Paddling the Breitenbush at 2500 cfs and rising, By Jason Rackley

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I had always wanted to run the Breitenbush at really high water. We scouted the river one time at 6000-7000 cfs, but it didn't seem survivable at that flow, so a couple of years later we went back when it was 2500 cfs and rising. We had just finished running nearby Sardine Creek, it was pouring, and everything was going straight up.

Of course, paddling a 300+ fpm steep creek with 200 cfs (Sardine) is quite different from saddlin' up a giant, raging, muddy snake of water that the Breitenbush was that day. To give you some idea, water was surging over the top of the Barbell rock, and my usual route through Barbell (the right side) had a hole that looked like it could rip the guts out of a battleship.

Anyway, if I remember right, we had Pete Giordano, Jon Fowlkes, and Andy McKinnon that day. We put on and it was really smoking, lots of wood in the river. Seemed like more wood than water in places. We were about to learn why no one runs the Breitenbush at high water; you start getting mobile logjams that are possessed by the devil and all kinds of other funky woody weirdness going on..

Jon was the only one who ran the Slot; the hole was predictably massive and we set pseudo-safety (cheering and yelling while waving throwbags around, not much else we could do..) as he screamed by, he must've been doing at least 45 mph as he bashed through the hole and disappeared downstream a few seconds later. The rest of us put on below, hoping Jon was still alive somewhere downstream, we caught up to him a little while later, looking a little crazed in a tiny eddy against the wall.

The rest of the run was a blur. All of the small ledges and twisty drops were river-wide holes, and the wood situation was starting to get a little out of control. I was running one long rapid and was overtaken and nearly run over by a 30 foot long tree which was moving downstream at a disturbing rate of speed. Going through one gorge, the stern of my Gradient got sucked under due to the violent cross-currents and I stern-squirted for about twenty feet downstream, looking at the sky and thinking to myself: "Now this doesn't happen every day.."

Somewhere in here Andy hiked out; the wood was weirding him out and he wasn't familiar with the river, so he made the call. He had no problems on Sardine, but this was a whole different monster entirely..

I remember we got to the narrow S-Turn rapid that is usually a slalom ride zig-zagging between a micro-gorge with 5-foot walls, very fun, with some huge logs bridging the gap overhead.

Well, today the little Zig-Zag Gorge was GONE, and the river was richocheting wildly downstream into the large logs that usually bridge the top of the little micro-gorge, forming a large, very dangerous strainer on the right. I was the only one stupid enough to take this one on, and it was a scary, you-miss-you-die kind of stuff. Once I ducked under the logs I got suuuuucked into a huge, stomping hole on the right that I came very, very close to getting worked in.. I popped through, much to the relief of my compadres, who were providing pseudo-safety on the far bank..

The rest of the day went like that. Pull into an pseudo-eddy, ease up to the edge, put on your signal, wait for a break in the seemingly non-stop stream of logs and woody debris streaming by, then merge and hope you didn't miss a piece of wood in the frothy, muddy mess coming downstream.

Yeah, it wasn't really all that much fun, and frankly I think we shoulda just done another lap on Sardine.. we'll know better next time.