My name is Karen Heath, and I currently live in Warner Robins, GA, (about the middle of the state of GA). Never having paddled whitewater west of the Mississippi, I feel as if I am the luckiest person in the world! I had an opportunity in late August to make a trip west to Washington state to see family who live right on the Snoqualmie River.
I love paddling and wanted the opportunity to paddle some western whitewater during my visit but I had no idea where to begin. With the help of a couple of mouse clicks, I located the contact button for a couple of kayak groups near my brother’s house in North Bend to see if I could scare up a paddle during my visit. Thanks to Shanna Gachen, (Washington Kayak Club), who sent me a response email, I was able to paddle. We worked out the details in just a couple of days. Since I was flying west, and would be taking a minimum amount of gear, which did not include a boat and a paddle. I asked Shanna where I might rent a boat and paddle and as it turned out she had, and was willing to lend me, a boat and paddle just like mine here in GA! I was on cloud nine even before I left GA and don’t think I’ve come down yet – and it has been two weeks since our trip!
We put in below the powerhouse on the Snoqualmie and took out where the tubers take out about a mile downstream. First of all, this river is clean! I only saw one floating water bottle in a shallow eddy. Being as impressed as I was with the cleanliness of this run, I tried to get to it but couldn’t reach it to pick it up. Second, I could see all the way to the bottom! The water was as clear as could be! My home river (Ocmulgee River - Wise Creek section) is generally muddy. The rivers further north, such as in north GA, north AL, northeastern TN and western NC are usually a bit clearer, but it is rare that they are as clear and clean as the Snoqualmie. Third, the Snoqualmie is cold! Most of the rivers in the southeast aren’t as cold. I’ve been paddling in swim shorts and a rash top since mid-May on all but some rivers in the southeast and I’m very cold blooded. Our only really cold runs are dam released rivers, and for some, the water comes from the bottom of the dam at 46F. Our Ocmulgee is about 80F right now.
This section of the Snoqualmie is a great teaching run. While we did it at a low water level of 418 cfs, a higher level would be even better for teaching. There was no shortage of things to do. The eddy hop game, ferrying, attainment and just plain wave trains are all good, even at this level. I can see, as the river gets more water, these games would become even better and more demanding.
The rivers I’ve been on here in GA, AL, NC, and TN are mostly more creeky than the part of the Snoqualmie I saw. At 418 cfs, the Snoqualmie was just a bit rocky but not as creeky, meaning it was not as technical as it could have been. I didn’t have to turn as much to get where I wanted to go.
I saw a lot of beaches on our run where I could at least empty my boat if needed but our southeastern rivers generally don’t have as many sandbar type places to get out. Rather, most of our class II – III runs require finding an eddy that has a convenient rock outcropping upon which rest stops, rescues and the like are easily accessed. Most of our land on the river is either posted no trespassing or the sides are so steep there isn’t a place to get out.
It was odd seeing a river at a very low stage with no strainers. Generally speaking, as our southeastern river levels drop, there are loads of strainers to avoid. The Snoqualmie is wider and maybe because it gets so much water in the spring it scours the river, taking all the trees with it to the ocean?
What was supposed to be a one mile run was actually a 2.03 mile run according to the GPS in my boat. I think we must have ferried, played at the attainment rock, and wandered back and forth looking at the beautiful scenery. I know I was looking at and was continually impressed with the surrounding beauty.
One constant I’ve found is that river folks nearly always seem to be a friendly, accommodating group. It was so refreshing to experience this all the way out west to Washington state. I am truly grateful to Shanna Gachen and the Washington Kayak Club for their willingness to outfit me with a boat and paddle, but I’m most appreciative of the kindness and willingness to take me along and share the beautiful rivers with me! Just know that if ever any of you have the opportunity to travel east and are in need of a paddling trip, it would be my honor and pleasure to return the favor!!