By Kanako Iwata-Eng
On Sunday, November 8, Fearless Leader Jon Almquist took four courageous kayakers to the South Fork of the Calawah. As the trip description claimed this run as “rarely-seen class III+ gem in Olympic National Park,” and American Whitewater says, “This is one of the best runs suitable for intermediate boaters in the Park,” I have been interested in this almost-annual trip since I joined WKC in 2012. The only reason I had not done this before was the 2.8 mile hike to the put-in.
Originally, Jon advertised the trip as a two-day activity – on Day 1, carry our boats to the put-in, hike back, and camp; on Day 2, refreshed, hike “empty handed,” and boat. However, based on the survey, the group chose to do all this in one day, so we could enjoy another river during the weekend. On Saturday, as the water was quite high and still raining, we ran the Sol Duc from Park to Riverside. As it continued raining at night, I was worried, but on Sunday, the water came down to the perfect 2400 cfs.
Jon took off saying he would meet us at the top, as if it was just around the corner. We started hiking, but it soon became apparent, the 2.8 mile hike in was long on a narrow trail. Lora is a petite girl, but walked steadily carrying a feather-class boat. Scott, with an inflated IK, was struggling at times but walked fast, too. Mike was sweet and stayed not too far ahead of slow me. I took my playboat, which weighed only 20 lbs., but I still had a hard time. I was dragging my boat with webbing, but the boat often slipped off the trail. Soon I started running the narrow parts of the trail with my boat hanging from one hand and carried the boat on my shoulder when going up the steep hills. Near the end of the 1.5-hour climb, Jon came back to carry my boat. I could hardly keep up with him without boat. From the top, we went down the hill for another hour and finally got to the river before noon. We changed sweaty clothes, put on gear, ate lunch, and finally put in at 12:30 p.m.
Jon welcomed us to the river that very few people ever see. It was a beautiful river, surrounded by deep forest with humongous trees. After a short warm up, we got to the Canyon, which was narrow and winding, and some drops were pretty steep. Jon boat-scouted, ran the drops, and signaled us the lines. Occasionally we encountered logs and log jams, but we only had to make a few short and easy portages. This river had lots of excellent and exciting rapids. I enjoyed it very much.
The winter sun went low quickly, but we took out about 4 p.m. and drove off right before dusk. The river was so much fun that the 1.5-hour, 2.8-mile hike was well justified, even though it didn’t seem it at the time. Before the trip, I was saying, “I may not want to go back again, but have to do this at least once,” and one of my friends said “You never know it may become your favorite run.” After the trip, I think she was right – I want to go again.