Thursday, July 5, 2012


My favorite river in the Pacific Northwest is the North Fork of the Snoqualmie. It's a tough run to love and you'd be hard pressed to find many people who hold the same opinion.

Just twenty minutes outside of Seattle, the North Fork of the Snoqualmie holds some of the toughest whitewater in Washington State. The run got its name from an old campground and cabin resort near the river in the early 1900's named Ernies Grove. Now the run is commonly referred to as "Ernies."

Standard Weather for Ernies

Ernies is incredibly complex and intimidating. Being on the correct side of the river often means the difference between portaging and kayaking. I learned the run from Paul Heffernan, who is probably second only to Rick Williams for total descents of Ernies.

I met Paul after college and he drug me and a tight knit group of kayakers down many of the Northwests finest rivers. Paul hated low water and for years people referred to him as "high water Paul." Paddling with Paul opened up a whole new world for me.

True to form, Paul doesn't like Ernies low. Ernies really shines at levels above what most people consider runnable. 

After paddling Robe Jason, Will, and I headed south to Ernies. The flow wouldn't budge from our upper limit, 800 cfs. Ernies is good higher but only if you have been running it frequently.

These days, Andrew McEwan and Ben Hawthorne are the ones running Ernies regularly. Early on Memorial day we met Andrew McEwan at the take out. Access issues necessitated that we put in miles upstream of the usual spot.

Just below the put in we found this sweet rapid.

Andrew McEwan

Miles of easy whitewater followed. A couple hours later we were scouting the entrance to Ernies, Fairyland. The first two miles of Ernies drops just under 200 feet per mile with little room for recovery. Fairyland, Raft Catch, Samson and Delilah, Room of Doom, Cluster, and Stump Jumper follow in close succesion.


Here are some shots of the bottom of Raft Catch, the easy part.

 Will Rawstron

 Jason Stingl

Andrew McEwan

 Andrew Below Samson and Delilah

Jason Stingl in Cluster

Andrew between Cluster and Stump Jumper

Below Stump Jumper there is a brief respite, although only on Ernies would such whitewater be considered a breather. To protect the innocent and the guilty I won't name names but one particularly nasty hole, Dragonsback, resulted in a swim. We caught the boat just above the next set of big rapids and continued on.

One of my favorite shots. Andrew waiting for boater and boat to reconnect.

Ernies doesn't let up for long. Little Nasty is a tricky double ledge drop right above the most committing and intimidating drop on the run, Big Nasty.

An intimidating downstream view. Big Nasty.

Big Nasty from Below. Will and Jason Above.


Will Rawstron. Big Nasty

We had another swim in the runout of Big Nasty. Ernies rarely goes easily, and this trip was no exception. One year I remember 2 trips in a row where we started with 3 and ended with 2 (someone had to hike out). Andrew did an incredible job of boat rescue and we avoided this scenario. Vertical Vortex and You Gotta Want It follow closely after Big Nasty and we were spread out and separated.


It took over an hour for us to regroup. The cliff walls are big above the rapids and the bushwhacking through the dense foliage is not easy. Once united we headed down through some easy rapids into the must make eddy above Jacuzzi, a terrifying 12 foot waterfall. 

I've only seen one person run this waterfall, Erik Boomer. For some photos check out his post on LVM

The final section of Ernies is just below the portage around Jacuzzi. Against the Wall, Whale's Tail, and Bruce's Boil follow in close successsion.

The Finish Line. Bruce's Boil.

Mt Si

No trip on Ernies is complete without the Dairy Freeze

Sadly, Ernies is threatened by a proposed hydropower project. The Black Canyon Hydroelectric project. This would ruin some of the best whitewater in the country and one of the iconic runs of the pacific northwest. Don't let this happen!

Here is a link to American Whitewater's page regarding the hydroelectric project.  LINK

If you read this before July 24th take the time to leave a comment stating that the proposed project would negatively impact recreationists.

Comment here - FERC
Reference case/docket number P-14110

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