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Floating the Lewis River

10 years or so ago I saw an episode of Trout Unlimited TV where Tim Linehan and a few locals floated down the Lewis River near Mount St. Helens in Washington state. It looked like a pleasant beautiful float with some fishing for resident cutthroat and bull trout. I've wanted to try that float ever since first seeing it.

Jump to June of this year. I met up with Tim Linehan at his business (Linehan Outfitting) and we talked about that float. Unfortunately after all these years he was a bit sketchy about the details, just that they put in below a bridge. After studying maps it was clear then that they must have floated one of two sections.

Last weekend my buddy Glenn and I went down to the Lewis to finally float it. We tried to find where they must have put the boat in and it wasn't at all clear. The easier put-in seemed to be on the section right below the bridge at the Lower Lewis River Falls campground so that's what we did. Mistake!

We floated in small 1-man catarafts. It took us 9 hours to run the 9 miles or so of water. There were 3 portages, one of which was grueling. It was mostly class III white water, though the water level was pretty low so it was scratchy - there was plenty of exposed sharp lava. One section in the middle I think is pretty much unrunable in anything except a kayak because it's a choked cascade of house-sized boulders. That's was the hideous portage.

After running about a mile we'd done a long portage and broken a rod so we decided not to fish and just concentrate on getting through. It was obvious we were not on the section they'd run on television. A lost oar (luckily found downstream), a broken oar and a ripped (but thankfully not punctured) pontoon later we got to the takeout in the dark. There was a while that I thought we'd be spending the night on the river in our wet gear. I love running rapids in the dark. Not.

Torn Cataraft

In case anyone is thinking about running this, I highly recommend the section from the Curly Creek Falls bridge downstream, I think that's what they must have done on the TV show. I could not run the section we did with a driftboat and it might be physically impossible due to the boulder garden choke in the middle. And there is no way you could portage a driftboat like we did our little catarafts.

Here's what I'd do differently:

Glenn and I will probably run it again this fall, but doing it a bit differently.
Here's a link to a short video of Glenn about to have some problems: Glenn on Lewis Posted by Bruce on July 26, 2009 6:30 PM

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