Trip Report: Tieton River - Sept, 2019, 1150 cfs
Tieton: The Good, the Bad, and Providence
Submitted by David Elliott
2019 was a very different year for the Tieton. Weeks before the flip-flop was expected, people were already asking whether it would happen at all. The reservoir was low, yet releases were higher than inflows. The early Labor Day weekend saw low flows in the 650 cfs range. I went with a group of people who ran from the uppermost put-in down to a takeout above the dam, and a couple of us did a second lap. It was technical boating in small boats (the big boat in our group was a Super Puma), and still lots of fun. We heard rumors that commercial rafts got stuck at Waffle Wall.
The second weekend saw higher flows - around 1250. This is still low for the Tieton, but good enough for rafts running the entire run. I took some family in the raft and my wife Toria ran the 11x20 Sotar cat.
For the Rally weekend, the flows dropped to 1150, but that didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the river running community. When we got to the put-in, it was already crowded. There must have been 80 boats at the put-in at one point, and people were coming and going all day.
More boats than you can shake a stick at.
I made the mistake of not setting up a shuttle and drove to the takeout at Tim's Pond without a plan. I have done this kind of thing before and not been so lucky, but this time providence stepped in. I made it to the takeout just 5 minutes after my friends had left, so I put on my drysuit and stuck out my thumb. Within a minute, I had a ride from a nice couple from Yakima who were going as far as Windy Point. When they let me off, my thumb went out again, and within a few minutes I had a ride with BEWET (the Boeing club). The only problem there was that I didn't realize that they would be stopping a couple of miles upstream and on the other side of the river from where I wanted to be. Once again, I walked to the road and stuck out my thumb. It was only 2 minutes before a friend stopped and gave me a ride directly to the regular put-in. Even better, my wife and friends had already loaded my IK and gear and we headed up to the uppermost put-in.
Low water high into the run.
Providence does have a way of making you humble. Below the second rapid, I picked up a loose paddle from someone in our group, and on the way to taking it back, I flipped. I hadn't practiced IK self-rescue for a while, and was happy to find out that I was still good enough to get back into my boat in the middle of a rapid. We made it down to the Dust Bowl put-in and joined a larger group... or started to, when the D-ring that holds in my backrest broke and I had to rig up a camstrap to hold it in. Continuing down, we saw crowds of people everywhere. We would try for a lunch stop only to find it too crowded to stop. We made it to High Noon and I made a last-second decision to take the left slot. I didn't make a decision which way to go when I got in there, and providence (or karma) decided to send me for a second swim. Again, I was happy to find that I could still self-rescue. My wife just shook her head. "Of course you swam". So there you have it - low water, but lots of people and lots of fun. For some people, the Tieton is the end of a fun season of boating. For me, it's another fun month in the never-ending boating season in the Pacific Northwest. See you next time!
Photos by Lyles Larkin