Whitewater rafting washington oregon husum falls

Husum Falls big whitewater of Oregon Washington is not for the faint of heart

Husum Falls is the big whitewater of Oregon and Washington located at the boarder of the two states on the White Salmon River. The White Salmon flows into the Columbia River just opposite of Hood River, Oregon and was named Canoe Creek by explorers Lewis and Clark. Just a few miles upstream the mouth of the White Salmon River is Husum Falls regarded the highest commercially run waterfall in the United States. It sounds intimidating but it really is not. And while sending it over Husum Falls in a whitewater raft or kayak is a lot of fun and reasonable for many people it certainly is not for everyone. So the question of the daywould be… IS HUSUM FALLS FOR YOU?!

Husum Falls the early years: In our early years of guiding rafting trips on the White Salmon River (early 80s) we would not even consider taking guests over Husum Falls. At that time, we ran stern-mount frames with oars which would be very dangerous in itself and the rafts of those days did not have the more rigid materials that modern rafts have today. The old school rafts had way more flex to them and would fold in half (called “the taco”) going over drops like Husum Falls. However, with the invention of more rigid rafts from companies like SOTAR, drops like Husum Falls started becoming reasonable and success became less about luck and more about good gear and preparation. But is Husum Falls appropriate for you?

My dad, Phil Zoller was the first whitewater rafting guide on the White Salmon River in the early 80s. Check out the oars and metal frame he uses to guide the raft made of very flexible neoprene. This is not great equipment for running huge drops like Husum Falls.

What is your motive? The first consideration for running any big whitewater, Husum Falls or other drops is to consider why you would want to take on such a challenge. My advice is to always “check your ego at the door ”. If ego is your motivation then you just might be taking on a challenge that you should not. A person who is willing to say “not today, I don’t have to run that one” is probably in a good state of mind for decision making when it comes to high adventure sports.

Is your body up for it? When rafting over Husum Falls you will be on the receiving end of high impact. Even when you are locked in with your butt to the floor, two handed hold-on, your back and neck in a neutral position, even then there can be a good deal of strain on your knees, a shoulder, wrist, back and neck. I’m always telling folks that if they have a recent injury or maybe have gone through a recent surgery, that walking around is a very prudent option.

Is your gear ready? Bad gear is entertaining at Husum Falls. You can see it coming on the approach. A cooler in the raft, low air pressure, zero or limited hold on handles/chicken lines. I see this often. The results are mostly embarrassment and the pain of bruised ego. However, there was once when I watch a raft fold in half so bad that the guide taco’d with the raft and slammed his face into a cooler. Why would you take a cooler over the falls? Another time a young man did not hold while the boat also folded in half as did his arm. Can you say snapped ulna and radius? Ouch! Even though I pride myself in careful preparation every single run and I take it very seriously I’ve broken a rib and a thumb on Husum Falls in my 38 years of guiding the White Salmon River.

Can you follow orders? Each river guide may have a different way of communicating how to “hang on – get down” for dropping over Husum Falls. They may have slightly different lines on the approach and speed of approach. Many methods can work out equally well IF everyone in the raft is doing the same thing. If one person does not follow the instructions the same as the others it can be costly. Say one person towards the rear of the raft does not hold on. Pain will be inflicted on those sitting in the front of the raft when that body comes crashing forward into the back of their heads. Working as one is paramount and there should be only one leader calling the shots as well.

The Perfect Line: Everyone wants to run the perfect line over Husum Falls and I’ve got one in which I’ve never flipped the raft, fallen out, or even lost a paddle. It’s called the PORTAGE LINE. Yep, a valid way to negotiate Husum Falls is from dry land walking around it. There should never be any shame in saying “not today” when it comes to big drops. In fact, I’m most impressed when I’ve got a teenager in the raft that decides not to run Husum. It takes more guts to say no than it does to say yes. Sounds like a life metaphor if I ever heard one.

white salmon river washginton whitewater

Some portages are optional and some are mandatory like this one around Steelhead Falls on the Lower Gorge of the White Salmon

Come visit us! Are you traveling through Oregon checking out all the awesome sights like the Oregon coast, the Columbia River Gorge or the most climbed mountain the US, Mt. Hood? Then swing on by just 12 miles north of Hood River, Oregon to the White Salmon River and take a peek at the legendary Husum Falls the big whitewater of Oregon and Washington. Then lets go rafting!

Oregon Whitewater Guide
Mark Zoller has been guiding whitewater rafting trips on the White Salmon and Klickitat Rivers since 1985. He lives in and loves the Columbia River Gorge