The Breitenbush River

Copyright 2001, 2004, 2008 Oregon Kayaking. No part of this page may be reproduced, linked, or copied without the express written permission of the Oregon Kayaking Webmaster.

The Breitenbush is one of my favorite rivers. It was also the first class four river I ever paddled, and I have never forgotten that day.

I had been boating for about seven months and the river was running about 1,200 cfs when I followed a couple of really good paddlers down. We boat scouted every rapid except Woo Man Chew, so it was a very intense experience for me! I rolled seven times ( three times in the Slot! ) but I had never had so much fun. From that day forward I knew what kind of boating I wanted to do...

Since that first trip I have returned to this river many times, often solo, and each run is just as magical as the first. The intimate gorges and crystal blue water on this run always have a soothing, healing effect that I have never found anywhere else... This is a very special place.

A note on flows: Soggy Sneakers says you should only paddle this river over 800 cfs, but this isn't really accurate. It has been my experience that 400 cfs is really the minimum enjoyable flow. I have run this river as low as 150 cfs (bored and desperate) and when it was flooding, but I think overall 1200 is the optimal medium flow.

The upper gorge on the Breitenbush is very scenic, with striking blue-green water and dramatic rock formations. Just below the put in paddlers encounter The Slot, which should always be scouted for wood. In the summer The Slot is the best drop on the river, consisting of a seven foot ledge that drops into a narrow, turbulent rapid below.

The hole in the first drop on the Slot is very sticky at any flow and has sent many boaters swimming, so be careful! A few years ago a kayaker got stuck in the top hole at 1,300 and swam through the second drop- his boat followed him down and didn't resurface. We found it a week later sitting downstream on the shore full of water. Just about everyone who paddles this river regularly has a Slot story, so treat this one with respect! ( Luckily for the guy who lost the boat we saw his web posting so we were able to return it ).

Ummmm.. help?
A paddler has One of Those Days at The Slot..

Mark paddles the short gorge below the slot. (photo by Martin Bauer)

Downstream there are many fun rapids. No single drop is very hard and all can be boat scouted, but be on the lookout for wood. The next drop that should be scouted by first timers is a notch about a half mile below The Slot. In the summer this one is loaded with pinning potential but at winter flows there are many different ways to run this one. We usually boof just to the left of the stump that is embedded at the top of the drop.

Gabi boofs hard on a wintertime run through the notch.

The next drops of consequence are two riverwide holes at the end of the gorge that are separated by a long pool. Both of these are usually run on the right. I have watched careless boaters get cartwheeled and recirculated in both of these holes at higher flows. These drops mark the end of the top gorge on the Brietenbush.

Downstream are many fun drops as the river mellow to class III for a mile or so, and then the river enters the second gorge. This section has some of the biggest rapids on the river, so stay on your toes in here! One of the biggest begins with a small, sticky ledge that spills into a long S turn between bedrock walls. Eddies on the outside of each corner allow for boat scouting at most flows, so be sure and check for wood here.

Zach enters S-turn rapid while Pete watches from the eddy below.

The next major drop is called Sharons Rock, named for the submerged boulder on the left side of the rapid. Sharons is pretty straightforward in the winter at flows over 600 cfs. You can run Sharons on either side, but the easiest is down the left, going with the flow up and over the boulder that sits just under the surface there.

In the photo below, you can see the hump of water just below me that marks the submerged boulder in this drop.

The author runs the main drop at Sharons Rock.
Photo by Steve Wilson

Below Sharons the river is mellow all the way to the bridge. Just downstream the river takes a hard right and there is an excellent ender spot at flows over 700 cfs.

Just around the corner is Barbell. Here the river divides around an island above the main drop. You can take either channel though the left is a bit tougher but clean ever since someone cut the log out of it in the fall of 2002. Below the island the river divides around a large Barbell shaped rock. If you go left there is a nice boulder garden, and if you go right you drop through a sticky riverwide hole. This hole resembles a low head dam and becomes very dangerous at flows over 2000 cfs.

Here's what happens if you don't punch the hole on the right side of Barbell. This person needed a throwrope!

The Author, going for the gut at Barbell (Photo by Jon Loehrke)

The last major drop on this run is Woo Man Chew, an eight foot falls that slides into a sticky hole that has a powerful feeder eddy on the left.

Always set safety at Woo Man Chew if anyone is running the drop on the river-left, or the main line. At higher flows the super-fun right side slide at Woo opens up, but only at around 1,200 and above on the gauge. The trick to running the left side main line is a delayed, deep-water boof. The left side actually consists of two drops, and this fools many and causes them to take a boof stroke too early and go deep in the hole. If you wait for the boof stroke until the last possible moment, you'll float over the hole with no problems.

Jeff runs the main line at Woo Man Chew