Back in the USA: Outlet Falls

Since getting back from Pakistan and India 2.5 weeks ago, I have been in touch with Erik Boomer about the record snow pack that was soon to be hit by a relatively warm torrential rain. With the true eye of the storm veering north into Washington, the Columbia River Gorge was blessed with the perfect amount of rain to bring creeks and rivers up to flood stage, but not to catastrophic levels like what happened around Seattle. When the storm finally came to an end, Devin Knight and I made an all knight drive to Portland to meet up with Boomer and the Herbecks (aka Nate and Heather). Apparently, they had their eye on a falls that had been bouncing around the collective imaginations of the Northwest paddling crowd for several years: Outlet Falls.

In the spring of 2004, I scouted Outlet falls with Josh Bechtel, Tao Berman, and Eric Link only to find the creek far too low to run despite heavy rain the night before. From nearly a quarter mile away high on the canyon wall, we could see a perfect but extremely tall punch bowl style falls that was the gatekeeper to an impressive canyon below.

Despite seemingly large drainage basin, located directly under the impressive summit of Mount Baker, Outlet Creek is completely cut off from the surrounding mountains that funnel more significant water into the White Salmon and Klickitat basins. Rain on a big snow pack was literally the only type of event short of a full Monsoon that would transform a tranquil trickle into a raging runnable torrent.

When Dev and I arrived on the seen, it was apparent that the word had gotten around as many of the Northwest finest paddlers and personalities where on hand for a would be first descent. Sam Drevo was the first to greet us and let us know that Boomer was at the lip and ready to go. After a 7 hour all night drive, Dev and I were weary of just jumping into the Malay of a flooded big drop, but a short visual inspection had us scrambling for our gear to join the rest of the team in preparation for the first descent.

Of course with this type of unique winter induced opportunity, comes hazards also unique to mid-winter paddling. Outlet was now a thick tongue of brown current spilling 60 to 80 feet into a boiling , icy cauldron below. Due to the 2 to 5 feet of snow pack, the peak of the rain of event was only now entering the falls indicated by the river lapping up to the edge of the snow packed bank. 7 foot boils at the base of the falls sent the 35-degree water hurling towards ice shelves on either side. Dry suits were certainly mandatory in light of the significant hazard of hypothermia from any would be swim.

To complicate matters more, a 5+ rapid above the falls was preventing an easy entrance into the creek necessitating a pretty exposed seal launch above another significant rapid that led right to the lip of the falls. Boomer is certainly no stranger to exposed situations and radioed to the rest of the group that he had his line dialed and was ready to launch. Dev and I where positioned directly above the lip as Boomer used a hybrid form of snow kayaking to fly off the canyon wall and porpoise perfectly into an eddy above the massive drop. 2, 3, 4 strokes to the lip of what Boomer would later describe as "ka-ra-te" and he set the classic stern draw to tuck which has become a hall mark big waterfall kayaking. From what I could see from above it was a perfect descent, but seconds later I saw his paddle float downstream and then Boomer appeared fighting to hand rolled against the icy wall. In the end, he swam just feet from Heather running safety in the pool below. He was ok and super pumped on an amazing first descent, but it was obvious that the falls was extremely powerful.

Many of you already know that I love big waterfalls, but what you may not realize is how much they scare me at the same time. To intentionally enter an avalanche of liquid ice is counter intuitive, yet a clean line will yields a feeling of elation and personal accomplishment that lasts a lifetime. In the end it is all about the feeling of the place and the people around you and that day the situation was perfect. Devin Knight and I dissected the line and came up with the ideal scenario. The rest of the crew including Ryan Scott, Barnie Bonito, Charlie Munsey, Christie Glismyer, Richard Hallaman, Keel Brightman, Jed Weingarten, et. al where on hand shooting photos and film, and running saftey to make the event a one of a kind experience. I'll let Sam Drevo's sweet photo tell the story of my descent. What can I say... the Super Hero Loves to fly!

Also huge thumbs up to LJ Groth for is third and final descent of Outlet that day. He tossed his paddle and nailed a beautiful plug, flushing straight downstream and nailing his hand-role!

Check out more on our Outlet descent at:

www.pbase.com/ greglief/outlet_falls


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