Chelan Gorge
By Chris Arnold

Class: V-V+
Distance: Approximately 1 mile of gorge
Location: Lake Chelan Valley, Washington
Season: TBD, release only.
Gradient: 480 ft/mile (Section 3)
Flow: 360cfs and 420cfs
Date: July 25 and July 26, 2009
Character: Challenging and consequential class V-V+ rapids located deep in an inaccessible gorge.

Copyright © 2009, Chris Arnold and Oregon Kayaking. No part of this page may be reproduced, linked, or copied without the express written permission of Chris Arnold and the Oregon Kayaking webmaster.

Editors note: This run would not exist without the efforts of American Whitewater. Please join this great organization. Here is the American Whitewater page which gives all the beta you need to access Chelan during the releases including the online sign up page, information about the utility that releases water into this stretch, etc.

It all started with an email from Luke Spencer: "I am emailing in regards to the Chelan Gorge release on July 26. Chelan County Power (PUD) has teamed up with AW to get a recreational release on the Chelan River." I took a quick look at the pictures online, watched about 30 seconds of video, and wrote back: "I'm in!"

American Whitewater and PUD had the release well organized, paddlers were required to register, sign a waiver, and put-in and take-out at designated areas. On Saturday there were twenty one paddlers, followed by twenty two on Sunday. We all put-in and took-out at approximately the same time. The put-in was just below the dam forming Lake Chelan, and the take out was at the confluence with the Columbia River.

The river can be divided into four distinct sections from the dam to the Columbia. Section 1 is approximately 2.25 miles long and serves as scrappy warm-up. Section 2 is approximately 0.75 miles long and is the transition between the open Section 1 and the gorged in Section 3. Section 3 and 4 contain the "real whitewater" and are described in this TR.

The entrance to the Gorge is well marked. Beyond this point the walls closed in and we soon found ourselves in a deep canyon.

The entrance to the Gorge was well marked.

A short section of class IV preceded the harder drops that define Section 3.

Eric Running a Fun Class IV in the initial Section of the Gorge

Entrance Exam was the first set of a series of challenging class V drops in the main Gorge.
Entrance Exam consists of four rapids in a row: First Drop, Punchbowl, Pile Up, and Final Plunge.

The first pitch ( First Drop ) was a steep flume of turbulent whitewater that quickly fed into the next drop.

Entrance: First Drop. Paddler: Willie I.

Most who chose to run Entrance Exam eddied out on river-right below First Drop, and setup for Punch Bowl just below. On Sunday ( 420cfs ) the preferred line was on the right with a good left-hand boof.

Willie runs Punchbowl.

Ben Hawthorne runs Punchbowl.

Punch Bowl rapidly drained into Pile Up, a large river-wide hole that flushed at both 360 cfs and 420 cfs.

Ryan runs Pileup

Ben Hawthorne blasts through Pileup

Without doubt the crux of Entrance Exam was Final Plunge, the narrow exit to this set of class V drops that featured a hungry hole. Of the dozen or so paddles that gave Entrance Exam a go maybe two thirds made it out in their kayak, and only a few made it look easy. The majority had creek boat rodeo secessions or swam.

Final Plunge, from the top.

Ben Hawthorne firing up Final Plunge.

A short section of swift water with a few rapids separated Entrance Exam from the next major rapid. Aptly named Double Slide, a large rock formation divided the river into two distinct channels. The right was wrong, and the left was bony. A class IV lead-in with one must-make move dictated your line.

If you blew the guard hole chances are you were going right! Just past the hole were a series of rocks that could also direct you right. On Saturday and Sunday Brad Xanthopoulos positioned himself just below the hole, caught paddlers, and lined them down the left past the guard rocks.

The left line at Double Slide.

On Sunday two paddlers were forced right at Double Drop. The first was a local champion of Big Drops, Chuck Taylor. Chuck adjusted, lined up, gave it hard, went deep, and surfaced below the drop with a smile. Another paddler had a different line and ended up swimming in the turbulent water below the falls.

Local Big Drop Champion Chuck Taylor gives the chunky right side a go.

When the second boater got blown right at Double Drop the first on the scene with an impromptu rescue was Cody Howard. Cody pulled the paddler to safety where he eventually grabbed another rope and was pulled to the base of the middle rock formation. Later the paddler explained there was no way out without a rope.

His kayak recirculated for several minutes before Chuck Taylor clipped in and live baited it. This was an ugly scene and the right side should not be taken lightly, nor should the left. A good scout is warranted and safety is recommended.

Cody Howard roping a paddler out of the hole at the bottom of Double Drop.

Cody clipping the boat..

Just below double slide is Super Boof, a moderate sized ledge drop into a small pool above the next big one. The line was obvious both days: drive left boof right. Sweet!

The author drops Super Boof.

The author, all smiles below Super Boof.

A small pool separated Super Boof from Thrones, a large cascading waterfall. A good portion of the outflow dumps into a rock outcropping on the river left. On Sunday I was retrieving my camera from Ryan on river-left above the drop and ended up roping out a paddler when he became stuck against the rock wall.

Local Pro Jesse Coombs giving Eric the go-ahead at Thrones.

Ryan cranks up Thrones.

Safety below Thrones is HIGHLY recommended. It's easy to walk to the base of the falls and setup on river-right. A small section of rapidly moving swift water is the only thing between the base of Thrones and Pinnacle Falls ( V+ ). Safety on river-left below the rock outcropping is also a good idea.

EJ and Nick ponder Pinnacle.

Pinnacle Falls with Thrones in the background.

Pinnacle was portaged by everyone on river-right straight down a vertical crack in the rock.

A moderate section of strong swift water lead into Boulder Sieve ( VI ). Again, Brad Xanthopoulos got out and helped position everyone for the sneak on river-left. Props to Brad for two days of great work!

Brad Xanthopoulos waiting for the next padder at Boulder Sieve.

Brad Xanthopoulos below Boulder Sieve.

Boulder Sieve was the last big drop in the Canyon. Extra credit, a class IV/V boulder garden started below boulder Sieve and ended at the old highway bridge.

Extra Credit

The rapids below the old highway bridge started to taper off to class IV and are deemed Fat Lady, "It's not over till the Fat Lady sings."

Fat Lady

Chelan Gorge proved to be a short challenging class V run. The water quality was outstanding, crystal clear and warm! The temperature was hot and dry, the landscape was desert-like, and the gorge proved to be an oasis of whitewater.

Big thanks to American Whitewater and PUD for organizing and hosting this event. Special thanks to Larry and Tom of AW and Kris along with all of the PUD employees that made this release possible.

Chelan isn't in any guidebook because the run is fairly new. In fact, this run would not exist without the efforts of American Whitewater. Please join this great organization. Here is the American Whitewater page which gives all the beta you need to access Chelan during the releases including the online sign up page, information about the utility that releases water into this stretch, etc.

Chelan Gorge