Trip Report: Washougal River - Dec 23, 2020, 7.5 ft
Wintertime on the Washougal
Submitted by Scott Harvey
After a couple of days of good hard winter rains, numerous local rivers around the Portland/Vancouver area are normally roaring and pumping with life. One river in particular is the Washougal River tucked away between the town of Washougal, Washington and Silver Star Mountain scenic area. So, a couple days before Christmas, Val Shuall, Dave Pauli, Tom Bennett, Zachary Collier, Zach’s buddy Brodie and I took advantage of such winter rains. With flows running at a nice optimal level of 7.5 feet with mild sunny skies, we all took advantage of a weekday run of the Big Eddy section.
Photo: Zach Collier in Big Eddy by Scott Harvey
We met at Hathaway Park in Washougal with our cat-boats ready to go, which is also the takeout for this run. We took about 5 minutes to shoot the bull before organizing shuttle and driving upstream to the launch site. You can see most of the river, but not all, on the drive up. Always scout the class 4 Big Eddy Rapid on the drive up. It’s roughly 6 to 7 miles out of the town of Washougal. This is a fast and restricted boulder garden at lower flows and a pushy rapid with lots of wave action during higher flows. At higher river flows, Big Eddy Rapids gets extremely huge!! Especially, when river flows jump over 9 feet on the gauge reading or closer to flood stage levels. It takes on a powerful and pushy class 5 feel to the rapid with a huge boat-eating hole in the midstream center.
Continue driving upstream from your Big Eddy scout approximately one mile and turn right on a narrow gravel road and Sportsman Access Launching site. A Washington Discovery Pass is required for parking here, but they sometimes don’t check in mid winter when the flows are running high. You can go online or purchase a pass at a convenience store. About one mile of warm up rapids from the put-in will lead you to a big eddy on the right. Also the name of the rapid you're about to encounter, Big Eddy Rapids, when you look to your left. Hopefully you have already scouted your run through this steep rapid on your drive up.
Photos: David Pauli entering Cougar Creek Rapids, House Rapids by Scott Harvey
If you survive Big Eddy, you’ll encounter another rapid immediately below on a wide right bend called House Rapids. This is an entertaining class 3 rapid with houses lining the right bank. No view of this rapid can be seen from the road. A little further downstream at roughly ½ mile is a straight forward class 3- rapid that starts just above the Vernon Road bridge crossing. About a mile further down river is Cougar Creek Rapid (class 3). This rapid develops an entry keeper hole at higher flows that have flipped rafts and other boats in the past. Check it out on the drive up. It’s a tight gorge where Cougar Creek enters from the right bank. A little more than a mile downstream you’ll encounter Kerry’s Kartwheel which has a huge hole on the right side at higher flows. The rest of the river will consist of more class 2 and 2+ rapids with occasional surfing waves and numerous houses. One particular side attraction is where the Little North Fork Washougal River enters on the right. This is a fun rapid to surf catarafts, rafts and kayaks.
The Washougal River doesn’t have a large drainage corridor like some other rivers in the area and the highest mountain in the drainage is just over 4,300 feet in elevation. So this river is primarily a rain feed river. Prime river flows are anywhere in the 7 foot range (7.0' to 8.0') on the Hathaway Park gauge for running the whitewater. I like it anywhere from 6.8 feet to 8.5 feet. I’ve run it over 9 feet and Big Eddy Rapids gets big. First time boaters would probably like it anywhere from low to mid 6 feet to mid 7 feet for first time run. SUP boards would also enjoy this river at 6 feet or lower and can launch anywhere along the road below Big Eddy Rapids. Following this say on the river, Zach Collier updated the description of the run at whitewaterguidebook.com.
Photos: Surfing! Zach Collier, Val Shaull, Scott Harvey, David Pauli. Photos by Zach Collier and Scott Harvey