Packrafting the Donner und Blitzen

June 13, 2022 – 650cfs and dropping.

This is my favorite river I’ve ever paddled in Oregon. Ok, it’s the only river I’ve ever paddled, and by some crazy stroke of luck my first weekend after moving to Central Oregon coincided with a massive rainfall even that peaked at 1150cfs on the Donner und Blitzen. By the time we rallied and put in the next morning, flows were 650cfs, and dropping. 650 seemed like a super fun level, I’m not sure you’d want it much lower.

The description in Soggy Sneakers is pretty much spot on. The run has three sections – the first is from the put in to the confluence with the Little Blitzen. The river is skinny and there is plenty of wood to keep you on your game. At river mile 2.4 is “Sharp Bend” rapid, probably the sharpest drop on the river. It’s pretty tight and rocky, and I took my first ever swim in Oregon. With scouting and wood issues, the first 4 miles took us a couple hours.

The next section is from the confluence of Little Blitzen to Fish Creek, and this is primarily class III (maybe III+) fast moving creek-style paddling. I haven’t spent a lot of time in such small rivers with gradient, so I felt like I had to be head’s up non-stop. This section probably has 8 or 10 high quality rapids, but they are slightly more pool drop than the first section, so there are chances to catch eddies.

The last section is from Fish to the takeout. It’s much more mellow, but equally as scenic. At the takeout there is a fence/rope across the river, and the river is pretty channelized. Our group hiked up river a few hundred yards and put some flagging to mark the exit, and take out where the current is easier.

All in all, an amazing run in a super cool basalt gorge that is rarely run. We lucked out on a massive rain event, and there was still snow up on Steens so the soil was saturated. Within 24 hours flows were below 400 again. On the USGS site, it says the gage will be retired this year due to funding issues. If that happens, I can’t see how it would be possible to accurately catch the already tiny window to float this amazing river.

Gage station as of June 2022: