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White Salmon River
 Husum, WA


August 4, 2002

The White Salmon River is one of the best kept secrets in white water rafting.  One of only four riverHitting Husum Fallss in Washington to be classified as a National Wild and Scenic Waterway, the White Salmon flows through 120-foot basalt cliffs draped by forests of ferns and wildflowers.  The river is inconveniently located about 20 minutes from Hood River, OR over the Hood River Toll Bridge, or about 90 minutes from Portland, OR.  The river features near-continuous Class II - Class IV rapids over the first half, before hitting Class V Husum Falls and Class IV Rattlesnake before mellowing out and floating the rest of the way to the takeout before Northwestern Lake.

From the Portland-Vancouver area, take I-84 eastbound to Hood River, then hop over the Hood River bridge.  Take a left on SR-14, then take a right onto Highway 141 northbound to Husum, where you'll cross a bridge over Husum Falls, the biggest drop on the river, a class-V 12-foot waterfall (usually only run at low water levels during the late summer and early fall).

Sandra, Anna, and I met Dawn and Matt at River Drifter's red barn just outside Husum on an overcast Sunday afternoon, with a hint of drizzle in the air.  We arrived early, and had time to wander over to the bridge to watch rafters and kayakers brave Husum Falls.  Some kayakers flipped over, but Eskimo-rolled without Dawn "Kisses the White Salmon" at Rattlesnake delay, and no rafts took a dive.  Guides took out at Husum to throw line to other parties in case someone fell out, and their rafters sunned themselves on the rocks next to the cameramen.  We felt confident at this point, and were ready to go!  When it was time, we suited up in the mandatory wet suits, helmets, and life jackets (provided), along with our scuba booties and gloves (recommended) to brave the frigid waters (hovering around 40F), simply glacial melt-off from the towering volcanic hulk, 12,276-foot Mt. Adams, looming above. 

We were transported to the put-in just past BZ Corner, where we received instruction about how to manage inside and outside of the raft, and pushed our raft down the railings installed just for this purpose.  We were bummed to find out that we would have eight people in our raft, too many for a good ride, and we knew we were in for a trip of sloughing through the rapids instead of flailing over the top of them...a definite downer.  River Drifters had told us on the phone, when asked, that there were a maximum of six people to a raft, but once there, they piled as many as nine people where ever they could fit.  

I jumped at the chance to man the front, while Matt held down the stern with the guide, and tRunning Husum Falls - Hold On!he girls filled the middle.  The river wasted no time in thrusting us into a rapid-fire succession of Class III-IV rapids like Maytag, Shark's Fin (Shark's Tooth), Green Room, Grasshopper, Siwash, Corkscrew Falls, Top Drop,  and Waterspout (Granny Snatcher).   Class IV Maytag lies only a hundred yards downstream from the put-in, and we hit it on the left, avoiding the undercut cave on the right.  We flew through Shark's Fin and Grasshopper on center right, and hit Siwash and Corkscrew right to center before nailing Waterspout on the left.  The guys in the front were getting soaked, and the ladies were having a great time laughing about it, as we paddled furiously through the rapids.  After a while, we reached a calm spot in the river, where we ducked off to the shore near The Cave and waited for other rafts to approach, and we swapped frontmen, with me retreating to the third row and Anna moved up to the second tier.

After a short break, we hit the river again, with Class III rapids such as Stairstep (run the first of four drops to the right, second left, and straight through the next two) and Highway Hole, and pulled off to the side to deboard for a while.  The guides threw line for the other rafts, as we watched raft after raft pile through Class V Husum Falls.  Nobody bit it, though a couple of kayakers did.  They flipped back oPlowing into the river at Husum Fallsver after a sideways drop, though, without incident.  After the last raft had gone, we piled back in and got ready to hit the chute.  At the guide's command, we dropped and held on while the guys in the back got whiplash and the guys in front got blasted with water!  We ran it faster than any other group, the other guides said, and perhaps faster than anyone in a long time!  It sure felt like it!  This was definitely the highlight of our overloaded trip. 

After the falls, the guide made Dawn, who had been timid about being near the front of the raft,  go kneel on the floor at the bow.  She looked nervous as we launched into Class IV Rattlesnake (Zoller Zap), where she kissed the waves BIG TIME!  After we bolted around Deadman's Corner, we switched back and the soaking wet Dawn dragged back to the stern of the boat.  The rest of the trip was Class I or II with some flatwater in between, and was quite uneventful.  Rattlesnake was really the only interesting part of the run below the falls, but I think that Northwestern Lake was just the only public land where we could take out below the falls.

All in all, the trip was a good time, but not as adrenaline-ridden as it could have been.  Make sure when you go to find a guiding service that will keep you down to four or five people in a raft to get the full enjoyment of this stretch.  Also be sure to run it late in the summer so that you can be sure to hit Husum Falls!  Our guide with River Drifters was adequate, but he was a bit too serious.  The gear seemed OK, but the overcrowding of the rafts was a bummer.  They were, however, very professional and safety-conscious.   After the run, they ran us up to Wind River Cellars, a local vineyard, where they barbecued some burgers and some dogs, and you could sample or buy overpriced wine.

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