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Opening Day of Boating Season 2019 - Cispus River

Published on 12/14/2018
By Michael Deckert

The Opening Day of Paddling Season


Join us on the relatively unknown Lower Cispus River.  The traditional opening day of boating season trip is scheduled for January 1st, 2019.  Come out and celebrate the renewed access to this beautiful river.


A wonderful section of river, relatively unknown due to decades of difficulty obtaining access, the Lower Cispus River offers a great down river play day, in a class II+/III setting.  Passing old growth trees, and with a primordial feel within the river corridor, the trip provides an excellent day on the river.


Cispus River Challenge


The Cispus River is an important resource for WKC members, as well as for paddlers, rafters, and river users in general.    Decades of difficulty gaining access to the river greatly diminished the whitewater community’s awareness of the river.  To rebuild awareness of the Lower Cispus River, the Cispus River Challenge has been created.  Run this river and receive a Cispus River Challenge sticker intended to help rebuild awareness and recreational use, support long-term intent to develop a greater foundation of use, and diversify opportunities available to members.  Lead a Lower Cispus River trip and get an autographed sticker.


Join us on January 1st as we renew old acquaintances with and on the Cispus River.  While the great snowy weather of the past cannot be guaranteed, there is joy in being on the river.  Memories of purple dinosaurs roaming the shores of the lower Cispus River, energized by the kids below the purple hats, brings a smile to those lucky enough to have seen the event.  Bluegrass music drifted through the trees in the evenings, after a day on the river when old friends gathered and played through the night.  The annual opening day trip brings smiles as it’s always sunny on the Cispus!


Read on for more information about the Cispus River.



Opening day festivities start at the put-in with eddy service play spots.  Some years warm (for Washington winters) rains sweep the area.  At these times, the mosses and ferns in the forest understory glisten with moisture.  Relieved by the end of the summer/fall dry season,  cushions of moss on the riverside boulders expand into thick mats, reaching for the moisture.


Other years, cold air settles in. If the timing of the arrival of moisture is just right, snow blankets the river.  Draping over the evergreen boughs, boulders, and  limbs of the bare deciduous trees, the gentle swish of the falling snow muffles the quiet murmur of the river.  In time, helmets, paddle shafts, life-jackets, and shoulders accumulate their own temporary snow fields.


Throughout the river, catch-on-the-fly waves provide the opportunity for play.  A variety of play spots allow both beginners and more advanced paddlers to work on and improve their skills.  Rapids are open, with multiple routes through them.





Paul’s Playpen


Paul’s Playpen is a favorite play spot.  Four or five different sections of the rapid provide places to surf, practice flat spins, or throw ends depending on skill and water level.  Best of all, eddy service is available.  At some low water levels, setting a tow rope to pull yourself up above the first drop allows access to the entire rapid.





Seasons of the river


The Lower Cispus River lies in an elevational sweet spot, offering paddling year around.  During winter cold snaps snow occasionally falls.  The river runs crystal clear and low.  Quite solitude drapes across the river and ouzels dip for food along the bottom of the river.  With the river low and clear, one can pass the day watching the rocks and boulders lining the riverbed slide by beneath your hull.  Small play spots dot the river.  Winter “pineapple expresses” bring warmer rains and high water runs.  As the river swells it becomes bigger and pushier but the open character of the river remains.  Play spots grow, and in the last couple of years we’ve found flows between 1500-2400cfs seem to be a sweet spot for play.  At higher levels, the river remains the same, just getting bigger and pushier. A good roll becomes an asset as swims can start to get much longer.  Above around 3000cfs the waves become much larger, long wave trains exist, and the catch-on-the-fly surfing can be excellent.  Peak flood flows tend to occur during the winter months.


Spring brings awakening vegetation, flowers, and the sweet smell of cottonwood trees as sunshine and melting snow raise the river levels.  Spring is the typical seasonal high water as snow melt swells the river. 


Summer snow melt brings blue skies and paddling in luxurious warmth.  For the open nature of the river bed, the water channelizes well.   Below about 700cfs, routes through rapids become more technical and difficult in the steeper sections.  On the other hand, the river becomes far less pushy and there is a lot of time to pick your way down the river.  It’s not for adrenaline junkies, play spots are small waves and an occasional pour-over deep enough for throwing a couple of ends, but it is a wonderful day on the river.


As summer flows recede, crystal clear blue waters transport paddlers through an evergreen river corridor speckled with brilliant fall colors. Flows are starting to drop to their lowest long term median levels.  The river continues to change predictably, steepening in sections, and becoming more technical.  In the mid 300’s we’ve found a couple of short sections that require gorilla moves to reach deeper water.  Again, it’s not for adrenaline junkies, play spots are small waves and an occasional pour-over deep enough for throwing a couple of ends, but it is a wonderful day on the river watching the fall colors drift by, and the new snow laced along the ridgelines.







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