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I love whitewater kayaking in the Pacific Northwest in January. Why? January usually starts the paddling season for the middle section of the East Fork of the Lewis (EFL) River in Yacolt, Washington at my favorite flows. Due to a huge logjam in the middle of the run, the middle section of the East Fork of the Lewis River from Sunset Falls through Horseshoe Falls had recently been unnavigable for the past couple of years. The logjam cleared last year and the 2023 season started a little early with no blockages and winter rainfall in December. …but I am always be careful to monitor the wood situation before putting our kayaks on the river.

At normal flows, the middle section of the East Fork of the Lewis River from Sunset Falls through Horseshoe Falls is a class III – IV section of whitewater, featuring two approachable waterfalls for whitewater kayakers with appropriate experience. Sunset Falls drops about 18 feet into a large pool and features two primary lines: a middle boof line and a far-left sheer drop. Horseshoe Falls is a 22-foot waterfall and also features two primary lines: a middle auto-boof line and a far-left slot line. Sunset Falls in particular is an amazing waterfall learning area as it is a short walk from a parking lot for a park-n-huck experience and has a trail parallel with the river-right bank. Lapping Sunset Falls is one of my favorite things to do!

I get so much joy from seeing fellow paddlers experience their first waterfall navigation by kayak. The thrill of flying through the air, experiencing freefall, and making contact with a (hopefully) soft pillow of aerated water is unmatched. It involves focus to choose the right route and last paddling stroke, patience to spot the landing and take the last stroke, and body awareness and control to protect your body from the impact. The EFL allows scouting the waterfalls from multiple angles and plenty of time to build up and shake off the jitters. I really appreciate being able to put-in a little while upstream of Sunset Falls to warm up, knock out a few rolls, and get in the groove of paddling my kayak.

The middle section of the East Fork of the Lewis River also features other rapids such as Hippie John’s Boulder Garden, Sky Pilot, Screaming Left, Dragon’s Back, and John’s Swimming Hole. If you’re wondering where the logjam was, it often collects below Dragon’s Back rapid. I find these rapids to be an excellent trainer ground for paddlers with class IV experience and new to creeking. This river helps to train folks to become confident and competent class IV paddlers. The river reminds me a lot of the Tellico River in Tennessee, another gem for learning the art of waterfall kayaking.

I find the Jackson Gnarvana to be an excellent kayak choice for the EFL, and previously found the Nirvana wonderful as well. The Gnarvana’s high bow rocker helps keep the bow dry when boofing Sunset Falls and Horseshoe Falls. It also helps with getting through the sticky holes at Screaming Left and John’s Swimming Hole. If I plug one of these waterfalls or rapids, the volume distribution of the Gnarvana and Nirvana bring me quickly to the surface. I feel safe when paddling these kayaks and that’s one things I really LOVE about all of Jackson Kayaks. They help to keep me safe on the good days and the bad days.

If you’re visiting the Pacific Northwest in January and hear the EFL is flowing, load up a whitewater kayak and head on over if you’ve got the right skillset. The EFL was also known for being one of the race locations for the Northwest Creeking Competition.