HUSUM, Wash. — Curious paddlers can now explore the narrow canyon on the White Salmon River that the Condit Dam blocked for almost 100 years, and paddle all the way to the river’s confluence with the Columbia.
On Sunday, Washington rafting company Wet Planet organized an expedition down the novel section of the river for fish biologists, local kayakers, and conservationists. Two rafts and two dozen rainbow colored kayaks made the trip.
For decades, sediment built up behind Condit Dam. In just one year the free-flowing river has carved a deep bed through the sediment. Rope swings that once hurled children into a reservoir dangle 80 feet above the new river channel, and an old sunken wooden rowboat hangs from a uncovered tree stump.
A small pile of rocks at a narrow spot is the only sign of where Condit Dam stood before it was breached and blown up a year ago, to restore the natural flow of the river and provide free passage to migrating salmon and steelhead.
Downstream, the river plunges through a canyon so narrow, biologist Jeanette Burkhardt could almost reach out and almost touch the rock walls with her fingertips.
“It looks so different, now that all of that water that is supposed to be in the river is back in this stretch. And it’s gorgeous,” she says.
The entrance to the canyon is marked by lower river’s most significant rapid, an abrupt bench called Steelhead Falls.
Guides say the newly opened section of the White Salmon River is changing every month, and is potentially dangerous due to frequent logjams and submerged wood. Don’t try it unless you’re a confident class IV paddler.
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