Last winter Ryan, Mike, Haruka and I finally met up for a canyoneering trip we’ve been dreaming of for a few years. The four of us have run several canyons together in the Pacific Northwest, but this was one really special for several reasons. First, it’s a really unique canyon and waterfall that terminates right in the Columbia River which is one of the largest rivers in the US and is the border between Washington and Oregon. Second, we'd made plans to do this canyon at least three times but every time we got shut down by weather issues. Third, it has never been done before, so heading into the unknown for a first descent is always exciting. 

Cape Horn waterfalls

We had the route pretty much planned out; you can see the waterfall from the Oregon side and we had been there before from previous trips that fell through. We also scouted what we could from topo maps and Goggle Earth satellite imagery. So we knew what we needed to head down the canyon.

Cape Horn trail topo map

The day started with our group meeting at the Cape Horn parking lot at 8am and sorting out our gear. We needed several ropes, climbing harnesses, webbing, carabiners, belay devices, helmets, life jackets, dry suits, paddles and of course packrafts.

canyoneering gear and packrafts

After packing everything into our backpacks we started hiking down to the top of the canyon. After 15 minutes we got to top of the first waterfall, a two tier drop about 50 feet tall. We used a tree as anchor to rappel off of and headed down.

 Rappelling a waterfall

Then we scrambled down the canyon for another 15 minutes and got to the top of the next waterfall. The top was very overgrown and we had to rappel down through some bushes but once we got past that, it was an amazing 150 foot rappel right next to the waterfall.

Rappelling a waterfall with a packraft 

After the second rappel we walked down to the lip of the next massive cliff face. We hung out here for about 30 minutes eating lunch and taking in the views of the Columbia River.

views of the Columbia river from cape horn

 Right as we rigged up another anchor on a small tree, it started lightly snowing on us. We made the decision as a team to push on instead of bailing out mid canyon.

Setting up the rappel with a tree anchor

We could see a small beach at the bottom so we decided to keep the packrafts rolled up on our packs instead of inflating them and letting them hang off our harnesses. 

Heading down the rappel from the top

We rappelled down one by one right into the flow of a massive 230 foot waterfall.

Rapelling the waterfall right in the flow gopro cape horn falls canyoneering

When we all got to the base, we pulled the ropes down, packed them up and started inflating our packrafts.

Pulling the rope at the bottom of the waterfall

Since it was pretty cold and lightly snowing, we decided to just paddle out to our take out instead of hanging out and exploring the river for a little bit. We paddled upstream around the cliff faces jutting into the water. We got the the take out about 1/4 mile away, got out of our boats, and packed everything up. It was still chilly and wet so we decided to keep our drysuits on, which ended up being really hot and clammy but the right choice to stay dry and warm.

Packrafting the Columbia River

Overall this was a really fun, fairly straightforward canyon. There are a few exit points along the way making escapes easy if necessary. It's always so fun to be able to mix two of your favorite things and access new remote places where no one has gone before. To learn more about this canyon check out Rope Wiki or email us!

August 31, 2023 — Tristan Burnham