25 Mar Tumwater Canyon, River Kayaking

One of the most popular day trips in Washington is Route 2 from Everett to Wenatchee which is part of the Cascade Loop and The North Cascades Highway further north. This section of the Loop covers about 123 miles and transits through the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and continues east along the Tye River past the town of Skykomish and through the Cascade Tunnel towards Stevens Pass. The Pass is 4,061 feet above sea level and is home to the Stevens Pass Ski Area and a Pacific Crest Trail trailhead that leads to the Wenatchee National Forest in Chelan County.

The Wenatchee River is one of Washington’s premiere whitewater kayaking and rafting rivers. The season runs between April and August, plus or minus depending on local weather conditions. On this particular May day we planned  a day trip taking the Loop counter clockwise: first to Wenatchee, then north to Okanogan, and then west over Route 20 through Twisp, culminating on the spectacular drive through Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and The North Cascades Highway (closed over winter, generally re-opening in May).

Passing through Tumwater Canyon we happened upon a raging section of the Wenatchee River. Seeing kayaks strapped to cars and convenient pullouts we found a spot to park, anxious to find out if we might catch sight of any kayakers. Several bystanders said the kayakers had headed upstream to gear up and would be coming through this particular boulder garden soon.  We waited, contemplating their chances of survival. Luckily for us, soon we were witnessing a series of bold kayakers heading toward us, negotiating currents, undertows and whitewater riffs – thrilling enough to watch let alone experience.

This was a great opportunity to get some video because of the parking so close to the river and photos just don’t allow this experience quite the justice it deserves. I had never seen rapids this big run in river kayaks and being a sea kayaker myself I am drawn to the sport. I’ve always wanted to give it a try but was put off by the the fact that you need to eskimo roll, a maneuver that could save your life and that I’m reticent to learn.  It can be very disorienting to be turned upside down in a raging river. On a sea kayak if you capsize there are other ways to enter a boat but that’s not the case with these small river craft. The spray skirt that keeps water out of the kayak also keeps you in, so if you capsize you are stuck in the boat. You are a part of it. So you have to learn the roll to turn back upright.

Tumwater Canyon is a highly valued adventure for Washington kayakers because of the big water Class Five rapids in the spring and early summer.  Many paddlers get their first glimpse of this run during the peak of spring snow melt on trips over to the Wenatchee. At these flows the river is a chaotic maze of rock gardens and exploding holes. Definitely worth the trip to see the action on a sunny spring day.