October 26th, 2011 is certainly a day that will go down in history. After the Blaster in Charge yelled “fire in the hole!” and ignited the charges packed into the bottom of 125′ tall Condit Dam, the White Salmon River was explosively set free for the first time in 100 years. The lake took less than 2 hours to drain, carrying an incredible amount of sediment and debris downstream to the Columbia. Now, a more gradual process begins–the erosion of millions of cubic yards of trapped silt, the return of threatened salmon and ultimately the complete removal of Condit Dam.
The burning question on everyone’s mind now is–what new whitewater do we have to look forward to and when will we be able to paddle it? First, technically, the river will be closed until sometime in the fall of 2012 when the dam is completely gone and the sediment stabilized. Both PacifiCorp (the dam owner) and JR Merit (the contractor removing the dam) are very clear that any attempts to paddle the river before it is officially opened will be dealt with seriously. Secondly, at this time it is physically impossible to paddle any part of this section of the White Salmon. The pool below the dam has filled with sediment and the water level is now above the tunnel. A huge logjam has formed in the canyon just downstream of the dam, making that section impassable. And, of course, taking out just upstream of the dam isn’t really an option because of the massive unstable sediment banks.
But, the prospect for new whitewater looks promising. There is exposed bedrock and gradient, already forming temporary rapids. Conditions are changing extremely quickly as the sediment erodes, so the river looks drastically different from day to day. Regardless of conditions, I certainly won’t be doing any exploration before next fall when the river is opened, but it will definitely be fun to watch the progress.
In the meantime, stay tuned for updates on how the river re-formation process is going. Our two long-term timelapse cameras will be up and running for the next couple of years as the river settles into a channel and the dam is removed. It will definitely be a fun and unique thing to watch! Project website: http://whitesalmontimelapse.wordpress.com/
Also, check out this article on National Geographic news that includes my video from the day.
Special thanks to American Rivers, American Whitewater, Clif Bar and Pro Photo Supply for making this coverage possible!