Every winter, as powder days wear on and daylight savings time creeps closer, western paddlers begin to slowly collect their paddling gear for another season. In the Pacific Northwest, one specific event marks the beginning of the spring paddling season—The West Coast Whitewater Series. The now defunct Oregon Cup’s legacy has inspired a series of raft and kayak races on Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California’s most classic runs: The Wind River, The North Fork of the American River, Canyon Creek, The Klamath River, The Cal Salmon River, The Clackamas River, The Payette River and The Trinity River.
Each event in the series is independently organized and so each has its own vibe. The Upper Clackamas Whitewater festival, for example is a more family-oriented affair, while the Canyon Creek Race (and its legendary afterparty) tends to attract the hairboaters and college crowd. String the whole series together though, and you’ve definitely got something for everyone—from head to head raft races, to kayak launch ramp freestyle contests and swiftwater rescue classes.
This year though, there’s a couple of twists. PL caught up with Luke Spencer, the organizer of the Canyon Creek race to see how things are coming together for the 2009 series.
PL: So Luke, it’s the beginning of February and people are already talking about this year’s race series. What’s new and exciting for 2009?
LS: Well… there are a few new and exciting things happening this year. We are all stoked with the synergy between the West Coast Series Races.
Originally these races were independent events, but with the help of Tim Brink of the Oregon Rafting Team and the other event organizers, these events have been linked together to become the West Coast Whitewater Series. Winners of each event are awarded a certain number of points. These points are cumulative and are used to decide the overall winner. For rafters these races are especially crucial because for the first time, the winner of the series gets a chance to compete in the U.S.A. National Rafting Championship at the ASCI Whitewater Center in Maryland.
Also, because of the wood situation in Canyon Creek we have been forced to, at least temporarily, move the downriver race to the East Fork Lewis River. This year’s course includes class IV rapids and Sunset Falls, challenges that should definitely keep things fun. With a slightly easier course than Canyon Creek, we expect a broader range of skill levels to participate. We’re also adding a junior, an intermediate, and possibly a long boat category.
PL: How are levels looking around the region?
LS: Despite complaints from local paddlers about a drier than usual winter, Washington State is currently at 95% average annual snowpack according to the U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service. I guess we never really know for sure what levels will be like until April when the race comes. Mother Nature dictates these sorts of things, so to all who may swim between now and then, make sure you drink your river booties to keep the good karma flowing!
PL: Tell us a little bit about Canyon Creek. What happened this winter?
LS: From the info I have gathered and seen, there was a catastrophic landslide above Fly Creek during the flooding this past January. The flow from the huge slide brought down thousands of trees and sent them straight into Canyon Creek. When this flow of mud and trees hit the creek, it continued downstream until it came to the main gorge, where it finally got stuck in a bottleneck. Left behind was a logjam twenty feet high and a few hundred yards long between the first and second rapids. Of course when I heard the news and saw the photos my heart sank, not only because of the event, but for the paddling community and the destruction caused to one of the most classic creek runs in the area. I will say though, locals have been back since and report with hard work the logs can be portaged and the rest of the run remains virtually the same. This however is not a recommendation for paddlers to go in and paddle the creek. The logjam makes this run far more dangerous then it has ever been.
PL: What about the famous party at Mike Olson’s house?
LS: Oh the party…. Mike Olson has been kind enough to let the Northwest Creek Competition hold the party on his property, which is a prime location about 20 minutes away from Canyon Creek. His place is actually right on the East Fork Lewis River, where we do the Sunset Falls Huck. This is probably the coolest spot I have ever seen, and I think racers and partiers would agree! The tradition of the party and the race goes back to before my time and this party continues to be one the best around. It couldn’t happen without the Olsons and the main sponsor Next Adventure. Tasty organic beer provided by Hopworks Urban Brewery, an abundance of great food, good music, and plenty of camping will make it a party not to miss!
PL: Any favorites for winners? Who’s training hard and who’s banking on the grace of the river gods for a good finish?
LS: Hmm… favorites. I expect the Hood River crew to show up ready to race like always! I know last year Todd Anderson won some of the local events. Though I have to say, there are many great paddlers that call the NW home and on any given day any one of theses talented paddlers can swoop in and upset the favorites. Of course Tao is always in the running, but the winner will be the paddler who is in shape, knows the lines and hits them.
For more info, check out the PDX River Explorers blog.