The Foss River

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The Foss River is a steep, boulder-strewn tributary of the South Fork Skykomish. This river has some great mountain scenery mixed in with clear water and fun rapids, all of which adds up to a very enjoyable trip!

We ran the Foss for the first time on Memorial Day Weekend, 2002. We were all excited that our friend Jurgen was flying back from Germany to paddle in the states once again. This time he was bringing a German friend and two Scottish paddlers as well, and it promised to be a great couple of weekends of boating.

Our rather improbable plan was to rendezvous in Skykomish, Washington on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, and it didn't get much more complicated than this: Steve and Josh were driving up from Eugene early Friday morning, Gabe and Brad were driving up separately on Friday evening from Eugene, and I was driving up from Wilsonville Friday night. Jurgen and Martin were flying in from Germany Friday night, and Mark and Ian were flying in from Scotland on Friday, (on different planes) and we were all planning on meeting in Skykomish on Saturday morning..

A simple plan..

I got off work on Friday night and drove excessively fast to the north, leaving Portland around 6:30 pm and arriving in Skykomish just before 11 pm, where I checked into my hotel. Gabe and Brad were camping upstream and had left a message, but there was no sign of the others...

The next morning I awoke and just as I walked outside Jurgen and Martin pulled up, fresh from Germany and all grins. It was great to see Jurgen again! Soon Steve, Gabe, Josh, and Brad showed up, so that only left the Scots. Ate breakfast at a restaurant of marginal quality in Skykomish, and just as we were walking back to the hotel the Scots (Mark and Ian) pulled up! This was something of a reunion for the Scots and Germans, as they hadn't paddled together in nearly a year...

The gang, from left to right: Gabe Flock, Jürgen Nickles, Martin Bauer, Mark Hargraves (from Scotland), Brad Cascagnette, Josh Knapp, Steve Stuckmeyer, and Ian Mckendry (from Scotland).

Soon we were on the road. We had originally planned on running Money Creek, but it was too low so we headed up the Foss. None of us had done this run, so it seemed like just the thing...

We set the shuttle and were soon on the river. The Foss started off very slowly, and the we rounded a corner to find a logjam. Of course, the guidebook had warned us about the wood in the first mile or so, but I still found it amusing that Mark and Ian's first experience on an American River involved portaging a pile of wood! (See the end of this report for an alternate put-in to avoid the wood)

"We flew halfway around the world to go kayaking in America, and the first thing we did was portage a logjam..."
Gridlock at the first logjam in the initial class II section on the Foss River...

Of course, just around the corner was another mess of wood, but Gabe threaded his way through it and then intentionally flipped to go under the last log, so we all followed suit..

Bottoms up on the Upper Foss.. Mark flips to squeeze under a log just downstream of the first portage..

Soon the wood disappeared and the fun began. We started eddy-hopping down the increasingly steep boulder gardens..

Typical rapids on the Foss. There are actually seven paddlers in this rather blurry photo, spread out upstream as far as the eye can see..

Soon we arrived at a rapid that appeared to be larger than what we had previously encountered. I was leading and caught an eddy upstream of the drop, which turned out to have a couple of logs jammed in it. (I think this rapid is called 'Ken and Barbie'.) Anyway, after watching Josh and Gabe make the difficult and scary move into the eddy just above the wood, everyone else portaged from further upstream..

Josh goes for the eddy above the only log-choked drop on the Foss. The pinch between the two large boulders just downstream has two or three logs in it, and the move into the eddy on the left was a lot harder than it looks in this photo!

Below the woody drop the river stayed fun for a couple of miles, with continuous class IV - IV+ boulder gardens, which eventually petered out just above the take-out.

I think we might have run the Foss twice that day if it hadn't been for the logjams in the initial class II section, and the wood in the drop towards the middle of the run. As it was, the wood made a second run undesirable.

After running the Foss we headed up to scout the Top Tye, which was running very high, but it was still fun to check out Monkey Cage and Crack in the Earth with a ton of water in them. The next day we headed up into the Wenatchee drainage, but that's another story..

This alternate access point can be used to avoid the annoying wood we encountered and was sent to me by local paddler Thomas O'keefe, webmaster of Washington Whitewater.


I was looking at your Foss report and it looks like you guys went all the way up to the bridge. There is an alternate put-in that avoids the logjams and lower gradient upstream and sets you in right at the start of the boulder gardens. Go to the pullout where FR6830 turns off from FR 68 (this is a mile up from the railroad trestle) and hike down to the river--it's an easy and short drag through the woods. If you use this put-in running a couple laps on the Foss becomes more appealing although that log in Ken and Barbie--which has been there for about two years--is a bit of a bummer. At higher flows you can work your way down the left channel and the current flows over the wood, but as flows get lower the move becomes much more sketchy and eventually a mandatory portage.

The photo you have of Josh grabbing the eddy on the left is Ken and Barbie. We always grab an eddy on the right further upstream for the portage (but sounds like you figured that out). You can tell you're getting close when you pass the big talus slope of exposed boulders on river left.

For future reference, Lower Tye would probably have been a fun second run. You can access the best drops off the Foss River road (just follow it and then a spur road up along the Tye). There are a couple great drops in there that are good when the Top Tye is a little too high. I think Mind Bender is better than any of the drops on the Foss. Just don't use Bennett's put-in from Alpine Falls as it adds a couple miles of braided class II and a huge logjam portage. The other combination run we traditionally do with the Foss is the Rapid River. The last mile of that is basically one long rapid.