Condit Dam

In the winter of 2007, I was lucky enough to be living in Hood River, Oregon when heavy rainfall brought the rivers of the Columbia River Gorge up to record high levels. One river in particular, the White Salmon in Washington, came to a level high enough for water to spill over the top of Condit Dam.
Condit Dam is a 120 foot tall structure at the bottom of the White Salmon River. The Dam creates Northwestern Lake and has been out of service for many years now. To a kayaker however the dam presents an intriguing obstacle.
Condit Dam falls 35 to 40 feet vertically onto a steep concrete ramp. The ramp which is roughly 30 feet long and dropping at a steep angle then flies immediately off a cascading 50 foot waterfall.
For years kayakers had looked at this drop with and without adequate water and pondered the question, "Is it runnable?" The answer quickly became that yes, it was runnable, but questions still loomed over the safety and success a kayaker would have if they attempted to paddle over the lip.
I personally had scouted the drop many times before the rains of 2007, and was confident it was possible to run the drop successfully. It would be hard to line-up, but if you lined up in the right place and if the transition went smoothly everything should work-out ok. It was imperative to remain balanced over the whole drop, as catching an edge and flipping would prove catastrophic and likely fatal.
After scouting the dam the day before and noticing the river was at a good level I gave the idea of running it good thought over-night.
I consulted with several of Hood River locals and the consensus was varied. Several people were fired up that it would go and wanted to see it done. Others were hesitant and felt the sheer physics might end in a catastrophic crash. Personally, I felt it was good to go. I had been paddling alot and paddling well. I felt I could stay balanced and handle the variables that might occur in a hurry.
I drove to the Dam early on the Morning of December 5, 2007 and scouted it one more time, alone, before I made a decision. The rain was falling gently and it looked like the sun might shine through at some point. The level was still rising and occasionally, a log would float over the lip. I sat and watched several take the plunge and each one seemed to transition well off of the second drop. Eventually, I'd seen enough, and knew I wanted to run the drop.
I called a few close friends and let them know and went to Odell to pick up friend and photographer Lana Young. Lana being a solid boater herself had an idea how I was feeling and kept the conversation light and energetic. She had total confidence in me and helped me stay positive during the 2 hours between the phone calls and finally running the dam.
The word spread like wildfire and by the time I arrived back at the dam, a large percentage of the gorge's kayaking contingent was present. I began my final scout, put my gear on and paddled to the oppostie shore to get a little solitude and focuse in on my line.
From the opposite shore, I could get down next to the transition and see it's angle perfectly. I was encouraged from what I saw but terrified at the sheer size of the drop. It was incredibly tall and I'd be going incredibly fast. I stood at the lip and looked up. Erik Boomer was on my side of the river scrambling to a cliff ledge to get photos. He saw me and gave me a look and a little signal that got me all fired up. He made it look like he thought it'd be a piece of cake, and I knew had he not been suffering from an injury at the time, he likely would be the one getting ready to fire it up.
Boomer had given me the boost I needed and I scouted my line off the lip and got in my boat. I paddled into the lake and looked downstream at the massive horizon line now in front of me. It was impossible to see any markers at the lip and I was completely lost. Finally I was able to establish where I thought was the right spot and I signaled I was going.
I paddled hard for the lip and slowed into a series of 5 smooth but powerful strokes just before going over the lip. I plunged over the lip and quickly fell vertical. I pulled two strokes as I fell off the first vertical drop and and don't remember anything but a bouncy fast white-out after that.
From the photos and video I've seen, I transitioned fully vertically and held my speed over the transition slide and off the final cascade. The final cascade consisted of three big bounces and then I popped out the bottom, in the mist, ecstatic. I pumped my fists, screamed with joy and smiled as big a smile as ever before. I was in a state of total euphoria.

Photos: Lana Young

About 10 feet down the first drop, small yellow speck river right.

Starting the transition