going green; a journey down the Green River

A vein of emerald water running over 60 miles from the base of the Cascades and into the Duwamish, the Green River is a little bit [pause for effect] different.  A staple for rafters seeking a challenge and some seclusion, the Green sports swift waters, narrow passages, and steep banks, but rewards with some of the best river views in Seattle’s back yard.

After hearing Matt talk about his favorite river for nearly a year, Neils, Tucker, and I were gifted a free weekend with runnable water levels by the river gods and decided join him on his home turf.  Immediately after the onset it became clear that this was a different kind of river than I was used to.

While waves were numerous, so were the obstacles that required constant attention and careful maneuvering.  After an hour of wave trains and holes we came upon Mercury, a class IV rock squeeze that shot our adrenaline-soaked bodies through with whoop!-inducing speed; soon after came The Nozzle, Pipeline, and Let’s Make A Deal, a series of three rapids in quick succession that promised to slap around any crew careless enough to be distracted by the haunting beauty of the place itself.  For the first time since its purchase, I cursed my drysuit; waterproof means poor ventilation, and I could steam broccoli with the moisture that had built upon the wrong side of my latex gaskets.

As it began raining (or rather, when we finally noticed) we neared Paradise Ledge in the gorge area.  The water flowed and churned swiftly and almost silently under the knobby stone cliffs that the river had carved out in great arcing swaths.  Undercuts large enough to guide the boat into offered a great place to hide in an eddy or try out a rope swing–a strange reminder that in later months, when the water dropped to one-sixth its current flow, there would be swimmers and tubers drinking beer and splashing in river pools waiting calmly in 7′ of swirling green water under the floor of our boat.  It was odd that so many people would soon visit a place so moss-covered and vacant (except for the occasional imagined Na’vi sighting) that we hadn’t seen  another soul all day.  It was less odd to see why the area had so appealed to the Green River Killer, a man in the early 80s responsible for the deaths of over 40 area prostitutes.  Content to not be here 3 months later when the levels would drop and PBR cans would abound (or 30 years earlier like Robert Ainsworth), we drifted lazily, enjoyed the scenery, attempted to surf a wave with the raft, and flipped.  The sweat glands in my “drysuit” rejoiced.

After passing under the imposing “Grand Canyon of the Green” we reached the takeout at Flaming Geyser State Park and broke down the gear on a flat grassy field under an increasingly blue sky.  I can’t say it’s the easiest river I’ve run, but it’s certainly one of the most fun.

We went back and did it again the next day (after, of course, I had my debut attempt at making a GoPro video).

How to:

Since it’s a smaller (“boutique”) river, there isn’t as much of a commercial presence (which is nice!) during the short season.  WildWater River tours has a presence out there, as do a few others.  Google magic it and you’ll have lots of options and a great time.  Don’t underestimate the hazards in this river, though–summer floats in the gorge are completely different than spring runs at raftable levels. 


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