Beat the heat #5: Float the (new) lower White Salmon

ZACH ZOLLER navigates a guided rafting tour down the lower White Salmon River in a narrow, moss-covered canyon below the former Condit Dam earlier this month.

Photo by Adam Lapierre.
ZACH ZOLLER navigates a guided rafting tour down the lower White Salmon River in a narrow, moss-covered canyon below the former Condit Dam earlier this month.

Fed by springs percolating up from the base of Mount Adams, the White Salmon River remains a steady flow and chilling temperature throughout the year, making this Wild and Scenic waterway an excellent option to cool-off on the hottest summer days. In this, our fifth of an eight-part series on great local places to cool off in August, we take a ride down the White Salmon on a giant blue inflatable raft with one of several guide services that run the river.

If you’ve never rafted the White Salmon, you’re missing out. The pristine stretch river is world famous for good reason, and a true gem that anyone who lives in the area should experience at least once. And for those who have done it before, something new and exciting awaits.

The 2011 removal of Condit Dam means the river is free-flowing again, for the first time in almost 100 years. It took about two years for the lower stretch of river — from to the former dam to the confluence with the Columbia — to be navigable after the massive decommissioning project, but starting on Aug. 1 at least one guide company (Zoller’s Outdoor Odysseys) started offering commercial float trips past the takeout at the former Northwestern Lake all way to the mouth.

As gorgeous and exciting as the float from the put-in to the former dam site is, what lies beyond is truly extraordinary. The canyon narrow to a series of steep and towering basalt walls unlike anything upstream. Just two years removed and it’s already hard to imagine the 125-foot-high dam in place of the the moss-covered walls and snaking set of rapids there today.

Below the former dam is expected to change significantly over the next few years, as rocks settle, rapids evolve and the river reclaims its lower reaches. ZOO Guide Zach Zoller says outfitters may or may not be able to offer trips down the lower section in years to come; it all depends on how the river reshapes itself from year to year.

After gearing up at your guide headquarters, you’ll get a crash course on paddling technique, commands and basic rescue procedure. Then you’re off to one of a few put-in sites, where guides situate people in their boats and shove-off. On a hot summer day, it’s hard to beat several hours drifting, paddling and splashing your way down such a beautiful stretch of river, with the expertise of a friendly and knowledgeable guide to keep you safe and entertained.

Oh, and don’t forget the 10-foot plunge over Husum Falls; known as the second-highest commercially run waterfall in the country. You’ll have the option to get out and walk around (portage) the falls, but don’t chicken-out — the experience of paddling as hard as you can toward the misty edge of a drop you can’t see over, hearing your guide yell “Get down! Hold on!”, plunging over, holding your breath, disappearing into the whitewater and bobbing back to the surface with and an ear-to-ear grin is one you won’t soon forget.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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