Thursday, March 23, 2017

Seize the day and plan a trip on the Owyhee River! You've got a little over a month to do it!

Wendy and Huck as we leave camp on Sunday morning ... the sun came out a few minutes later ... 
Now we can see some sunshine deep in the Owyhee River Canyon ... 
Caves to explore next to a potential camp site a few miles from the Birch Creek take-out
Hi all,

Spring is finally coming to SW Idaho after such a long winter ... and all of the luscious powder we enjoyed in the mountains is flowing down the mountains and into our favorite rivers. Last weekend, Wendy and I saw a decent weather window opening up last Friday-Sunday, so we seized the day and floated the lower Owyhee River, from Rome to Birch Creek, a 45-mile scenic trip just across the Idaho border in Eastern Oregon.

We had three rafts and six people. It's always cool to float with a small group when you're doing an impromptu trip. That makes the prep so much easier -- especially if you're going with experienced people who have all the necessary gear.

It's a 1.5- to 2-hour drive to the BLM put-in by the Owyhee River bridge on U.S. 95 in Rome. We stopped in Jordan Valley to buy 2017 invasive species permits at the hardware store. That was a smart move because an Oregon State Police officer was checking for them at the put-in ... didn't see anyone from the BLM.

We launched on a sunny day on Friday, with temperatures in the low 70s, and the river was running in excess of 6,000 cubic feet per second -- a sweet, fast flow. The Owyhee already has peaked this year in February, when it rocketed to 20,000+ cfs when we had that big warm up period, and rain on snow. That melted a lot of the low-elevation snow.

Last year, the Owyhee and the Bruneau rivers had a nice long season, but I was busy running off to my son's out-of-state hockey tournaments or work trips. So this year, I was not to be denied! And if you run the Owyhee in March, chances are you might be able to run it again in April or early May!

If you've always thought about running the Owyhee River, this is a great year to do so. The river may be peaking about now, according to the snow survey experts. The Mud Flat Snotel site has melted out, and more than 30 percent of the snow has melted from South Mountain -- those are the typical indicators when the river peaks, according to the experts. But the Owyhee should have boatable flows through April, and possibly early May, depending on how much more precipitation we get, how warm it gets and how fast the river runs off.

Why float the Owyhee? To see and experience the Owyhee Canyonlands, a vast landscape full of hidden caves, slot canyons, big canyons like the Owyhee River, spires, hoodoos and more. The scenery and geology are spectacular ... be sure to bring a book along like "Roadside Geology of Oregon," to learn about the volcanic episodes that dominated the Owyhee region for millions of years, plus the various basalt lava flows and rhyolite lava flows and outcroppings.

And bring your camera and video camera to document your trip.

For me, another key attraction is camping out on the river. It's so easy to haul all of that stuff on your boat, and you can camp in style with the big camp table, Dutch oven meals, lawn chairs, iced coolers full of your favorite drinks, and dry boxes to carry all of your dry goods.

I just love camp fire in the evening on a March river trip ... the regulations are to pack-in your own firewood.
The Rome-to-Birch Creek section is pretty friendly in terms of whitewater ... the rapids are mostly Class 2 and 3 on a scale of 1-6, with 6 being a steep waterfall. Because the river was moving so fast, and bank-full, we made great time on the water, traveling at least 5 mph without even trying to push downriver. With fast pushy water, however, you do need to anticipate your moves well in advance, and sneak the inside corners when you can see hazards on the outside corners when you're approaching rapids. Whistling Bird and Montgomery are typically the biggest rapids on the river, but at 6,000-7,000 cfs, Whistling Bird was super easy, and Montgomery was the typical pull to the right to avoid the wall and hole at the bottom.

The BLM has an excellent map booklet available that provides a mile-by-mile guide to the lower Owyhee River, as well as the other forks of the Owyhee and the Jarbidge-Bruneau. You can find the river map at the BLM State Office on Overland and Vinnell in Boise, or also at Idaho River Sports. I highly recommend it. The map marks all the rapids and the designated campsites.

If you don't have your own river gear, there are a number of outfitters that do Owyhee River trips, including Far & Away Adventures, Barker River Expeditions, Wilderness River Outfitters, and ROW Adventures. All of those outfitters are really solid and put on great trips! Be sure to get in touch and reserve a date before their trips fill up.

For vehicle shuttles, we used Eva Matteri, 541-586-2352. The cost was $160/vehicle. Well worth it!
Notes: In case you missed the Facebook post earlier this week, my blog, Stueby's Outdoor Journal was selected as one of the Top 20 outdoor blogs in the Northwest by the Outdoor Authority. I thought you'd enjoy seeing some of the other blogs mentioned in the top list. They all sound really good. My friend Mike Lanza's The Big Outside always has quality content, featuring world-class trips and a lot of tips about outdoor gear.

Greenbelt underpass closures and flooding closures: If you're been looking for a comprehensive list of Greenbelt closures, the Statesman had a story in today's paper with the latest closures. The river is supposed to go up to 8,000 cfs today ...

Bogus and Brundage winding down: Brundage's last day of operation is Sunday, April 9th, with a pond-skimming event set for April 8th. The last day of operations at Bogus will be Sunday, April 16th. The last opportunity for night skiing is this Saturday. Nordic operations will close following this weekend as well.
- SS

1 comment:

peach said...

We were thinking about doing the Three Forks hike ( the last weekend of April. Do you think the river will be flowing too high to forward at that point?