Trip Report: Kilchis River, Feb 4, 2021, 6.1 ft on Wilson River at Tillamook

Kilchis - Isn't That a Kayak Run?

Submitted by Tom Riggs

02/04/2021 5 miles upriver to Kilchis River Campground, Wilson at 6.1 ft at Tillamook

When recruiting people for the Kilchis River most didn’t know it was a river and the others that had heard of it asked “Isn’t that a kayak run?”  Well, it is a kayak with an asterisk.  I’m an asterisk type of guy and since I have several gullible friends and family members, I was able to recruit a fleet of three inflatables to explore the depths of the Kilchis Canyon Feb 6.  The weather gods changed their plans from overcast to just plain crap so being from “The Beaver State,” we oiled up our furs, raingear, wetsuits, and drysuits and headed for the put-in that I had scouted the prior week. 

I had run the Kilchis twice during the last century; of course, I was merely a baby re-enacting Moses’ trip when he fled the Egyptians in a reed basket.  That being said, I remembered nothing of my first two ventures down the river and was thrilled to discover Kilchis River Campground was a potential takeout on river right.  Ok, now to find the put in.  My 1998 Word document on the Kilchis would not open so I had to rely on Soggy Sneakers and the notes I had scribbled in the margins to try to gain some perspective of this run. The put-in I found during the scout trip had me pack tire chains, a tow chain, an ax, shovel, and some limb loppers.  The 400 yd road was tilted and muddy and the drop over the bank to the swift current was going to look like something out of an Indiana Jones Movie. I didn’t think I needed to taint my sales pitch to my river draftees with those minor details.  I figured if we got the truck mired in the mud at the put in they’d have no other option than to rig boats and somehow launch. Heh, heh, heh. 

Since we operate on the principle of family first, I recruited my two sons, Kyle and Brian, Brian’s wife Amber, and soon to be a new river pirate, Sawyer, who is due to be born in April.  Oh yeah, I too have friends with bad judgment, Dennis Bradford, who would be in my oar raft and our human probe, Doug Smith, who was considered expendable and ran lead in his IK. 

We met at Kilchis River Campground with plans for some of us to spend the night in a camper and Kyle’s motor home.  The day use fee for the campground is $10/vehicle and gives you access to that drift boat launch point and the two downstream which are managed by Tillamook County.  Strange policies prohibited the RVs from checking into the empty campground prior to 3:30 pm so those vehicles and Doug’s truck paid the day use fee and the dog fee, and the county tax, and probably some other fees to employ accountants to keep track of the fees. 

The six of us piled into my pickup with the two rafts and the IK and headed downstream to cross the bridge to head back upstream on the east side of the river.  Just over the bridge is another drift boat takeout/put-in.  Our destination was to go about 7-8 miles up this road to catch the ugly access road I found the previous week.  The potholes and the rain slowed my driving down enough that I saw a road about 5.5 miles above the takeout that would be worth checking out.  Given the ugly weather and that we would be rigging in the rain, I thought no one would mind if the run were truncated by 1-1/2 miles provided this road held promise.  We walked down the access and it was actually a road with no swamp in the middle and it had a turnaround at the end where boats could be rigged and easily carried to a small rocky beach for launching.  No tire chaining, no pruning, no logging required.  Done. 

We sent Doug out first, followed by the two oar rafts. Within 75 feet we had our first log across the river.  Gulp.  This may be a long day, boys. Fortunately, the right portion of the tree was submerged enough that we could pass over it. Onward. 

The technical nature of this low-volume drainage had us threading the needle, picking the lucky channel when the stream braided, and just plain old scraping our way down the best line we could see.  I know Doug was secretly laughing at the rafts given the skinny nature of his boat.  He pointed out the best channel for us to take when he could see over his horizon line.  

 On a rock.JPGWe were able to road scout a rapid that had what appeared to have three channels and we knew we were approaching it after we passed under the abandoned logging road bridge, followed by a sharp right turn in the river.  From the road the right channel had brush protruding into the entrance and since I had just had my hair done it did not need another combing, so I opted for the middle channel.  Being lazy on the scout has its consequences since I only looked from the cab of the truck and did not get out to survey the scenery closer.  Standing up at the oars on the approach, the middle channel really wasn’t a channel but more of a mild sieve that Dennis and I were able the scout much closer since we rocked up at the precipice.  Brian’s boat was about 100 ft back so I directed him to door number 3, far left. 

freed from the rock.JPGBrian, Kyle, and Amber bumped over some rocks at the entry and slid down the chute with plenty of time to eddy out and taunt Dennis and me as we did a little boat monkey jumping to try to free ourselves.  In the meantime, the cavalry appeared over one of the boulders between door number 2 and number 3. It was Doug with a throw bag.  Dennis thought it would be a good time to crack open a beer since we weren’t going anywhere but it was suggested if we ended up rolling the boat, he might lose the beer.  His argument was “all the more reason to drink up now.”  I couldn’t argue with his logic but he refrained and moved with me to the stern where we tossed our larger throw bag to Captain Doug.  We thought he might be able to pull us over to door number 3 but he yarded us into a more forgiving position in door number 2 and we bumped down.  The river is not pushy and we were able to eddy out below Doug’s boulder and repack our throw bag. 

The canyon narrowed and we passed a few bank fishermen who had walked down paths to ply their luck at landing a steelhead.  It was steelhead weather. After a class three boulder garden we spied a house rock with a log jam piled up on it and the accompanying eddy below it on the right.  From the boater’s perspective there appeared to be a log all the way across the river extending from the house rock, so the two rafts eddied out on river left to walk down and scout the situation.  Doug had eddy hopped in his IK and pointed that the log spanning the river was an illusion as he passed it on the right.  We confirmed that when we walked a little closer.  In fact, there was scads of room to pass by and we did so with flying colors. There was a nice maze of boulders to weave through below, but since the river was not pushy, it was a matter of steering the ships. 

About another mile of the canyon we had another class 3 boulder garden to navigate and were thankful we were rowing instead of paddling.  Democracy gets messy on these types of runs. 

Photos: Resting on the rocks, And we are free! submitted by Tom Riggs

Ahhh, I love the smell of diesel in the morning.  As we came around a bend in the river there was a Toyota truck down near the river and attached to the 10 ft tall root wad was a green tarp with a smoky warming fire for the nearby fishermen.  They probably were giving the fire a diesel assist.  It’s hard to believe anyone could build and maintain a fire in the wet conditions we were enjoying. 

Oh look, this must be the ledge drop Soggy Sneakers referenced.  It was not the one we had scouted from the road.  We scouted this drop from river left and it had a twisty chute in the middle that was the apparent rout for a raft.  I ran first then Brian and it was a fun drop.  Doug’s IK experience had his Spidey Sense tingling and he figured with his skinny boat and the sideways curler at the bottom that his chance for a swim was inversely proportional to his chance of winning a Middle Fork lottery permit. There was a nice little smooth rock path on the left meant for portaging and he took advantage of it.  Had it been a bluebird day he would have run the chute but the appeal of a cold swim on a rainy day just doesn’t fit some people’s idea of fun.  Go figure. 

After the ledge, the canyon opened up a little and we enjoyed the heavily mossed maple trees overhanging the river and the numerous side streams pouring into the gin clear Kilchis. We even saw a steelhead swimming upstream.  We had told one of the fishermen that we would send the fish up to him.  I said “go fish,” so I kept my word. 

As we neared the end of this 2-1/2 hour trip we saw Kilchis River Campground restrooms on the right and a “lovely” waterfall just across from our landing at the day use area. 

Kilchis River Run 

  • Put in 5 miles above Kilchis River Campground 

  • Take out at Kilchis River Campground 

  • Don’t use Google to find the campground. It is wrong 

  • 2-1/2 hour river time 

  • Wilson river at 6.1 ft at Tillamook