Exploring Stebbins Creek

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This report details our low water exploratory run down Stebbins Creek. This run has generated a lot of interest since we did it for it's relatively easy access and big, clean drops... Since this adventure we have returned with much more water and have always had a great time! I hope you get a chance to run this wonderful little creek sometime; if you do, let me know how it goes!

When John Whaley and I first did the waterfall run on the Washougal we were intrigued by the small creek that joins the Washougal just below Doc's Drop. There was a nice waterfall on the creek under the bridge and though we didn't run it at the time we decided to investigate further. After numerous map reconaissances and a flurry of e-mail we decided to run the two mile Brice Canyon section of Stebbins Creek down to the Washougal. We were intrigued for two reasons: First, there are many waterfalls in the area, so the geology seemed favorable. Second, the gradient averages about 250 fpm with a steeper middle section which indicated the possibility of big waterfalls... (Note: Since this report was originally published we have found a much shorter access route to this creek. You can find this info on this site in the report detailing our third descent at higher flows. There are also some really excellent pictures in that report, and some of the drops not pictured here are in that report.)

We almost didn't run Stebbins- I had been thinking about running the Upper Upper Washougal all the way up from Corvallis and when I met John at the put in we debated which run we should do first. John was pretty adamant about wanting to run Brice Canyon, especially since he had hiked to the put in the week before. Finally we agreed that Stebbins was dropping so fast that it was now or never. With this in mind we ran the short shuttle, packed up our gear, and started carrying our boats up the mountain... Depending on your fitness level, the four mile hike to the put in can be done in two to three hours. The trail is very popular with hikers for good reason- it winds through a beautiful second growth forest and commands some spectacular views once you reach the ridge line above the canyon. We arrived at the put-in in about two hours by running on all of the flat and downhill sections of the trail and stopping only briefly to rest. I feel obligated to say that the hike is not easy- the trail gains about seven hundred feet and has about as many switchbacks!

John tops out in Brice Canyon. Stebbins creek flows through the canyon far below...

The creek had dropped by the time we got to the put in so the initial small boulder gardens were quite irritating. We bumped and scraped down the first quarter mile or so with lots of good humor and jokes about what a laughingstock we would be among our friends if this run proved to be of marginal quality. Finally we arrived at a clean horizon line- a waterfall! I jumped out and confirmed that it was runnable. Just in case this was the only good drop on the run we both ran it three times. Actually, I ran it three times- John jumped in and swam over it, then he got into his boat and ran it backwards, then ran it laying on top of his boat and mugging for the camera while I laughed and took pictures...

Below this first falls is a long rock slide that ends in a second waterfall. We jumped out, scouted, and then ran this one a couple of times too! John dubbed this one 'Jetboat Falls' because the runout is a thrillingly steep slide that shoots you to the left, where you just miss protruding rock wall- it was great fun!

The author sails over Jetboat Falls

Below Jetboat the creek gradually started to reveal its true nature and astounding gradient as we encountered more big ledges and towering boulder gardens. We scouted all blind drops and in doing so were amazed by the lush scenery and peculiar rock formations. There was no dangerous wood until we got to the next waterfall.

We scouted this drop on the left by scrambling up onto the logs spanning the creek. It looked hard but doable- above us the creek dropped over a couple of small ledges and then over a falls into a claustrophobic rock amphitheater. Once in the 'room of doom' the flow churned about and then turned ninety degrees to the left before exiting through a truly evil sieve formed by ancient old growth logs. The current pushes hard into the sieve, making a clean, stable run over the falls mandatory. Escaping from the room looked to be more difficult than actually running the falls. In order to do this we would have to skirt the hydraulic at the base of the falls to reach the boat width escape slot. We were also a little concerned about the crack in the middle of the falls that most of the water was pouring into, but we thought we could avoid it on the right. John ran this one first and had no problems. He got pushed around a bit in the room and then worked his way out of the slot. I followed and once I was in the room I got really nervous- the current was churning and pushing me around and suddenly the escape slot looked horribly narrow through the spray from the falls! I ferried across the fast current and tried to ignore the current rushing through the sieve as I slid over to the slot and then I was out! John named this one 'Lethal Injection'. (This drop will become unrunnable at higher flows as the leftmost escape slot will be blocked by the waterfall itself, forcing a portage... Actually, you could run the falls, you just wouldn't be able to escape from the room at higher flows.)

John runs Lethal Injection.

The author runs the exit slot at Lethal Injection

Fifty feet downstream was another horizon line and we scrambled up onto some boulders and were absolutely stunned by the spectacular view.... "Oh my god..." I muttered. "Will it go?!?" Below us the creek dropped over a four tiered 40 to 50 foot waterfall that defies description. We couldn't believe our luck!!! We quickly scouted the first tier and it looked like the toughest, a near vertical slot falls containing a vertically pinned log that required a strong move to the left to avoid getting stuffed under the log at the bottom. The next tier was a short slide into the third, which consisted of a steep falls that had to be run on the right side. The last tier was a fun looking dome shaped falls that had a incredibly smooth, fast chute down the far right side. We named this one Tsunami Falls, for obvious reasons. We were both elated at this point and John jogged back up to run it first while I scrambled up onto a precarious perch on the cliff below to take pictures. John had no problems, except that he appeared to have blown an adrenal gland by the time he reached the bottom...

John squeezes past the log at the top of Tsunami Falls

While John celebrated incoherently I jogged up to my boat and slid into the pool above the monstrous horizon line... When I reached the lip of the first tier the view was so unbelievable that I almost forgot where I was... Oh yeah! the LOG! I boofed hard left and man oh man I thought I was going under the log but I shot past it and was over the second tier before I could blink! I was going so fast that I struggled to maintain my bearings as I quickly moved right and dropped over the third tier, plunging deep and then instantly I was up and paddling hard to the right where I shot down the forty foot long smooth chute like a rocket. At this point I was accelerating so fast I thought I was going to end up in the the trees on the far shore! I started whooping like a maniac and after that it was a race to see who could get back to the top and run it again!! We both ran it twice and John said after twenty six years of paddling and over 270 rivers this drop was one of the best he has ever run. You know, it might sound strange, but I am going to dream about this one!

After this drop we were so addled with adrenaline that we blissfully bashed down the next few drops until we arrived at the second indescribable drop which we dubbed 'The Zoom Tube.' Here the creek plunges into a steep boulder garden that drops around a right corner with a huge overhanging rock wall looming overhead. The sound of the water is greatly amplified by the half moon curve of the wall as the creek races down along the wall over three distinct drops. John portaged the first drop, and since he has been paddling almost as long as I have been alive, I should have followed his example. Unfortunately I didn't because I thought for sure first slot would go, no matter how horrible it looked..

Boy, I changed my mind in a hurry when I got end to end pinned just above the slot and then dropped through with no speed, narrowly avoiding the nauseatingly narrow crack against the wall on the left. I took a few well deserved hits against the wall and then flushed out without rolling, which would have been disastrous! Thankfully the crack will be covered at higher flows, but the piton rock in this first drop would become more of an issue. As it was I bounced down past it and soon John joined me in the pool below, wisely only running the bottom two drops. "That was a dumb thing to do!" I said to John, who pretty much agreed...

John runs the third and final drop in the the Zoom Tube

My next well deserved beating was much worse and occurred just down stream. The creek disappeared again around an narrow, twisty drop which from upstream it looked like a straightforward airplane turn but I scouted quickly anyway just to be on the safe side. Good thing I did! Just around the corner and out of sight the turn was partially blocked on the outside corner by a jagged, evil looking boulder. John was in the eddy above and I shouted directions to him. "Airplane turn- Be sure that you make a hard left in the chute to avoid the rock on the right!!" He nodded and flew down into the chute and bashed straight into the rock. He bounced right into an eddy and then spun around and flushed through cleanly. "I wouldn't have run that if I had looked at it!!" he shouted unhappily. I should have portaged but I thought I could correct off of Johns line..

I peeled out of the eddy like a pro and was feeling pretty smug until my clever boof to the left failed catastrophically and I hit that boulder like a sack of @#$. The powerful current then proceeded to beat me against the rock three or four times and then drop kicked me downstream. If I hadn't been wearing elbow pads or a face mask I may have been more permanently injured but as it was I pulled a muscle in my shoulder, twisted my back, and got a few bruises. I named this one 'Bongo Fury' because I felt like I had been beaten on by a couple of rabid gorillas by the time it let me go... (Actually, I feel that way now, but by morning the number will probably rise to thirty gorillas, armed with clubs..)

I was in a bit of pain now so was I ready to be done, though for John's sake I tried to keep my whining to a minimum as the creek mellowed for about a half mile of really peaceful and scenic class II-III. Just above the takeout the creek turned sharply to the right and plunged over the final waterfall just above the take out. We both went completely under the surface on this technical plunge falls, which was a thrilling and refreshing way to end the day!

The author sails over Mad Dog falls just above the confluence with the Washougal

Access: Access and Flows: Stebbins has a tiny drainage so it only runs after a few days of rain in the spring or early summer and all during the rainy season. To determine if there is enough water in the creek, look downstream from the put in bridge on the right side of the channel; the rocks in the channel on this side should be covered. Look upstream to scout Mad Dog Falls. To get to the take out, follow the directions in the guides to Doc's Drop on the waterfall run on the Washougal River in Washington. Just downstream from Docs is a bridge over Stebbins where you get a very nice view of Mad Dog Falls. This is the take out. To get to the put in, head up the gravel road (known as W2000) about 1.8 miles above Docs Drop stay right and about 2.3 miles later you come to the top of Deer Creek divide. Once you cross the first wooden bridge across Deer Creek turn right and drive about 2.25 miles to a four way intersection. Turn right again here (following the signs to Beacon Rock and road 1440) about 2.5 miles later just before milepost 12 the road crosses the diminutive North Fork of Stebbins Creek. On the far side of the creek on the right hand side of the road follow the signs pictured at the beginning of this trip report down to the confluence, which is about a two mile mostly downhill hike on a good trail.

Flows: A reasonable flow might be EF Lewis at Heisson 1200 cfs after a couple of days of rain. When we did it EF Lewis gauge was at 600 and it had just rained pretty hard. This was too low- maybe double the flow we ran it at would be more reasonable. Stebbins is rain fed and is very sensitive to rainfall due to the bedrock that forms most of the creek bed. The creek doesn't have a lot of wood because it gets incredibly high in the winter (as evidenced by the old growth logs tossed high into the underbrush along the banks in places). There are no substantial tributaries between the confluence of the North and South Forks and the take out, so what you see at the take out is what you will get higher up. At the take out on the bridge over Stebbins look downstream just above where the creek joins the Washougal. All of the small rocks in the right side of the creek bed should be slightly covered for an optimal run. When we ran it many of the rocks were uncovered, which was really too low.