Duncan Creek

The following trip report, map, and photos, were provided Kevin Clark.

Duncan Creek
3B III (?)
Aug 24, 2014

Duncan Creek is another quiet drainage located on the WA side of the Columbia Gorge between Archer and Hamilton Mtn. Between 1000-2000ft elevation Duncan sports several short narrows with many short drops and a number of other water features of interest. This area of Duncan Creek is mostly within Gifford Pinchot National Forest, although the lower section of the creek flows through the "Nellie Corser Unit" - a small area of land administered by the WA Department of Fish & Wildlife. (This area is named for a woman who once homesteaded in this area.) There is also a smattering of private property in the area, so use caution and respect all postings.

In visiting in Aug 2014, we descended Slide Falls (two rappels), and then hiked back down to descend through the Quad Falls narrows and the one below with some six more rappels. We found one doubled 60m rope was adequate for all the drops. Bring plenty of material for rigging anchors (~60ft of webbing). Water flow was low and, while chilly, wetsuits were not necessary. The lower creek is extremely scenic. Long pants recommended as there may be some poison oak on the approach.

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From Portland, cross the Columbia on I-205, then head east on Hwy 14 for ~26mi. On nearing Skamania, turn off left (sharp hairpin left turn) onto the signed Duncan Creek Rd and drive up ~3mi to where the country road ends in a turnaround beneath a powerline. Just before the turnaround the road crosses a bridge over Duncan Creek. One can either park here at the turnaround off the pavement, or continue northeast on the now-gravel Duncan Creek Rd another 0.2mi to the Nellie Corser trailhead on the left. The NC trailhead is minimally signed, room for a couple vehicles, and requires a WA state Discovery Pass.

At the turnaround there used to be direct access to a roadside campsite and, beyond, a trail leading up along the east side of the creek. However, it seems the land immediately adjacent to the road may be private property per a big "No Trespas" spraypainted on a boulder behind the guardrail. So if you're parking at the turnaround, it's probably best to walk up the road the extra 0.2mi to the NC trailhead.

From the Nellie Corser trailhead, follow the trail west over to Duncan Creek through some nice old growth. Watch carefully as you approach the creek for a junction where a trail drops down to the left. (This leads downstream about a quarter-mile to the aforementioned campsite.) Instead go right and follow the trail until it drops down to end at another smaller campsite right on the creek.

The trail appears to end here, but actually doesn't. Instead, cross the creek (easy in low water) and pick up the trail again on the far side. Note there are several user-trails here heading off in different directions. The one you want heads off north almost immediately staying close to the west side of the creek. (Look carefully back across on the east side of the creek just above the crossing to spot the metal remnants of what is probably an old pelton wheel and a metal staircase.) From the crossing, follow the trail about 0.25mi to Quad Falls, or maybe a half-mile up to Slide Falls. The trail continues up past Slide Falls, then climbs steeply up a forested hillside where it used to meet a logging road crossing Duncan Creek just above Railcar Falls. The upper portion of the trail, however, has been obliterated by a recent clearcut.

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Slide Falls is a 200ft long low-angle ramp of bedrock. We followed the trail up the west side, then dropped in above. Probably it's easiest to use 2 x 60m ropes (or equivalent) to descend the whole thing in one go. We did it in two rappels: anchored off a tree on the right near the top for the first half. (This upper section is very low-angle and a surefooted person unconcerned about slipping might be able to walk down this part of it.) We then crossed the slide and rappelled from a not-that-great snag on the left. Retrievable anchors on both. The big show on Slide Falls is down on the bottom left where there's some cool bedrock geology. Slide is particularly impressive to see when Duncan is experiencing high water during the winter.

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After descending Slide, we were feeling the best bits of Duncan were back down at Quad Falls, so we jumped back on the trail and hiked back downstream maybe 0.2mi until we saw a big area of open bedrock in the creek below. Drop down wherever's easiest into the creek. Head downstream for a bit through typical stream-walking terrain and dodging around blowdown as needed until you reach the top of the first drop. This is the beginning of the Quad Falls narrows. Note there are about four rappels ahead, most involving multiple short drops on the creek. Several falls go into very deep potholes requiring swimming. Check the water level before committing to entry; any of the narrows on Duncan could be extremely dangerous in high water. There may also be limited escape opportunities therein.

R1: Anchored off a tree left with a retrievable. Short drop (5ft) to a small ledge, then a larger drop (15ft). Use same anchor to rappel both.

R2: The next drop is a short distance ahead. Anchored off a tree right. Descend two drops on the creek in a single rappel; maybe 35ft in total. First drop goes into a swimmer pothole. May be easiest to disconnect, swim to the edge, re-engage the rappel, then drop down the rest of the way. The second drop goes into another swimmer.

R3: Anchored off a boulder creek-center. About a 15ft drop into a beautiful deep pothole. There is a log leaning against the falls part way down; rappel down to the log, then scootch down left until able to drop into the water below. There was one other floating old growth log in the pothole. Hop the log and swim to the exit which is another 5ft drop. Can use the rope to rappel down both. The lower pool is about waist deep; this is the top of R4. (R3 could be bypassed by climbing up a steep mossy embankment on the left, then down to the tree anchoring R4.)

R4: Climb up to anchor off a tree left. We used a retrievable. Rappel down the left side of the falls; 25ft? This rappel stays mostly out of the water. Pool below is another swimmer, although one can avoid the swim by sticking to the left edge.

Beyond the canyon opens up with some lovely mossy bedrock which makes a good lunch spot. Continue downstream past a number of fun potholes and scrambly spots. There is one literal waterslide into a waist-deep pool. Below are several more big pools - one can either swim or bypass. Keep going until you reach the next obvious rappel.

R5: Anchored off a big rock on the right. Rappel down the right side of the falls; 20ft? On the far side of the pool is a logjam and then another drop; maybe 15ft. We got down this second one by crab-walking down a big mossy old-growth log. This second drop could be rappelled?

Continue downstream a short distance to another 20ft drop. This one had a huge logjam style dam and we were able to downclimb on the right. Could also be rappelled? Can downclimb and drop into the water below, or follow a short ledge and do a mossy downclimb (short low 5th). Keep going to the next obvious drop. This next rappel enters the next short narrows on Duncan.

R6: Drop is maybe a short 8ft into a swimmer, then a second 10ft drop into a not-as-deep pool. Anchored off a couple logs left and rappelled directly over the edge so as to avoid the pool and do both drops in one.

Around the corner just ahead is another short drop (~4ft) into a deep pool. Climb over the boulder left and do a controlled slide into the water below, then swim out of the pool. Ahead, more bedrock and at least one more pool requiring swimming. (Might be possible to find a way around on the right side, but easier just to swim it.) Just ahead the creek passes through a enormous logjam. Look on the right for a user-path climbing up to meet the westside trail above. It was getting late in the afternoon at this point, so we elected to bail out here.

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Further Prospects on Duncan:

1) Head all the way up and check out Railcar Falls? On the west side of the bridge, one can climb down to an up-close viewpoint of the top tier. Railcar is said to descend perhaps 100ft in a series of short cataracts. Very hard to get good photos of the falls. Unclear if this would be worth it or not.

2) Looking at the map, there's appears to be a narrows located between Slide Falls and the top of Quad. There is at least one sizeable water slide visible on the creek from the trail. May be worth investigating to see if there's more going on in there.

3) We exited below the second narrows, tho' it is probably feasible to continue all the way down the creek back to the bridge on Duncan Creek Rd. The lower creek visible from the trail is beautiful with numerous small drops, potholes and interesting features. Not sure there are a lot of big rappels, but it looks like a descent here could be quite fun. There appears to be at least one more short narrows. The lower end of the creek has a number of deep pools and is popular with locals in the summer.