Brett Barton 23/12/2017 | Posted in Creeking, Internationalisation, rivers, United States, Whitewater, WW Disciplines
The Upper Sultan is a quality class IV+ trib in the Skykomish drainage. This section of river flows through remote canyons with many solid class IV and IV+ drops continuous in nature. The Sultan was originally dammed in 1965 to to supply local communities with water and later added more to the top in 1982, greatly reducing the runnable flow window to 4 days of scheduled releases per year. This section, at one time, was the premier steep creek in the area and the go-to run before Robe was ever considered. After the addition of the Culmback dam in 1982 a new run was sought out, discovering Robe Canyon on the neighboring SF Stilliguamish.
Most releases on this 14 mile stretch happen on a weekend and typically involve an early start, a mile walk down to the river on a great trail, and lots of friends to paddle with. Because of the dam, the riverbed rarely has any flow most of the year, resulting in wood collecting in a number of places during the first half of the run, keeping paddlers cautious and always looking. The wood situation in 2017 wasn’t bad compared to years’ past.
This section, due to its remote nature, length, potential for wood and the years of work American Whitewater has put in with Sno PUD to negotiate these releases… make this special run especially sensitive and recommended to class V paddlers and those making the move into class V paddling, already having good rescue skills and dealing with things in a remote environment. Having someone who knows the run in your group will help. Don’t go in expecting to scout/portage the things you may not like, the run is just too long and fall releases make for short days.
After the diversion dam, halfway through the run, paddlers will arrive at the crux of the run know as the Marsh Creek Landslide. This drop can be manky with lower flows and is short, stout, and typically walked. More rapids follow as the canyon tapers down to class III. Paddlers will know the final canyon is about to begin when the lower powerhouse comes into view. There is a short weir-like structure immediately upstream at the powerhouse that goes good on the left. The last canyon contains mostly III+ and IV rapids with one big, twisting series of drops known as the Last Nasty. The lower left part of Last Nasty contains large rock syphons. Lots of water flushes that way as well, starting right and boofing off the final ledge on the right over a large hole is the way to style it.
It is one of the longer runs in the Puget Sound and takes most of the day. Bring good gear, food, water, and have a blast. Sultan is great!