Tieton River – September 15
By Shanna Gachen
The annual end-of-summer run is upon us – woot woot! It’s called the Annual Flip-Flop when the Bureau of Reclamation begins releasing water from Rimrock Lake through the Tieton Dam in Yakima County, to aid in successful spawning and incubation of the Chinook salmon eggs in the Yakima Basin, it also helps serve irrigation interests downstream, which in turn provides good boating through much of September. It usually begins Labor Day weekend and they slowly increase the release throughout the month, hitting the peak near September 15th.
Some call this run a drainage ditch, which can’t be denied, because most of the year it’s a small dribble of water where the vegetation is lush, and then BAM in September here comes the toilet-bowl flush of a dam release of water. But none-the-less it is one of few places with dependable whitewater in the waning days of summer.
Along with the water comes hordes of boaters, including commercial rafters and kayakers across the state. The water is cold since it’s been sitting at the bottom of the reservoir, but it’s non-stop and makes for some exciting tales. Most of the run is continuous class II+/III rapids with a few notable rapids – it’s not for beginners as it has lots of brush along the side, hardly any eddy’s and rescues / swims can be very long. However, there are some beautiful basalt cliffs, it’s dry and warm, and there is excellent camping.
American Whitewater describes the first half of the run is fast water through shallow boulder gardens. The pace begins to change slightly with the approach of a low head runnable dam about halfway through the run. The dam is well marked by signs on river left at 1000' feet that can be seen from the road. Those with solid boating skills should have no problem pulling out on river left once the dam is in sight. The dam can be run, but there are a couple of spots that wouldn't be much fun, so if you have any doubts take the conservative route along the portage trail on river left. This is a lowhead dam and deserves your full respect. Shortly after the dam you will boat past some cabins on the river left bank and pass through the House Rock section. This is one of the more significant class III rapids on the run.
Some boulder gardens and slightly more technical sections follow as you come up to the steel I-beam bridge behind Trout Lodge, which serves a mean breakfast before kayaking. The park and play crowd can easily access the bridge from Trout Lodge. This is one of the best play spots on the river. It's not quite the Wenatchee, but it's still good fun.
Waffle Wall comes a few short bends in the river downstream from Trout Lodge. This is the main class III rapid on the run where the photographers set up to take pictures of the bus loads of gleeful boaters. Smile for the camera and avoid getting slammed into the retaining wall on river right. After Waffle Wall, the river is more of a fast, non-stop class II+ with some fun splashy waves and a few surf waves can be had.
Overall, the Tieton is a fun end-of-summer run, and always a good place to catch up with your fellow boaters over a shared potluck and campfire! If all this sounds doable and fun, sign up on the calendar for this fun WKC trip.
Thanks to Ken for your annual leadership on the Tieton.