Record High-Water Kayak Descent of Pacific Northwest Classic

Kayakers Evan Garcia, Isaac Levinson and Ben Marr recently completed a record high-water descent of Washington’s Little White Salmon River. At more reasonable water flows, the Little White (which feeds the Columbia River Gorge) is one of paddling’s most revered and respected Class V whitewater runs. In the four-mile-stretch, the river drops 850 feet down a mixture of complex, mossy boulder-laden rapids, and large, visually stunning drops, including the oft-photographed 30-foot Spirit Falls (a mini-Niagara version of which you can watch the group scout, and then portage, at 7:42).

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Due to its continuous nature and a “pushy” feel, the Little White has become a proving-grounds destination for elite kayakers like Garcia, Levinson and Marr—all world-class, professional paddlers—to hone their skills for other remote and difficult rivers around the world. The trio made this Jan. 28 record descent with water levels above 5.6 feet brought on by prolonged winter rains, creating flood-like conditions in the tight river channel marked by chaotic features, ledges, waves, and retentive hydraulics. At these flows, an error would be catastrophic. A swim would be long, through cold, violent whitewater, with the potential to be trapped recirculating in a hydraulic, shoved into one of the underwater caves formed in the basalt rock from ancient lava flows, or pinned against the logs that have fallen in the river (such as the one Levinson fights his way around at 1:55).

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Garcia, who just published this edit of the crew’s compiled footage to document the undertaking, comments in the video that he has paddled the Little White Salmon nearly 1,000 times, and still this endeavor personally pushed him to his limits. That’s a big statement for one of kayaking’s preeminent expedition paddlers. Marr’s prior 2017 run at 5.4 feet has long been considered the highest complete descent of the Little White, including Spirit Falls. “When you put in the work and have the confidence,” Levinson said, “it feels really good to do something that requires 100 percent commitment in your skill, knowledge, and physical ability.”

LW high water Isaac Levinson
Levinson’s POV, nearing the end of the white-knuckle Pacific Northwest classic.

— Follow Garcia Levinson, and Marr on Instagram. 

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