Sunday, May 30, 2010

Yakima River - Day 2 - May 25, 2010

It was a hard day.

After a breakfast of oatmeal and cowboy coffee, we carefully paddle towards the Wapato Diversion Dam. At
this water level, the map has proven to be good enough and we find an easy and safe landing on the island that splits the dam in half. The Wapato Dam is another dangerous overflow dam, only a few feet high, but with a powerful "keeper" hydraulic on the downstream side that will keep swimmers in the backflow until they are long dead. The portage is an easy 200 yards back to the river-right channel, putting in below the Yakima Nation fishing platforms, a beautiful spot.
About 4 miles later we approach the Sunnyside Diversion Dam, the most dangerous piece of crap dam that I have ever come across.
Hilarity ensues.
There is no warning sign.
There is a long island upstream of the dam.
We have guessed from maps that we will portage on river-right.
We pull out in swift current about 200 yards upstream of the dam.
It is brushy.
It is really really brushy.
We try to break brush to clear land south of the river. The wild roses smell wonderful as their thorns shred my forearms. We backtrack to the canoe. We try to break brush downstream, getting stopped after about 100 yards. We return to the canoe. We ferry (angling the canoe in the current while paddling upstream) to the island. We line the canoe down and around the island and then ferry the left channel to an easy landing on river-left. We scout the left shore for a portage. After walking downstream for a half mile, we find that there is no legal or safe way to return to the river due to a big unbridged irrigation canal. This is a piece of shit dam for sure. We ferry back to the island, we line and wade around the bottom of the island again. We will ferry back to river-right, hug the bank and eddy out into slack water just above the dam. I hate this plan. There is a narrow channel leading into the river-right bank 100 yards up from the dam, and as we ferry I realize that we can get into it, so we do. We get out and find that it is about 30 yards of not too bad brush to reach a dirt road. From there it is an easy 20
0 yard portage back to the river.
Even better, Mike has begun to show his stuff. With limited canoe experience, he shows himself to be a natural, doing what I tell him to at an instant and doing it correctly. I explain the "whys" when we get time. We have a good laugh with the Yakima that have been watching us from below the dam for the last 3 HOURS.

Below the dam, the river is beautiful with a very wild and natural feel and appearance. The current is swift and the channel splits and braids some as we pass through a broad floodplain with only rare sightings of anything man made. Especially strange since we can hear I-82 at times.

Near mile 100, it gets dangerous. There are hundreds of sweepers (trees hanging low over the water) and strainers (rootballs, trees and logjams that would trap a swimmer) during the next several miles. The turns in the river are swift and blind. We get out and scout dozens of riverbends and line or wade most of them. When we're not walking, we're paddling or coasting in the shallows in the slowest currents and on the insides of bends where we can stop easily. I misread one corner and we are flipped by a sweeper and we get a short swim with a fully loaded canoe. Mike's camera is wet, so I am the photographer from now on, and there aren't many photos on this stretch because there is no time to do so. Soon, we come to a large island where the main channel looks like pick-up sticks. We scout and find an eas
y portage across part of the island, but take one last look at the ugly little channel to the left, which turns out to be not so ugly, and we pass that way with only 25 yards of lining around a logjam. At about 5:00 pm we pull out an make camp on a nice gravel bar where beaver have recently downed a tree. I am brain tired of being constantly alert and engaged in route finding.

For all of its danger, this stretch was really beautiful and wild. We saw dozens of white pelicans, and commented to each other that we had never been out of sight of some type of large bird.

In nine hours of paddling, we have covered only 12 miles. The last seven miles has taken 4 hours. We figure to be near mile 96.

Flow rates for this day from the Parker (Sunnyside Dam) gauge - 1500 to 1000 cfs.
Class I rapids, sweepers and strainers in swift current, blind turns, route finding on braided channels. Danger level should be highly dependent on river level and flow rate. Self reliance, risk assessment, and an ability to read water is absolutely necessity. You will probably see no one else and it is usually a long hike to help. I also recommend that anyone thinking to portage the Sunnyside Dam should probably prepare for a half-mile to mile portage on river-right - but no guarantee on that - get out while you can.

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