WARNING:The access road for the Upper Upper (which becomes gravel at Dougans Falls) is notorious for causing flat tires. We have either gotten a flat, or seen someone with a flat, almost every time we have paddled up there. One time we actually got two flats on this road, which made for a very long day! Bring a good spare, a can of fix-a-flat, and keep your fingers crossed..
On the way up to the put-in, be sure to stop and scout Doc's Drop, a beefy twenty footer that is the final rapid on the Upper Upper. The day these photos were taken I had one of my biggest wipeouts ever running Docs, but I'll get to that later...
The Upper Upper starts out with a brief section of class II, which then drops into a foamy, narrow drop that can be scouted on the right. Below this first rapid be wary, because there is a river-wide ledge downstream that can be difficult to scout at higher flows. This ledge drops about fifteen feet, and the left and right sides have very shallow landings. The middle is the only safe line over this drop!
Downstream the river gradually gorges up and the scenery gets increasingly more spectacular.
The first really hard drop is Tunnel Rapid, which can be identified by a significant narrowing and steepening of the river. Tunnel is the most dangerous rapid on the Upper Upper, mostly because it is very difficult to scout and it is not possible to portage or set safety. That said, you can peer down into the drop from the left if you catch the eddy in time.
At Tunnel the river roars over a huge pile of boulders between vertical walls with a dangerous tunnel/siphon on the bottom-left. The Tunnel itself doesn't come into play until the river is medium to high, so stay alert when the flows are healthy..
Downstream of Tunnel are several more significant, congested boulder gardens, some of which require scouting. The scenery is really impressive in the middle gorge, with mossy walls towering above the majority of the rapids.
Jon Fowlkes looks upstream at a drop on the Upper Upper.
Looking downstream on the Upper Upper, as the gorge starts to open up a bit.
One of the last major drops is a bouldery ledge that drops about ten feet. The right side of this drop funnels down through an ugly-looking slot, so we always run the left side, as demonstrated by Jesse Coombs in the photo below.
Below this last ledge the river mellows out a little and starts to open up. There are a few more small ledges and slides, then you float under a bridge. Just downstream of the bridge is a river-wide, twelve foot waterfall that has very few eddies above it at higher flows. We always run this drop off the left side, because the middle and right have shallow landings.
Pete soars off of the last falls on the Upper Upper.
Below the final falls the river meanders for a half mile or so until the road becomes visible on the left. Soon after the river bends to the left and thunders over Doc's Drop, a twenty foot drop that has a variety of lines.
The day the photos were taken for this trip report, we scouted Docs from the road ahead of time, and decided to take the far right side line. We had always run the left before, but this time we decided to try something different.
Well, I was leading when we rounded the corner above Docs and I just kept right on going. I cruised through the first two drops without incident, but when I dropped over the final ten-footer I saw that the rooster-tail / boof flake (at least it had looked like a boof flake from the shore) was actually more like a piton rock, and suddenly I felt like a crash-test dummy, dropping into what appeared to be a wall of rock and I remember thinking "Ohhh shi....!!.." as I hit the rock with tremendous force.
When I augered into the rock, caving in the bow of my boat as I over-rotated and dropped head-first over the bottom of the drop. As I went over I could see that I was about to drop eight feet onto a barely submerged rock outcropping and I had a split second to tuck and hang on.. I hit very hard, smashing my hands up and breaking my AT paddle off just below the blade. I managed to roll up in the pool below, and then quickly paddled over to the shore and got out just in time to stop Jesse from running the right side as well. After diverting everyone to the left, I assessed the damage. The bow of my Gradient was caved in (again), my hand was streaming with blood, and I had just broken a $300.00 AT paddle (again). Nevertheless, I felt very lucky not to have broken my neck on the rocks!
Jon Fowlkes runs the left side of Doc's Drop.
We headed downstream below Doc's Drop, and Jesse decided to run the Waterfall section of the Washougal with my broken paddle, C1-style, and he pulled it off with no problems, running every drop with half of a paddle!
Jesse, below Reeder Falls on the Upper Washougal with half a paddle..
Pete runs the far left side of Dougan Falls, the last major drop on the Upper Washougal.