’s Back, Quin and I paddled through, playing a bit of catch-up with our R2, who were probably finished with the race by then.

Annie Lagueux, after making the turn at Screaming Left

Quin drops down the Dragon's Back, between racers

We did make one last stop at John’s Swimming Hole, to once again take a look, as well as shoot a few photos. This rapid is pretty forgiving at low flows, but a piece of wood that was running along the left side of the drop could turn a missed line into a bad situation, since there was quite a bit of flow pushing into it. Luckily, we didn’t see anyone have problems, and we both had good lines, ourselves. Just around the corner from John’s Swimming Hole, we reached the confluence with Copper Creek, which also happened to be the finish line for the race. The race course itself was only a mile's worth of river, so we were still itchin' to head downriver and put down some more miles. Just below the finish line, we found Max & Ben, who had intentionally beached their raft in the middle of the river, while they waited for us.

A couple of boaters near the finish line, at John's Swimming Hole.

Between the Copper Creek confluence and Horseshoe Falls, we had a couple of miles of mellow/scrapey river, which did its best to destroy our motivation to put down miles. When we finally got to Horseshoe, we found that it was also really low, and would certainly pose a challenge for the raft, even just getting past the starting gate. Both Quin and I took the same narrow chute that led to the sloping ramp, above the final plunge. The raft was forced to launch off the rocks onto the ramp, which ended up working out pretty well. Honestly, I’ve never liked this drop, since it has always hurt my back, no matter how much I lean forward or try to pencil in. I would have tried the left line, but it just looked too trashy at this level.

Quin pulls a boof, at Horseshoe

Max & Ben getting ready for the vertical plunge, on Horseshoe.

As we paddled away from Horseshoe and eventually past the normal take-out, we entered the unknown, at least for everyone in our crew. Since I had read about the issues with landowners, I knew we would need to be extra careful about trespassing, and hoped that we would be able to do any portages without doing so. Not far downstream, we reached the first horizon line, which we ended up scouting from the right shore. What we found was a broken ledge, with a line down either the right or left. The left side looked like it would have less beat-down potential for a botched line, but the right side had a boof platform that looked pretty fun and would be pretty hard to resist. The raft was forced to run the left line, and even that gave them a bit of trouble, as they found themselves pinned for a few moments. Both Quin and I opted for the boof, which went really well for both of us.

The raft finishes up the left line, after a brief pin.

Quin gets a nice boof, going right.

Not far below the broken ledge, the river dropped out of sight, into what appeared to be a small gorge. Since there was a house on river-right, we got out on river-left for a scout, even though it looked like it would be harder to do so. As we made our way down the shore, we reached the first pitch, which ended up being a really sweet-looking 6' to 8’ vertical ledge, with huge boof potential – we were all pretty stoked with what we saw! After the entrance ledge, the river made its way through a short mini-gorge, before exiting through a narrow crack and into a large pool below. At first glance it looked clean, and reminded me a lot of one of my favorite drops on Brice Creek, Laura’s Thighs. As I was hiking down to give the bottom a closer look, I could see that Quin was already there, and seemed to have a concerned look on his face. He then pointed to the river-left side of the crack and said it looked pretty ugly. As I got down to where I could see it for myself, it indeed have a hazard, in the form of an overhung rock, which a lot of the water was slamming into. That said, there was certainly a line, requiring a strong left to right move, which actually looked pretty damn fun. After discussing it for a bit, we both decided that we would portage, mainly since we hadn’t heard of anyone running it and the consequence of a missed line would be pretty severe. Our raft crew also decided it was a portage, even though getting around the drop would require quite a bit of effort.

The entrance to the first class V

The lead-in and first ledge

The bottom half of the drop

The final plunge. Note the water deflecting off the left wall -- you don't want to be over there.

The first class V. Looking upstream from beside the final plunge

After we had gotten both kayaks and the raft safely below the drop, we paddled across the pool and found another rapid waiting for us on the other side. It ended up being a fairly chunky drop, which also had an upside-down motorboat pinned on the right side. It was hard to tell how much of a hazard it was, but since there appeared to be a few line options to avoid it, we weren’t overly concerned. All of us ended up running the right side of the river, cutting back toward the middle to avoid the boat. Although we all made it through without issue, it was definitely trashy, and a much harder move for the raft.

Quin ets up from the pool, between the class V and the motorboat drop

Quin, lining up the right side

Cutting the corner to avoid the motorboat, which the current pushes into.

Max & Ben take the same line, which was much harder in the raft.

Just a little ways downstream of the motorboat drop, we came to a long entrance rapid, where below that, the river once again dropped out of sight and into the unknown. Hoping that it was runnable, we ended up running the entrance rapid and getting out to scout between it and the final plunge. As we climbed onto the rocks that created the crux move, we found another slot drop, only much more difficult and with more consequence than the one above. Here, most of the flow slammed into the right side wall, forming a violent pillow, which also masked any potential danger lying underneath it. This time the move required a perfectly timed right boof-stroke, off the high left side, at the lip. None of us gave this drop a serious thought (and I probably never would), but if you were feeling your oats, it might go.

Quick Update: After talking with my buddy, Joe, this drop was run successfully by someone in their crew, but he also stated that there was a nasty pin hazard in the drop, so be aware. 

Quin halfway though the lead-in to the second class V

Finishing up the lead-in off the sweet boof ramp

A more zoomed in view of the boof ramp and entrance to the slot drop just below

The raft crew finishing up the lead-in

There's a line, but it's a tight one and you wouldn't want to blow it.

The second class V, from below.
The line on this drop is harder than this photo would suggest.

The only real portage option ended up being on the right. Although this can be done at river level along the rocks, it requires you to seal-launch in above a bit of an undercut. This was the portage option that we had planned to use, until the property owner, whose house was right above us, motioned for us to portage higher up on their property. I was actually taken aback a bit by their kindness, since this can be quite rare, especially with land owners in rural Washington. Of course, this could change over time, if people start taking advantage of their hospitality -- So please tread lightly, be respectful, and don't go on their property unless invited to do so.

Below the portage, the rock walls continued for a short bit, before peeling back and giving the run a more open feel. We also reached a road bridge (NE Dole Valley Rd) just a little ways downstream, that could have been used for a take-out. Since all of us were feeling good and our car was still a couple of miles downstream, we decided to continue on, in the hopes that we would be able to keep the portages to a minimum. Below the bridge, the river mellowed out a lot, and maintained its calm nature for a few miles. There were a few boulder gardens to keep us entertained, but they weren't overly difficult or exciting.

Looking downstream, below the second class V.

Eventually we did reach another horizon line that deserved a scout, which once again, we hoped would be runnable. Quin and I, who had gotten pretty far ahead of Max & Ben, got out on river-right and walked down the shore to scope things out. It actually looked like river-left would have been easier to scout from, but we were already committed to the right. We ended up finding a multi-tiered rapid, with good line options throughout -- good news indeed! Just about the time we had finished scouting, Max & Ben showed up and also decided to take a look. After everyone had picked out their lines, we hiked back up to our boats, to give it a go. For the first tier, all of us decided to run a sweet looking water-boof, on the far right side, which went really well for both the kayaks and the raft.

Quin with another great boof

Max and Ben, with a similar line off the first tier

The next tier was also a fun drop, where the water split around a mid-stream rock and most of the current going left, where we planned to run it. The goal here was to drop over the ledge with a right stroke, but not too strong of one, or you risked dropping into the feeder hole at the base, on river-left. Everyone in the crew ended up having great lines, and we soon found ourselves floating through a calm narrow pool between rock walls. There was also another drop at the exit to the small gorge, but it was pretty easy to boat scout our way down.

Quin drops the second tier

The raft following shortly after

A little further downstream we ran another II+/III drop or so before a footbridge came into view, spanning the river. It was actually a really cool structure, with massive arches made from glue-lam beams – you don’t see this type of wood construction very often, at least these days. On the other side of the bridge were a bunch of people hanging out on the banks of the river, so we figured we must be getting close to our take-out. Sure enough, we came to an unmistakable horizon line, Moulton Falls. Quin had already decided he wasn’t interested in running it, so he proceeded down the right side of the river and took out above it. I, on the other hand, was still considering the grand finale. Since we had already given it brief scouting while we were setting shuttle, I knew that I wanted to enter on the left, but I also wanted to scout it from that side, so got out on shore to do just that. The drop was big but certainly had a line. My biggest concern was the right hand move you needed to make, about halfway through the drop. Basically, if you got blown to the outside of this turn, there were some nasty looking rocks that might hold onto you. Once below there, the river dropped through a violent slot, but looked as though it would push you right through, even if you were out of control. I was pretty sure I could hit the line, but since I was a bit tired and really didn’t want to call the others down to set safety, I decided to save it for another day.

The cool wooden footbridge

Moulton Falls, in all its glory

A closer look at the crux move -- maybe next time

Now back at Quin’s truck, we loaded up all the gear and boaters and headed back to festival HQ, at Sunset Falls. That night we hung out with good people and did a little parting, before heading off to bed, to prepare for some more boating the following day, on the ultra-classic, Canyon Creek. Here are a few shots from the event:

Quin with a nice line at Hammering Spot

Max & Ben on Campaign, while Alison Homer fires up Hammering Spot

Taking the meat line at Hammering Spot

Max and Quin, celebrating a great weekend of boating!

The finish line of the Canyon Creek Race

I really liked this run and I’m super glad I finally got to run it. If I had to give it a difficulty rating, I would say that the three bigger drops are probably class V- to V, with the rest of the run being III/IV. If I went back, I’d plan to run the first class V, as well as Moulton Falls, but I’m not sure I’d ever do the 2nd -- it just has too much potential for a serious beat-down. The three or so class IVs were actually pretty fun, but if you’re not planning to run at least one of the big boys, it’ll be more of a novelty run than anything else. As for the scenery, it's a beautiful run, and seeing the mini-gorges might be reason enough to do this rarely boated section of river. That said, if you do decide to venture down, please be respectful of the residents who live along the river, and do not trespass on their land unless invited to do so.

Regarding flows, we had about 750cfs on the internet gauge (on 4/12/14), which equated to a nice medium-low flow, and much less trashy than the section above (Sunset to Horseshoe), at the same reading.


  1. The first class V has been run a number of times. It goes much smoother than it may look (even in a raft). We call that one double deuce.

  2. Yeah, my buddy Joe also confirmed that the first class V goes pretty well. He also said that one of the guys in their crew ran the second class V, which had referred to as Pillow Biter. Apparently it went well, but that there was a nasty pin spot somewhere in the slot, so be aware.