Recently some of our Wet Planet family went on a multiday trip down the lower Owyhee river in eastern Oregon. This was our chance to see the river before adding it to the list of runs we do
commercially. Todd Collins, Lance Rief, and myself (Giani Benevento) went with some students from Hood River High School and our good friend “Captain” John from the Idaho based company, Winding Waters.
After a drive across Oregon and a few hours sleep we awoke ready to escape into the dessert canyons for the next four days. With three paddle rafts and two gear boats we set out on about 1000cfs, from what we read in the guide book this is a bit on the low side, definitely getting close to the end of the season for making this run. Our first day was to be mainly flat water with some small canyons but more open then the rest of the run. even in the open areas the views were stunning. there were mud built bird nest on almost every cliff side, there were multiple species of raptors soaring over head, and large brown trout springing out of the water on almost every bend and twist the river made. Just before lunch the wind decided to pick up considerably. The wind was rather amazing. It blew at a constant thirty to forty miles and hour up stream. Some of you may know what it feels like to paddle in conditions like that, for you others lets just say it gets tiresome. So… we made camp a bit early our first day with only making it around eight miles on a sixty-eight mile trip.
The wind continued at camp but we set up our “wing” tarp. It helped to block the wind so dinner could be cooked and we set up our tents in the shelter of some large sage brush. Lance and I showed the students the finer points of bocce ball, had a good dinner of burritos, then called it an early night. The next morning we woke up to sunny skies and no wind. Since we didn’t make it too far our first day we planned on doing some miles on day two. We got to see our first real whitewater of the trip. There were lots of class II and a handful of Class III. It was unbelievable how often the look and feel of the run would change from mile to mile. Around every corner I would have my camera back out and would be snapping of photo after photo remarking on how beautiful every thing was. There were so many different types of bird that I gave up on trying to identify them. The geology kept changing as well. There were basalt cliffs in both black and red, chalk hillsides that were compose of sediments form an ancient lake, and massive rhyolite cliffs. The rapids became more defined as well. We finished our day with short but impressive rapid named Whistling Bird. Part of the large cliff wall had collapsed into the water leaving many large and small caves that the water just happened to push into.
Content with the twenty plus miles we had done that day we camped next to an old creek bed with the sound of Whistling Bird in the back ground. There were some nice side hikes at this camp giving you a view of the river, Iron Point, and the entrance to Green Dragon canyon. When consulting the map that evening we found it funny that the next rapid down the river was called Rock Trap when Whistling Bird look so much like a rapid that would get that name. What’s really funny though is that a river can hear your conversations, so the Owyhee decided it needed to show us how Rock Trap got its name. The next morning, after only a few minutes on the water one of our gear boats got wrapped in Rock Trap rapid. We got to watch as some of our gear and food washed down stream to an awaiting boat. Luckily for us the Wet Planet crew that was on this trip are some of the best when it comes to river rescue, weather its saving people or gear. So after some fancy rope work and some not so fancy muscle work we had our 18ft gear boat off the rock and right side up just in time for some lunch. Tuna salad was on the menu for our noon time meal. Unfortunately it happened to get rather moist from its time in the pinned raft. Quickly tuna salad turned to tuna soup. We fired up the blaster added about five pounds of cheddar to the slurry and served it with bread and salsa. Interesting fact; just about any meal can be saved
if you add enough cheese. With stomachs full and boat upright we ventured into Green Dragon Canyon.
There is no adequate way to describe in words what this canyon was like. I will sum it up by saying it was one of the most amazing and beautiful places I’ve ever been in my life. This canyon alone made the trip worth while. All I kept saying was, “this is unbelievable, this is unbelievable.” Not only was the place magical but there was some decent whitewater in it as well and a strong tale wind. For those of you that have been paddling for a long time its nice to know that there is such a thing as a tale wind. Its not just a myth. Once again the scenery and the river changed. There was more continuous whitewater then before and the canyon opened up into some ranch land. Some of our group stopped at one of the hot springs. I opted for surfing in a ledge just below the spring. It was a great surf spot, near river wide, easy to get into, and easy to stay in even when doing three-sixties. That night we stayed at my favorite camp site of the whole trip, right at the base of the Devil’s Tower. The Tower was a giant columned basalt monolith with an easy hike up the back side. Once on top the wind was epic. It was a constant forty mph breeze that you could lean into at the top of the cliff with your arms extended to give yourself the illusion of flight. Some of us stayed on top untill sunset before hiking down. Once down it was obvious that I couldn’t keep the worry about our motor at bay any longer.
The final twelve miles of the trip are across Owyhee lake. This is complete flat water, so we brought an out board motor with us. the plan was the strap all the boats together and use the motor to get us across the lake. The problem was that the motor had been submerged for two hours on the pinned raft. “Captain” John and Todd work for hours and could not get the engine to turn over. We all went to bed that night knowing that we needed an extremely early start and that there was still a chance that we may have to spend an extra evening on the river.
The next morning was another sunny day. I had breakfast going nice and early. Todd and John were giving our motor another try, hoping beyond hope that it just needed to sit for the evening. Right when I was flipping the first pancake I heard one of the best sounds ever, the engine firing up. The last day was rather nice and relaxing (well at least on the water). There were large white pelicans in the lake and more brown trout jumping then any other day. The scenery never died down, not even on the drive out. the drive home to Husum was eventful in its own way but that’s another whole story.
So what did we learn: We learned that eastern Oregon is one of the most beautiful places in the country, we learned that stern mounted oar rigs would be nice in heavy wind, we learned that bocce ball is still one of the best river side sports, even with out beer, we learned that it would be a lot nicer to do this trip in five days to enjoy some more side hikes and hot springs, we learned that cheese can fix almost anything, we learned that a hard day on the river is still better then an easy day in the real world (I think we already knew this one), we learned that even at low water with things going against us this is a great run, and we learned of a new river system that most of our Wet Planet friend will enjoy.
– Jaco @ 02:33 PM
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