Thursday, April 29, 2010

Try the Lower Owyhee River - it's special

View from the top of the rim

Whistling Bird Rapids

Wendy had to bundle up on the river

Wendy Eklund warms her feet in a natural hot springs

Wendy Eklund enjoys the blond cliffs

The put-in at Rome, Oregon

Hi all,
At the last minute, we whipped together a small group of six people and two rafts to float the Lower Owyhee River last weekend. I saw a three-day window of 60-degree sunny weather, and we decided to go for it.

One of the big advantages of floating the Lower Owyhee is that you follow a paved road (U.S. 95) to the boat-launch site in Rome, Ore. To float the upper forks of the Owyhee, you have to drive for many miles on unimproved 4WD dirt roads that turn into major quicksand-like gumbo after lots of rain. So we had no worries about being able to reach the river last week, even though it had been wet.

We heard a ton of people were going to be floating the river from our shuttle driver, so we left Boise at 6 a.m. and made it to Rome by 8 a.m. We were blowing up our rafts when some of the people camping at the BLM launch site were just waking up and getting their coffee cranking.

We took three days to float 48 miles to the Birch Creek takeout, upstream of Owyhee Reservoir. At a flow of 3,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), clocking 15 miles a day wasn't too hard. It's far better to take 4 or 5 days for the trip, if you have the time. The river is comparatively wide at 3,000 cfs and most of the rocks are covered. So from a whitewater perspective, it's a pretty easy and mellow level.

The Lower Owyhee has mostly Class 2 rapids, with a few Class 3's and one Class 4, called Montgomery. As Class 4 rapids go, Montgomery is not that hard. You have to pull away from a left-side wall as the current races around a left-hand bend. It's a pretty straight-forward maneuver, compared to Class 4 rapids that require multiple maneuvers around rocks or holes.

We had four major highlights on our trip:
1. Birds of Prey were everywhere! Golden eagles, kestrels, northern harriers, prairie falcons and other hawks were flying around the cliffs, diving toward the water and nesting in the cliffs. Plus, we saw pairs of geese on virtually every corner, some with goslings, a few pairs of mergansers and some mallards.
2. Volcanic rock formations on the Lower Owyhee are spectacular. The types of rock spans from black lava similar to the Jordan Craters, to rhyolite red cliffs, basalt cliffs and many spires, hoodoos and other formations. It's fun to just stare in awe at these features and feel small.
3. Recent rainfall and good snowpack made the desert landscape the deepest shade of green imaginable. We thought we were there almost at the peak. It was just gorgeous in that regard, but very few flowers were popping ... we saw a few groups of yellow arrowleaf balsamroot.
4. Delicious ribs on night #2. My friend Doug Lawrence, who guides part-time on the Grand Canyon and on Idaho rivers, made this incredible dinner with pork ribs on the grill, red potatoes in the Dutch oven, and cole slaw ... in addition to some fine cabernet sauvignon. Oh baby!

On the second night, before dinner, I hiked to the top of the rim, on the nose of a ridge that passed by multiple rock formations without any trouble. And in 30 minutes, I was on top of the world. From that viewpoint, it's amazing how small you can feel, being a tiny little speck amid the giant Owyhee River Plateau.

All I can say is that it's good medicine. And you know, right at that moment, that you're extremely fortunate to experience it.
If you don't have your own raft or kayak, and you'd like to try the Lower Owyhee, please see my earlier post about planning an Owyhee River trip and select an outfitter to take you on the river.

- SS

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Celebrate latest Boise Foothills purchase with an outing in Polecat Gulch in NW Boise

Good views from the trail

Wendy Wilson in Polecat Gulch

(Click on map to enlarge)

It's going to be a freakin' gorgeous weekend, it appears, so many folks will be itching to get outside.

In case you'd like to stay close to home, in between working in the garden or mowing the lawn, consider heading out for a hike, trail run or a mountain bike ride in Polecat Gulch, a relatively new open space reserve and trail system in Northwest Boise.

While you're there, you can ponder that the City of Boise this week announced the purchase of an additional 80 acres of land in Polecat Gulch for $270,000, even though it was appraised at $500K. Check out the article in the Statesman.

Over the last several years, the city has spent more than $2.2 million to purchase 520 acres of land in Polecat Gulch. The area lies in between Cartwright Road and Hill Road near N. Collister Drive. Trails in Polecat are featured in my guidebooks, the Boise Trail Guide and Mountain Biking in Boise.

There are eight miles of trails in Polecat Gulch. It's all singletrack. Several sections that parallel Cartwright Road are sandy, so watch out for that. The Polecat Loop Trail traces the tops of numerous finger ridges as it does a circular tour of the gulch. The Doe Ridge spur trails and Quick Draw Trail add variety. I like to turn on the tunes and just cruise around in there and try different variations.

Overall, it's a 5-mile loop to circumnavigate Polecat Gulch, but by mixing it up, you can add more distance, if you're on a bike. It takes about an hour to do the loop on a mountain bike and a little longer running. Hiking time is two hours.

Check out the map for details and have fun! Watch for wildlife. You'll see red-tailed hawks flying overhead, and if you're lucky, you might see some of the resident deer. This is one area where an albino deer has been seen.


-- SS

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Time to plan a river trip in the Owyhees

Bruneau River canyon

Lower Owyhee. Great campsites!

East Fork of the Owyhee River

Hi all,

April is upon us, and that means it's time to run desert rivers in SW Idaho and eastern Oregon.

I'm talking about the Owyhee River and the Bruneau River -- world-class river canyons that are only several hours from Boise. These are natural freeflowing rivers, so you need to time your trip with the best water flows, which can be anytime from now until late May or early June. It's also nice to time your trip with nice weather.

Here's some video of running the lower Owyhee.

Every year can be tricky because snowpack levels change rapidly during the tumultuous spring weather and runoff. Right now, however, with the resurgence of winter weather in the last few weeks, the Owyhee and Bruneau basins are in the 90 percent range.

No permits are required for either river (except for self-issue BLM permits), so you can just plan your dates and go. Watch the river-flow reports to check on the best flows. In general, the Owyhee is best for rafting and kayaking above 1,500 cfs at Rome, Ore. The Bruneau is best above 1,200 cfs at Bruneau Hot Springs.

For those of you who don't have your own rafting or kayaking equipment, consider going with one of many outfitters who run the Owyhee River. I'd also check on the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association web site for suggestions.

The outfitters who run the Owyhee that I'm familiar with include:

Every outfitter has their particular style of trip. Ask questions about what's important to you -- food, drink, side-hiking, interpretation, putting up your own tent or having them do it for you -- all of these things may be different with each outfitter.

If you're going on your own, pick up a good river map from the BLM office in Boise so you know how to get to the boat-launch site, what kinds of rapids to expect in various river reaches, where to find campsites, etc. River shuttle services can be found here.

The main thing is to get out and experience these stunningly beautiful river canyons right in our backyard. All you have to do is seize the day and do it before the water goes away ....

- SS

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Springtime in the mountains creates the opportunity for outdoor multitasking

In this busy day and age, everyone is into multitasking to get the most out of life. Maybe it's by necessity, maybe it's by choice. But we all do it to some degree.

Have you ever thought about multitasking outdoors?

Back in the day (before kids), I used to try to jam as many outdoor activities into one day as I could. Especially in late March or early April, when Bogus Basin is still open, you can get out and do a few activities before heading up to ski, and then, if you still have some energy, do some more in the late afternoon and evening.

Everyone has different favorite activities and a different quiver of outdoor toys. But the opportunities for multitasking are limited only by your quiver, outdoor skills, energy and fitness level, and your imagination.

Here's what I've done:
  • Get up early.
  • Play a few holes of golf or some tennis with a friend.
  • Head up to Bogus Basin and ski for an hour or so.
  • Go back home. Strap on the kayak on the roof rack or load up the raft and go whitewater boating with a bunch of friends.
  • Go mountain biking when you get back.
  • Cap off the day with a little fishing, backyard badminton or volleyball.
  • And then it's time for BBQ and beer (drinking arm-exercise)

Triathletes do this kind of thing all the time, but they log serious miles in the pool or the lake, and then go biking and running. Adventure racers do that, plus all kinds of other activities for more than 24 hours at a time.

My method can be a little more fun because it's less physically taxing, and more of us mere mortals can do the lower-key types of outdoor sports.

Here's a video called "the Magnificent Seven" from Mitch Knothe, who pulled off seven activities in a single day. Mitch knows how to enjoy life.

Bogus won't be open too much longer, so see if you can pull some friends together for a friendly and fun day of multiple outdoor activities.

Start when you're young and brimming with energy, because it gets harder to do as many activities as you get older. Sad but true!

Frisbee anyone?

- SS