Olympic Peninsula, WA: Tshletshy Creek


The best journeys
     bring up questions
     we never thought to ask.

           ~ Yvon Chouinard 


 Quinault  Lake

Tshletshy Creek, just saying it is hard enough. I'd read the description in Korb's Olympic Peninsula guidebook for years. Early in my kayaking I thought how insane a trip like this would be. Korb's first trip here must have been terrifying. 1800 cfs pumping through those canyons and rain the whole way...  It would be something to see. As I packed the night before the trip I recalled some of those same things I thought so long ago and the many different rivers I'd paddled since. Things change.

I felt sort-of  alone. It might not be the best word to use, but.. alone.. in a way I haven't felt before. An unknown pressure. A responsibility. A duty even, to go in there and be open to the full experience. To not shy away from anything that may happen. I considered many things. I had to go and be in it, to go to this place and know it. Powerful things can happen on wilderness trips. Maybe that's why I came...

Pristine old growth forests offer nearly continuous views of perfect coniferous harmony. Trees that fell 300 years ago have almost become topsoil and have 250 year old trees growing out of them. Well used game trails and many different fresh animal prints made this trip extra special. There were elk, fox and birds singing the whole way to the river. I want to live HERE!!

Local tribes used Tshletshy as a thoroughfare from the Queets to the Quinault drainages during spring and summer. Gathering mountain blueberries and hunting elk, deer and bear along the way, the natives would migrate higher in the drainage as summer would come on. They carried smoked meats and other goods to trade with the neighboring tribes. The history of the area is quite fascinating and I felt it, being in such an untouched place. Ever feel like places have an energy or presence to them? Tshletshy definitely has personality.

I found it more difficult finding someone to go with me than first imagined. Many phone calls and texts later brought me to the realization I might have to do it alone. I couldn't bear the thought of waiting another year. I thought about that reality and as our cool spring kept the snow pack locked in the mountains I wondered more and more what this trip was really going to be like. There had to be someone interested in doing Tshletshy Creek. It was a backyard epic!! Gentle poking and prodding through the winter and spring revealed a few hearty souls. One by one, as the day we actually had to start carrying the kayaks grew closer, checked themselves off the list. When the day came Ryan Scott was at the take out to set shuttle. I was so stoked I could've carried both boats to the put in!!

critters are about


I will surely visit this place again.

We met up on a Fri, set shuttle, and planned to wake up early Sat morning and start hiking. Sounds great. But, we couldn't wait. After spending the afternoon sweltering in the 85 degree heat assembling our packs, we started hiking around 5pm. Such a liberating feeling, walking away from the van knowing all I need for the next 5 days is strapped to my back!! I had thought about this trip for a long time and here we are, passing the sign to Irely Lake!!!!!!

It was a bit warm with full sun. The views of Lake Quinault were inspirational as we drove up to the put in. The late spring meltoff worked in our favor. We wound up starting our hike at 5 in the afternoon rather than the following morning. Hiking with a loaded boat is WORK, but I had all the time in the world and hopefully enough food for the 3100 feet of elevation gain going up. We camped on the trail and the next morning, hit snow about 2 hours into the hike. A couple patches here and there then, a 6 foot wall of hardpack. Sweet!!

Once we figured out where to walk on the snow it made for a pretty easy ascent. By the time we got to the low saddle there was a good 10 feet of snow. I couldn't believe it! Most of the day was spent walking in the snow. I wore my badass waterproof Asolo Hiking boots, but by the time we got to the low saddle they were soaked, squishy even.

 Night two was spent in a raised tree well that happened to be snow free and just big enough for us to sleep in. Very cool spot. We woke to full sun and snow! The end had to be in sight. And luckily it wasn't too cold because walking on this slope would have sucked with a thin sheet of ice on it.

 A few hours in the snow and a few more in the steezey woods and we were at the river. oh yeah...   We sat down and got ready. The last hour of the hike we picked up the old trail and followed it down to a place where it may have crossed the creek. Geology certainly favored it. We ate some food, sat and enjoyed the place we were in. 19 hours of hiking and 2 nights out. The put in was just one more pristine little area of perfection. I'm gonna have to do another overnighter, this is great!

Ryan scouts a marginal drop in the first canyon

The first had wood issues and some impressive geology. Pray for some flooding up there! Similar results in the Tshlasm. The Best Whitewater in Washington is what it says in the OP guidebook. I was beginning to wonder. 

This trip is an epic. If you like adventure and just being out in the woods this trip is for you. The whitewater is challenging and beautiful The scenery is off the charts. It's an experience like non other. If it calls to you, it's all there. Peak snowmelt on a string of nice days is what you want. Knowing the snowpack is just one of the little details of this trip. We had around 2000 on the Queets gauge, 3 to 4000 would have been nice. In general higher water at the put in is good. If the trend is high and falling that could be just right as the lower canyons have more water in them anyway.

 from the low saddle 
looking NW into Tshletshy basin

 looking down on the low saddle

We camped on a large gravel bar the third night. Had a great fire. Jetboil is a great invention. We finished portaging after we ate breakfast then put in. The final canyons hold the most impressive whitewater of the run. Miles and miles of class IV and V drops mostly of a read and run nature. Such an inspiring place.

We didn't want to get stuck in the last canyon when it got dark so we boogied. Next time I would get through the first three canyons and get through the portages on the gravel bar before the goods and spend a full day picking everything apart in there. 

 final camp

A big thanks goes out to Jon Almquist, Scott Matthews, Gary Korb, Mike Deckert, Mike Hoover, and Kris Wilson for beta and just talking with me about the trip!! Thanks for stopping by and making it through this epic post!! And all 90 pictures. Tshletshy Creek is an epic run.

This pristine watershed is so special
all who pass through it
will be left stunned for weeks afterward.

                          ~  Gary Korb
                                                      author Olympic Peninsula 

Here is a short film of our trip made by Ryan Scott. Amazing journey. Enjoy!!!

Ryan Scott's: Tshletshy Creek