Adventure Report: Sampling the White Salmon River

My boyfriend, Brad, and I recently explored the Pacific Northwest. Together, we drove over 2,200 miles and experienced the Columbia River Gorge, the Oregon Coast, and the Olympic Peninsula, and also sightseeing the cities of Portland and Seattle.

The real reason we went on the road trip in the first place was so that we could attend my brother’s wedding reception in Bellevue, Washington that Saturday. I requested the week off of work and proposed the idea to Brad. Brad had never been to Oregon or Washington and was most stoked on seeing the coast and the Olympic Peninsula. I was most stoked on paddle boarding the White Salmon River

Paddleboarding was the first activity we did. We drove for over thirteen hours, crammed ourselves into the back of a sedan and slept in it at a rest stop, and were able to meet up with locals, Paul Meier and Leilani Gibson, before they left on their vacation. Paul took Brad and me on a short paddle on the Lower Gorge of the White Salmon. Leilani was recovering from a shoulder injury, so she was our shuttle bunny and token videographer.

We put in above Rattlesnake Falls and started off the night by lapping the feature. I knew the White Salmon was beautiful, but I just couldn’t stop smiling as I felt absolute bliss while experiencing the iconic river first-hand. The water was bright blue and it reminded me of paddling the Rio Trancura in Pucon, Chile.

Brad was having a different experience. Prior to meeting me, his paddleboarding repertoire consisted of paddling a lot of flatwater and springs in Florida and the East Coast. He did not have any whitewater experience but he has been learning quickly through paddling Muddy Creek and the Provo and Weber Rivers in Utah, which are class II river runs. Rattlesnake Falls was the biggest feature he had ever attempted to paddle – in any river craft. He did not feel blissful while we were warming up, but instead, he felt jittery and nervous. However, he went after it like a champ and dropped the falls more than any of us. The jitters transformed into stoke as soon as he dropped in! I lapped the falls three times on my Atcha 86 and figured out the golden line on my third try! It was a really fun and forgiving drop.

Brad’s attempts were more entertaining anyway… plus I threw in a paddling attempt from Fibark in 2017.

I want to thank Paul and Leilani for taking the time to come out and show us their home-stretch. It was a pretty quick session, but it was enough to know that I’m missing out on even more fun runs around there! If you’re into watching whitewater SUP and kayaking, I highly recommend following Paul here. He is a great resource for river knowledge and yet another example why the stand up paddleboarding community is so amazing.

The Pacific Northwest is unlike any other place I have been before. I felt like I was looking through a camera filter with the contrast turned up. The Columbian Gorge was full of astounding features and sights. I have to go back.

After lapping Rattlesnake, we proceeded down the river. The water was shallow and the rocks were abundant, but I used just my stompbox and did not have any issues. Brad paddled on the Hala Radito, which has a stompbox that helped him maneuver over this technical section. 

The Lower Gorge stretch was a great class II+ river run. It was the perfect stretch for us to get our toes wet, both figuratively and literally, as we experienced rivers in the PNW for the first time.

Cami Swan is a Hala Team Rider.

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