Description of difficulty on the Olympic Peninsula rivers
By Bob D
The Hoh is pretty straight forward under 101. Above 101 is the Canyon. While its not too bad the entrance to the canyon has a boulder garden protecting it. A few boats have gone down here. Once in the canyon its pretty easy until the takeout. It's a sweeping “s” turn that's pretty fast and rolling with a Rock at the end that you must be set up for in advance to not hit it. This is were most boats go down. If you're a good rower who doesn't miss a beat when it gets fast and rolling it should be no problem. I remember my first time. Me and my girlfriend of that time stopped and thought maybe we should put on our life preservers. We didn't and after we got thru we wanted to do it again. Above the Canyon to the Park is all pretty easy. The only caution I will add is that after severe rains or severe snowmelt causes the river to change every time. Sometimes it's a small change, sometimes it can move in it banks a mile or so. New log jams are constantly forming and old ones are moving and changing. If its your first time on any drift and you haven't confirmed the paths to take always scout it before you commit! My rule of thumb, if ya cant see the way to go you better make sure there is one. This is a good rule for any river after storms!
The Calawah , Better go with someone who knows! Those warnings are reel. South fork is awesome fishing but WILL tear ya up. I've taken my Super Puma raft thru and NO WAY would I take my Willie thru! There are a few guides and locals who do and Id suggest a trip with one of them to see it yourself. I would put money a person would have problems there first time if never seeing it. Its SCARY when your rowing!!! Most of the guys who fish it are shown by there friends. The guides kinda have a nitch and will show there new guides friends the way. Hells half mile seems to never end. And you better be looking along way in front! It's a fast half mile with no room and no second chances. Id love to video tape this stretch.
Calawah from 101 to the Bogie. 11 splits and if you don't know the way you crash and burn. Again another need to see it before rowing. I learned it in the raft too. I have never taken my D rift boats down it though. Only at high water would I do this. If the “Rock” at the top don't get ya, the last rapid might!
These drifts are probably some of the scariest drift boat runs in the state! Easily in the top 5.
The Solduc has 6 drifts. Some are Calawah tough and some are not so bad. Biggest thing is water levels and knowing when its safe. Most are easier at 10 boards but at lower flow they start multiplying in difficulty rapidly!
First a description of “boards”. You've seen boat launches that use concrete slabs lined up next to each other that extend into the river or lake right? Maxfield Rd. boat launch on the Sol D uc river off 101 is made of these. The amount of them submerged under water is where they get the term "boards" for gauging the height of the river. For example: When 8 of the concrete slabs are submerged, the ' D uc is runnin' at 8 boards. There is no USGS flow gauge on the river... so this is the method everyone uses. The boards are have numbers painted on them usually. This is the first place to stop the night before on the way in. Remember, the D uc drops like a rock so if its cold and clear what you might deem drift able in the evening, might be a way more challenging the next morning. Same with the Calawah! So if its marginal for you in the evening, you mat wanna try another river.
Easiest is Shuwah . One rapid, down the middle and a little left. At 5 boards its tighter. At 2 its almost impassable!
2nd, is Riverside . It's the highest drift. It has a couple tricky spots but is passable and you will see the way. This drift is good after high water in Jan. when the big Snider fish are coming. They seem to motor up right into Bear Creek and Riverside . Its all selective up here.
3 rd most difficult is Middle run. Pretty easy going then you get to the double rapids. The top one is very hard to see the “way” until your right over it. All I can tell ya is ya gotta stay a little left going in and keep going left as you get into the boulder strewn tail out. You drop between 2 rocks and at 4 or so boards it gets dicey! If you miss it you will go into a boulder strewn rapid and will be stuck. Second rapid is right after you get thru the first. Although you can see the way on the second half. Its just fast and not much room for error and a pretty long ride.
4th and 5th are a tossup! Lower end and the Hatchery drift! Both eat allot of boats but still people test there skills every year. The Hatchery drift has a split that you must go right. Go left here and you wont be a happy camper! 95% of the river goes left. It looks no problem. But drops 4 feet straight off into huge boulders. Im sure no drift boat has ever made it. The right is around an island. Its just big enough to get the boat thru. The lower end has many boulder strewn fast shallow chutes that you must navigate. Some you cant see the way until your right on top. D own low there is a split section of river. 3 ways to go. Right and left are the most used. If you stay rt. you will see a very fast and steep chute on the left as your heading into the tailout . Keep going by and you will see were to go. At the takeout there is the bridge rapid. Its fast with big rollers! Panic in here has lodged boats on the bridge pillar! You can see this from Lyndecker so check it out and make sure your comfortable with it.
6. Bear Creek, see Calawah. Its as bad as its gets out there. Never done it in a D rifter, only my Super Puma. This drift has a few spots that will make your hair stand up! Its serious and many will never see it!
Bogie , From 101 down is all easy and were most start! Above 101 can be dicey and can be pretty dangerous. Not many do this float, especially at low flows.
Queets is big and swift but really straight forward. I must add a blurt about “Lyman Rapids”. T he middle drift of the Queets from Streaters to Hartzells has a good set of rapids and 1st timers down the river should use extreme caution as Lyman's Rapids has taken a boat or two over the years. The rapids are towards the end of the drift and is basically a garden of large boulders.
Clearwater is pretty easy if you're a great rower. No splits or things you cant see but good agility is a must maneuvering the boulders in some of the rapids.
When you try the D uc runs for the first times go lite! D on't take 3 BIG guys and tons of gear. Start on the Shuwah or the Middle run if ya wanna use bait and graduate. Shuwah and Middle run above 6 boards is pretty safe. Middle run is tricky as its hard to see the path until your on it. If you miss it , its almost certain your gonna be stuck!
All the other drifts at 6 boards or less are getting tighter by the minute! At 4 to 5 boards only the best do these stretches. And below 4 is really getting bumpy.
Lastly, Wood oars have not much use on the Olypenn. More boats go down because of broken wood oars than you'd think. Many of the bad spots have no depth for full blade engagement. Learning to maneuver the boat by feathering the oars will become second nature out there. Especially on the D uc, Calawah and upper Bogie. Cataracts are standard on the Olypenn and always carry a spare that's fast to get to!
Good luck and stay safe!