Few of our guides or athletes get after it like expedition kayakers Ben Stookesberry and Chris Korbulic. And that’s saying something with our roster of Everest alpinists, big wall first ascentsionists and big mountain skiers. But every story we get from the kayak crew is worthy of a long read and some serious headshaking—this one included. Taking advantage of a free trip to Eddie Bauer HQ, the pair skipped out early and made the absolute most of a free weekend in the Pacific Northwest—ticking off three serious Cascade Classics in a short 72 hours including the South Fork of the Snoqualmie, the top of the Tye and Icicle Creek.
Words by Ben Stookesberry, Video by Chris Korbulic
When Eddie Bauer asked Chris and I to spend a few days working at HQ in Bellevue, Washington, we jumped at the chance. Sure, we were excited to share our latest film from Papua New Guinea, tell them some stories about our epic in Myanmar, and plan for future expeditions, but in truth, we had ulterior motives. And I bet you can guess what those were.
Bellevue lies at the doorstep of some of the most epic kayaking in the U.S., if not the world. And there is no better time than mid-May to see the rivers of the Northwest in all of their grandeur. We ran out of EB HQ at 4 p.m. on a Friday like schoolkids out for the summer. Within an hour, we’re hiking up a crystal-clear creek to a falls I have looked at for years. Wallace Falls State Park is spectacularly beautiful and in close proximity to Seattle. Such proximity means that for the first mile of the trail, we dodge all manner of meandering pedestrians, including a wedding party.
Right as the sun sets, our own party of four, including Chris’s van partner Chelsea and her aptly named dog Peanut, run past magnificent 300+ foot Wallace Falls. A mile further on, we arrive at Upper Wallace Falls. Although merely 150 feet tall, this three-tiered falls is a kayaker’s dream: unrun but potentially runnable. But like the dozen or so other times I’ve visited the falls, I resist the temptation or otherwise lack the courage to descend 80 feet into a pool filled with old-growth logs scattered haphazardly like pick-up sticks.
From there, we spend the next two days focused on simply honing our skills on the classics. First on the list is the Top Tye, a swollen river descending from Stevens Pass through a maze of cascades that require precise boat control. That same afternoon, we continued on Hwy 2 towards Leavenworth and the mighty Tumwater Canyon of the Wenatchee. There we find some of the biggest whitewater found anywhere in the U.S. and decide to bite off just a small chunk of what we call “big time, big river action.”
Our camp above Leavenworth gives us a view of the next morning’s objective, and the main tributary to the Wenatchee called Icicle Creek. But don’t be fooled. In May this creek is a river, and although only a fraction of the size of Tumwater, it packs an aptly named icy punch. By the end of Sunday, we have circled back down to I-80 and the upper reaches of the South Fork of the Snoqualmie. This “Chutes and Ladders”-like descent of class-fantastic fun is the culmination of a weekend that can only be described as exactly what the doctor ordered: training on some of the best whitewater found anywhere.
It’s important to note that between the South Fork of the Snoqualmie and the Top Tye, a full year’s worth of river experiences are hidden in the lovely roadless swath of the Central Cascades between I-80 and Hwy 2. It was an eye-opening experience about the potential of the Northwest and an ulterior motive for justifying our next trip to Eddie Bauer HQ.
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