Sunday, May 30, 2010

Yakima River - Day 4 - May 27, 2010

I cook bannock for breakfast and my signature cowboy coffee - recipe - boiling water, dump enough grounds in to make it strong, when the grounds sink, it is ready.
We set out and pass Mabton in about 2 miles. The river remains smooth with a moderate current and we can take in sights and watch birds for the next 15 miles. There is only one short stretch of fast ripples to pass through.

Nearing Prosser, the current slows as it backs up behind the Prosser Diversion Dam. We take out at the city park and boat ramp. This is our longest portage, a bit over 3/4 of a mile. It is a difficult route finding problem because we don't have a good map of town. It takes 3 loads to move our packs and canoe, but people stop on the main thoroughfare when the guy with a canoe on his head walks into the street. I'm busy with a canoe over my head, so I forget to photograph any of it. Mike is leap frogging back and forth moving packs. His camera is still something more like a canteen, so he doesn't take any photos either.

The river changes below Prosser. We have entered the channel scablands, an area that was scoured clear of soil by a massive flood at the end of the last Ice Age. The riverbottom is no longer cobble sized river rock, but instead, a scattering of large basalt boulders. We seem to be at an ideal river level where most of them just dance 4 or 6 inches below the surface. It is not beginner water anymore.Each time the river turns south towards the big hillside, it seems to slide down at a surprisingly steep angle before finally bending around a blind corner. We scout and line some of these. I can only imagine us going 30 miles an hour by the time we hit the bottom. It's not that bad, but it is an easy wade/line/walk each time. One of these stretches does actually prove me right when it becomes class III waves just around the bend - not dangerous, but it would've filled up the canoe for no good reason. We do a short portage there. Several of the rapids are class II and we make good use of backferrying several times to move side to side in the current. It is not dangerous, but it is good technical fun and Mike is a solid bowman and reads problems and calls them out before I can see them. The Chandler Diversion Dam turns out to be a line of boulders in the water, but we portage over it since we had to paddle up to it on the right bank to scout it. It could be safely paddled if one knew where to put the canoe ahead of time.
We see hundreds of white pelicans during the day. Once, a single file line of 75 flew over and we found ourselves sliding over a boulder with our eyes stuck in the sky.

We finish the day at Horn Rapids County Park at mile 18.5. We have paddled about 44 miles today. It is a 1/2 mile portage to the campground (rules, rules, rules) and our camp with a canoe, tent and no car confuses the campground attendant. We're tired and it is raining, so I cook up polenta and tomato sauce and we drink hot butterscotch pudding for desert.

Prosser flow rate - 1500 rising to 2000 cfs
several class I and II rapids and one very short section that was a III - very dependent on river level.
Must portage Prosser Diversion Dam. Might just as well be safe and drag over the Chandler Dam.

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