Day 3: Dutch Creek – Hey, They Can’t All Be Winners…
We woke the next morning to find that our camp had ended up being a fairly decent place, much better than we could have hoped for in fact! The camp was situated in a nice field with a turn out at the end of the road and plenty of space to camp. Feeling good, we ate breakfast and got the shuttle in order for the run. We had heard absolutely nothing about this run and only knew that it had some good scenery and required, according to Smith’s book, a 1.5 km hike alongside a creek (Brewer Creek) to get to Dutch Creek. No worries, we were all young and could handle that short of a distance through the woods, even with creek boats.
The shuttle to the hike in was much shorter than the Skookumchuck drive but ended in an extremely steep and narrow road with funny signs posted on it. I believe I remember one of them reading, “close your eyes, it’ll be over soon”… yeah, hilarious. Anyway, we reached the start to the hike in and geared up. We anticipated about an hour to get down to Dutch Creek, so we started at a leisurely pace along a semi-formed trail that led down to Brewer Creek. However, after about 100 yards, this trail disappeared and we were left to bush whack through thick undergrowth. Soon, we were all starting to get hot and sweaty (especially Superbob who was, for whatever reason, wearing a dry suit in August) and were really thinking that this run had better be worth it once we got down to it. Little did we know that this was only the beginning.
We were then forced to criss-cross Brewer Creek (wading across it) in order to get to parts of the woods that were thin enough to drag our boats through. Now I know exactly what you’re thinking, “why didn’t you just get in and paddle on Brewer?” Well, unfortunately Brewer drops about 300 feet per mile and is full of wood, so boating it was not an option unless you were looking to make your bad day worse! And, to our dismay, just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, the creek suddenly dropped off the face of the earth!
Ummm yeah, this portage is going to be sweet…
So, with no choice we shouldered our boats and started the slow process of picking our way down. This took a considerable amount of time because, lets face it, nobody wants to fall into that mess!
About halfway down, the very top is where the previous picture was taken
After reaching the bottom of this section, we once again resumed the process of bush whacking through thick forest for about another half mile before we had finally had enough. Brewer Creek had flattened out considerably and we decided we would rather bounce down shallow mank (this stuff was so shallow that moving consistently was more difficult than stopping) than slash through the forest anymore.
Alex getting ready to paddle on Brewer Creek
After about 4 total hours of bush whacking, portaging and scraping down Brewer Creek we finally reached the confluence with Dutch Creek. We were relieved and ready to have some fun after that tiring hike; and as always, we were hoping for some quality whitewater to put us in good spirits. At the confluence, the creek starts off as continuous, splashy class II water with amazing canyon scenery.
The start of Dutch Creek
After about half an hour of this the canyon walls started to close in and the rapids became class III pool drop. Mostly rock dodging with a hole here and there to make it interesting but nothing difficult; all of the drops were straightforward.
James running a small rapid at the start of the canyon
After a little while, we were able to spot some hoodoos (it took us a little while to figure out what these were) on the cliffs above the river. This had caused us some confusion at first because when we read the description we had no idea what hoodoos were, and we didn’t find out until later. So far the river was pretty good, but we had yet to find anything to make the hike in worth it, so we were starting to worry as we knew the run was only about 3 miles and we had already run at least one and a half.
Looking up at hoodoos (the rock formations at the top) from river level
After the hoodoos we came to a slightly larger drop than the rest, which might have been a III+ and became (as we all agreed) the best drop on the run. It required dodging a couple of rocks and punching a decent sized hole at the bottom.
Jon (I think) punching the hole, this is the only picture we
had of the rapid and there was a water drop on the camera
The group was starting to get a little frustrated after this drop because all of a sudden the canyon opened up and the water became splashy class II again! We were hoping we were wrong, this couldn’t be the end of the run! But alas, it just wasn’t our day, after about twenty minutes of floating we rounded a corner and spotted the take-out bridge. At this point we were all a little ticked and just wanted to sit in the sun and relax.
The Dutch Creek take-out
Luckily, we had stashed the rest of our beer in James’ fridge so it was icy cold and ready for the drinkin’! John, Alex and I sat in the sun and tipped back a few while James and Superbob retrieved the vehicles, I believe we drank just about all of it getting over this one! By the time James and Bob returned we were ready to head off down the road for our final run on Findlay Creek. Luckily, the run was located at the opposite end of Columbia Lake (Dutch flows into the Northern part, Findlay the Southern), had a shorter shuttle with no hike in, and only took about 3 hours to run which would allow us to get back to Pullman at a reasonable hour to start school the next morning.
We packed up and drove to the logging road that would take us to Findlay Creek where we planned on camping at the put-in. On the way up, the road gained some elevation and gave us an awesome view of Columbia Lake. Despite the tiring day on the river I still remembered where I was and that I was on a kayaking trip. It’s really hard to have a bad day in that situation!
Columbia Lake from the logging road
On the way to the put-in we crossed a bridge and caught our first glimpses of the river we would be running the next day. It looked really narrow and like a lot of fun! We were already forgetting about Dutch Creek and were ready for Findlay the next morning!
Looking down into Findlay from the bridge
After about 20 more minutes of driving we reached the put-in for the run and our campsite. This site was a small grassy turnaround right next to the river with a pool to sit in and rinse off (by this time it had been a few days since a shower…). We set up camp, had some dinner and talked about kayaking until the camp fire died down low, the perfect way to end the day.
Our camp site on the morning of running the creek
Day 4: Findlay Creek and the Drive Home
We woke early, eager to get a start on this amazing looking creek but at the same time a little sad knowing we had class and work the next morning. We got on the creek at around 10am to the start of slow, splashy moving water.
The start of Findlay Creek
This creek consists of multiple class III+ rapids with a few class IV’s thrown in to keep the excitement up. So, after our first half-mile of moving water, the canyon walls started to close in and the river took a sharp bend to the left. After this first class III drop, we found a small cave on the left that part of the river was flowing through.
The small cave after the first rapid
Once we were through the bend, the canyon walls just got more and more narrow and formed rapids with tight squeezes through small drops.
A small rapid at the start of the gorge
The tightness of the canyon made for some amazing scenery of sheer canyon rock walls with emerald green water flowing through them. However, despite how amazing this creek was, we still had to stay on our toes because, though none of the drops were very difficult there was always the danger of coming around the corner and finding wood.
A view up the canyon after the first small rapid
After this last small flat water section, the gorge tightened up even more and the rapids started to increase in frequency. Though none of them were too scary, they all kept the adrenalin going due to the fact that in some places the walls were only about 4 feet apart.
The author running a drop after the flat water section
After some more swift water we arrived at a drop where the river constricted to about 2.5 feet wide and dropped in a fast chute/slide. This rapid, though easy, turned out to be a ton of fun. However, due to a gap in the canyon walls at this spot, there was a path down to the river where a farmer apparently herded his cows for water. Consequently, the beach by the eddy was covered in cow dung. I didn’t notice at first and almost put my arm in a pie! So, though it was a beautiful spot we didn’t linger too long!
Alex running the squeeze drop with Jon hanging next to the cow dung eddy
After the squeeze drop, we came to another fun, long class III rapid with a narrow channel. So far we had been terribly lucky, having encountered no wood on the run at all!
James running the fun rapid below the squeeze rapid
Below this rapid was yet another fun drop where the river dropped over a series of ledges and ended in a narrow slot in the canyon. I think this rapid ended up being one of my favorites on the trip. All you had to do was line up right and let it take you for the ride, really fun!
The author running one of the better rapids on Findlay
Now we knew that somewhere towards the end of the creek there was a drop where the river split and on one side dropped about 7 feet but had wood in it and on the other was narrow and indicated by Smith as a spot to avoid during lower flows (which the creek was at). Once around the corner of the above rapid, we found the drop that Smith spoke of and pulled over on river right to scout it. The drop on the left (the one that was supposed to have wood) was clean but could not be run due to a weird shaped rock that was guaranteed to flip your boat at the lip of the drop. The right side, though narrow, looked surprisingly clean. We all became excited because this would be the largest drop on the river, a nice, clean 7-8 foot fall. After scouting it for a little while, Superbob wanted to go first. James, Alex and I stayed behind to take pictures and set safety (the room that the falls dropped into looked ugly to swim in). Jon, after watching Superbob head to his boat decided he wanted to go second. Superbob hit the lip with plenty of speed, didn’t get much of a boof, but still had enough to get through (though he back endered a little).
Superbob running the drop
Next, Jon lined up to run the drop, scraped his paddle on the rock leading in and lost all of his speed. Because of this, he dropped straight down into the room and started flipping. He tried to roll a few times but had to pull his skirt and swim. After getting re-circulated once, he came up with blood running down his face and disappeared again. Meanwhile I grabbed the throw rope from Alex and stood there waiting for him to come back up again. After being down for what seemed like a long time he came up again and managed to cling to the wall. I threw the rope and tagged him in the back of the head and we were able to haul him to the side. His boat, however, stayed in the room for about 5 minutes before it finally released it. Jon’s dry bag, which had our other disposable camera full of pictures, carabineers and webbing would not come out of the hole even though we stood watching it for about 15 minutes. Not wanting to have the same fate as Jon, the rest of us portaged the drop while Superbob, somehow by himself, managed to gather up Jon’s boat and paddle (this was difficult because right after the pool at the base of the falls the river takes a sharp left and goes through another class III drop). Though it doesn’t look like it from the picture, the re-circulation in the room is very strong: even when we seal launched into the pool we could feel it pulling us towards it from 15 feet away.
After this drop the canyon walls open up and the river eases to splashy class II until the take-out. We were all sad to finish this one; it had amazing scenery and fun rapids. None of us had ever paddled another creek that looked quite like this one and we knew it would be a while before we could get back to any of the runs we had done on this trip (though I would never do Dutch Creek again, I’ll only recommend that one to you if you steal my last beer from the cooler). We quickly said our goodbyes and wished Alex a safe drive to Portland and James and Superbob a safe drive to Spokane. The drive back turned out to be fairly uneventful, just tons of good tunes and good scenery. The stop at the border was no problem and went faster than it ever had; the guy at the gate was a kayaker and said he wished he could have come with us! We hit Pullman at around 8pm and got ready for school or in my case opening NRS at 6am and then class! I can’t wait to get back to BC again, there are a ton of runs in that area that I want to go on, and we only scratched the tip of the iceberg.
Some Final Notes
We decided to run easier stuff on this trip due to the fact that none of us had boated together. I think this worked out great because there really wasn’t any stress and we knew we could handle all of the drops. That being said, I can’t wait to get back and run some of the more difficult runs in that area; however, I think I’ve reserved the next summer’s boating trip for California!
Another thing to take into consideration is the way Stuart Smith rates his rivers. In the beginning of the book, he explains that that he doesn’t take the following things into consideration when he rates a rapid: the remoteness of the rapid, water temperature, or the consequences of a swim. So keep this in mind when planning your own trip.
About the Author
In case you are curious, I work as a customer service representative for NRS. I am an ACA certified kayak instructor and am starting my 4th year of kayaking. And, as you can tell from the story, I still have a lot to learn! Give me at call at NRS if you want any help with gear or just want to talk kayaking, see you on the river!
A parting shot of the author