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