Friday 4 June 2010
Scott Haggerty of Port Townsend, Washington drew a permit for the Selway this year, and invited me to join his trip. I was not comfortable with my ability to row the Selway alone, and invited Jiro Yamamoto, an experienced class IV raft guide to join me. We were to launch on Sunday 6 June, but on Wednesday 2 June the flow on the Selway was rising rapidly, and we began to consider our alternatives. The level at put in was 3.5 feet on the gauge the previous weekend, an excellent flow. .By Tuesday The flow was up to 4.2.feet, and Wednesday it was 4.9.feet. The forecast was for increased flow for the next week. Rain showers and 60-70ºF temperatures during the day were expected to melt lots of snow and add to the already high flow. Night time temperatures were expected to be in the mid to high 30s. By Friday we had firmed up our plans to abandon our Selway trip in favor of an Owyhee trip.
Saturday 5 June 2005. Jiro Yamamoto arrived at my house in Vacaville, California shortly before 0800. We wasted little time transferring his gear from his van to my 1961 Jeep Cherokee sport with 260,000 miles on it and heading up highway 80 to Rome, Oregon.. We stopped for gas in Sparks, Nevada, and again at a rest stop just west of Winnemucca, Nevada. Jiro took over the driving responsibility, and drove the rest of the way to Rome, Oregon. It was a beautiful drive. It was cloudy most of the way, but the visibility was good, and Nevada was very green due to the abundant late rain the entire west coast has had this year. We found the rest of our group at the put-in campground on the right bank of the Owyhee just east of Rome. We introduced ourselves to Scott, Jen, Marc, and Joe. I had paddled with Scott on the Rogue and Deschutes last year, but had never met the others before, and all of us were strangers to Jiro. Scott introduced us to Eire. Eire was waiting for some friends to join him for a trip down the Owyhee, but they had not shown us, and he asked if he could join us. We all agreed. Eire had spent much of the winter researching the Owyhee, and was well versed in the geology and history of the area. He had also built a dory of cedar. We rigged the rafts on the launch ramp, and made camp on the bank. Several other groups were there too. One launched about 1800, and planned to make camp a short way down stream. Another was rigging their rafts on the ramp along side our three rafts. I tied the boats to my Jeep before making camp. I put up my tent due to the threat of rain, and we snacked on finger foods for supper, and tasted Joe’s selection of scotches.
Sunday 6 June 2010
I awoke at 0400 PDT to a chorus of birds including quail, chuckar, pheasants, ducks, kill deer, robins, nighthawks, and a wide variety of perching birds. It is still warm. I did not pull my sleeping bag over me until about 0100. Eire was up by 0500 PDT making coffee over a wood fire. I packed my sleeping gear and walked down to the boats. The water level had risen very little over night, and the boats were secure. My Jeep was still out of the water. We had about 1700 cfs, a very adequate flow, but we were hoping it did not drop. The sunrise was beautiful. The rest of the crew got up about 0600 PDT. Jen made oatmeal with raisins and almonds and served with fresh oranges and grapefruit. We took our time breaking camp and loading the boats. Ken Haylett, our shuttle driver, arrived about 0900 MDT. One of his shuttle drivers was upset that none of the vehicles were ready to go, and the delay was causing him to miss a NASCAR race he wanted to watch on television. We launched and were headed down river about 1040 MDT. Scott rowed his cataraft, Marc his large 18’, raft, and I my 13.5’ raft. Jen, Jiro, and Joe were in kayaks. The first 5 miles of river were very flat, the river meandering through farm land. We stopped for lunch at 1200 MDT on a sand bar on river left, and were back on the river by 1300. Shortly after lunch we entered a deep canyon and ran several interesting class II rapids with some surf waves. Eire found some rocks on the right at Bull’s Eye. We stopped at a sandy beach on the right bank at 1430. We drank a beer while setting up the kitchen, our tents and my gravity filter. The muddy Owyhee water soon clogged the ceramic filter which filters only about a liter every 20 or 30 minutes under the best of conditions, so we abandoned trying to use it until we found some clear water in a side creek. Several of us went for a hike up the lava slope behind camp. We saw lots of wildflowers, a cottontail rabbit, and deer and elk sign. Scott and Jen barbecued salmon and served it with wild rice with lots of vegetables in it. I washed dishes and broke out my port and chocolate. I was asleep well before dark.
Monday 7 June, 2010
I slept soundly until 0615. Cody and Smokey were already quarreling, and Eire was trying to quiet them. I quickly packed my gear before breakfast I drank coffee and wrote some in my journal while Jen and Scott scrambled eggs with vegetables and cooked sausage. We launched at 1040 MDT, and stopped for lunch at 1215. We went for a short hike through the eroded volcanic landscape, and were on the river again by 1300. We made camp at 1500 just downstream from an unnamed hot spring on the left bank. There is a very wide surf wave next to the hot spring. After setting up the kitchen, groover, and wash station, we sat down with a beer and reviewed the guide books Scott had brought along. I carried Joe’s RPM up to the wave thinking I would surf a bit, but got into the hot spring for a soak before beginning supper. The water was quite hot, so I didn’t stay in it for long. I went for a swim in the river to wash off the hot spring algae before putting my clothes back on, and hiking back to camp through a field of mariposa lilies. Jiro and I lit some briquettes in the fire pan thinking we would cook two tri tip roasts and some vegetables on the coals. It was quite windy and we couldn’t get anything hot enough to cook on the coals. Marc saved us by recommending that we stur fry the vegetables (broccoli, sweet pepers, zucchini, onions, garlic, and cauliflower) on the stove, and put the tri tip roasts in the Dutch oven. Using those techniques we soon had supper ready to eat. We quickly washed dishes and hiked to a nearby ridge to the west where we watched the sun set and looked at trails people have used for millennia to cross the Owyhee canyon. I was asleep by 2200. The only star out was Venus. Since the sky was clear, I didn’t put my tent up this evening. I slept under the stars on my tarp.
Tuesday 8 June 2010
I woke up at 0300. I saw the big dipper, little dipper, the dragon, Arcturus, Cassiopia, Cephus, Cygnus, Lyra, Aguila, and scorpio. The sky was light in the east and the moon rose over the eastern rim of the Owyhee River valley about 0400 just before sunrise. I went back to sleep at 0430 and slept until almost 0700. The clear sky allowed the heat to radiate to the sky and the temperature to drop well below the dew point. My tarp and sleeping bag was very wet. I left it out to dry in the sun before packing it. I made some very strong coffee, and Jiro made oatmeal with chucks of apples, raisins, and almonds. We took our time loading the rafts, and started down river about 1100. I paddled Joe’s purple RPM Max today, and Jiro rowed my raft. I caught some good surf waves. There was one large glassy wave I was able to get back to a couple of times. We skipped lunch, and took a long hike through a badlands like landscape to a dome of bare rock from which we had great views of the surrounding landscape, and the river. We caught up with Eire at Whistling Bird rapid. He had thought we were ahead of him and had been rowing like mad to catch up with the rest of us. He rowed so hard he tore the oar locks out of the cedar. Marc helped Eire make a makeshift repair and we scouted Whistling Bird before heading downstream. Whistling Bird rapid was created when a large slab of rock broke off the cliff on the right side of the river and slid into the river still leaning against the right cliff. The main current piles directly into the rock with some water going both sides of the rock, but most to the left. It looks like it would be very bad for anyone going right of the rock. The kayakers went first. I eddy hopped behind the rocks on river left staying far away from the center of the current. Jen went almost directly into the center rock, but was pushed left off the pillow. Joe was rowing Scott’s cataraft, and he got a very good look at the rock and pillow of water just upstream of it. Eire’s dory seemed to want to go left in spite of the fact that he could not row hard without pulling the oar locks off his boat. We made camp on river left a short distance below Whistling Bird. I set up the groover near a dry creek just downstream of our camp, and decided to sleep under the stars again. We visited and drank Mike’s Lemonaid with my El Patron Añejo tequila. Toley lightly grabbed my hand in her mouth as I passed her. It scared me and I slapped her in the face. Jen gave me some treats to feed Toley, and Eire gave me some meat. I fed her, but she was not convinced that I was a good guy and continued to growl at me from time to time for the rest of the trip, and at other times came to me to let me pet her. It was a confusing mixture of behaviors. We had jambalaya with beans and rice and all kinds of vegetables for supper. The wind was at our back the first day on the river, but has been in our face much of the time since then. It was sunny most of the day today, but the cloud cover increased late in the day to nearly 100% by 1900. The water is warm, probably in the mid 60s F, and the air temperature is warm as well, probably in the 80sF. We are wearing shorts and short sleeve shirts in camp in spite of the wind. I wear a fleece vest or a second shirt in the mornings. My legs got a bit too much sun the first day rowing, so I have been wearing long pants except when in the kayak. We went for a short hike up a butte after supper, and sipped whiskey and El Patron Añejo tequila while visiting after returning from our hike. Scott and Jen played cribbage.
Wednesday 9 June 2010
I woke up at 0500, packed, made coffee, better than yesterday’s, and took pictures of myself before sunrise. Just before 0700 Marc added some eggs to the left over jambalaya, and served it with sausage, apples, grapefruit and oranges for breakfast. We were on the river by 0930. Marc, Scott, and I rowed rafts today, and Jen Joe, and Jiro paddled kayaks. We went through a beautiful volcanic gorge with some very nice rapids this morning. Jen swam after lunch, and we passed some cabins and another hot spring early in the afternoon. I got behind and while trying to catch up rowed my raft hard upon a wash rock. I was able to free it in a few minutes by using an oar as a pole and rocking the raft. We filled our water containers at a clear creek below a waterfall, and filtered it later in camp. We hung the gravity filter from a tripod of oars, and it worked well. All but Marc went for an extensive three hour hike to an arch, cave and the ridge behind camp. Eire was in the lead most of the way with Scott close behind. I ran sweep, and fell out of sight behind the rest when I stopped to pee and take pictures of wildflowers. I continued up a drainage while the others climbed down a steep volcanic talus slope. I caused them a great deal of concern when they could not find me. I eventually came into view as I came out from behind a hill that was between us. We were able to work our way down a drainage and back to camp. Marc had cooked another of his great Dutch oven meals, this time an enchilada pie with carrots and broccoli. I helped Joe and Jiro with the dishes, and then wrote and sipped tequila.
Thursday 10 June 2010
I woke up at 0400. It was beginning to drizzle. I thought that it wouldn’t really rain and decided to not get up to put up my tent or even pull a tarp over me. Then I noticed that Jiro and Eiro were putting up their tents so I decided to do the same. I had the tent up and was in it by 0415. It started to really rain about 0435. At 0500 I thought I heard someone start the stove, so I packed my sleeping bag and pad, got up, and found that Scott and Jen had rigged a tarp over the kitchen table and ice chest and were sleeping under the tarp with Toley. Scott told me to go ahead and make coffee, so I put water on to boil for coffee and oatmeal about 0545. Everyone was up by 0630 and we were on the river by 0800. It continued raining off and on most of the day with some thunder. There were no rapids to speak of and we rowed hard all day. We stopped at some hot springs shortly after getting to Owyhee Reservoir. It was the most developed hot spring on the river. There was a pool made of concrete and rockwith a valve to control water flowing into the pool and a drain plug so the pool is always clean and free of the blue green algae usually associated with hot springs. The water at the spring is scalding, but the pool is about 20 m down stream of the spring so the temperature at the pool is about 105ºF. There is a beautiful view of the river upstream. A fellow from Truckee joined us for a while. After a short soak in the pool I rowed shirtless until a thunderstorm overtook us and the air temperature dropped about 20ºF. Then I put on a Capilene shirt, a Smartwool shirt, my dry top and rain pants. We got to Leslie Gulch take-out about 1430 and had the rafts derigged, loaded on our vehicles and were in camp by 1700. Joe and I hauled Eire’s gear to camp. The campground has covered picnic tables, clean pit toilets, garbage pickup, beautiful views, and is free. There is no water. We put up tents between thunder showers. Marc, Scott, and Jen started cooking another one pot meal in Marc’s Dutch oven. While Joe drove to Jordan Valley to make a phone call. He left the back door to his truck open and lost some gear, but some people brought it to camp looking for the owner. I think Joe recovered all the gear that fell out of his truck. After supper Marc made apple crisp in his Dutch oven.
Friday 11 June 2010
I woke up at 0400. The sky was full of stars. The clouds were all gone, but it was cold and dew covered everything. I went back to sleep until 0630. Scott, Jen, and Eire were all up. Scott and I made coffee with water from my water bottles. Jiro and Marc made oatmeal. After breakfast we loaded up our gear and were headed up Leslie Gulch by 1000. We tentatively agreed to plan a self supported kayak trip on one of the upper runs on the Owyhee River next year. Jiro and I got fuel in Jordan Valley, and stopped at Rome about 1130 for a huckleberry ice cream cone. I drove to Winnemucca where we took on more fuel. We stopped again at the Thunder Mountain Monument near Imlay, Nevada. It is a very interesting place worth a visit if you happen to be traveling I 80 through Nevada. We had a great supper at the Isan Thai restaurant in Sparks, Nevada, and arrived at my house in Vacaville about 2230. Jiro spent the night and had breakfast at my house before driving home Saturday morning. I have posted more photos of this whitewater expedition down the lower Owyhee River from Rome to Leslie Gulch at Picasa.
Saturday 12 June 2010
I check the Owyhee flows after I got home and found that the flow increased from 1700 cfs to 2100 cfs just hours after we put-on at Rome. and were within 100 cfs of 2000 cfs for most of of our trip. The flow dropped back to 1600 cfs the last day when we had to row across flat water to the take-out at Leslie Gulch.