Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Grande Ronde River is a special spring treat

Sweet campsites!

gorgeous canyon

Hi all,

Call us weenies if you want, but we chose to cancel our Selway River permit in early June because of high water, and moved our trip to the Grande Ronde River in NE Oregon. Since we had 6 days carved out for the Selway, we decided to run the full 90 miles of the Grande Ronde, from Minam to Heller Bar, just south of Lewiston.

It turned out to be a fantastic trip. Here's some video. The Grande Ronde is a great choice in the spring because the countryside is soooooooooooooooooooo velvety green and beautiful, the river flows are high enough to cover the rocks and make navigation really easy, and you move fast enough to do the full 90 miles of the Grande Ronde without having to stop and camp in a more developed section of the canyon below Troy.

In terms of difficulty, the Grande Ronde is rated Class 2 - 3, which is pretty low key on the whitewater scale. For our trip at 9,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) of river flow, I would have rated the river Class 2, pretty much the whole way except for the Narrows Rapids on the last day, which is closer to Class 3+. At that flow, we traveled at 7 mph, clocking river miles with ease. Just put the oars under your knees, kick back and sip a beverage while enjoying the scenery and wildlife along the way.

We took three rafts and a double inflatable kayak for 8 people on our trip. It's also possible to canoe the Grande Ronde with experienced paddlers and flotation, and hard-shell kayaks would be fine, except there just aren't that many play wave opportunities.

The primary way most people float the Grande Ronde is to go from the put-in at Minam, northeast of La Grande, and take out at Powatka Bridge, a distance of 39 miles. It's easy to do that over a 3-day trip in the springtime. For the 90-mile trip, it's best to do that in higher water in the spring or it would be a real slog.

From Boise, it takes about 4 hours to get to the put-in -- 3 hours via I-84 to La Grande, and an hour on two-lane paved roads to Minam, a little roadstop next to Minam State Park, a gorgeous place to camp the night before you launch, if you wish.

One of the neatest parts of floating the Grande Ronde is staying in these sweet, grassy riverbank campsites amid ponderosa pine and Douglas fir trees. On night #3 of our trip, we stayed in this spacious campsite that was easily as cool as some of the best camps on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. It had a large grassy meadow, a sandy beach next to the river, a kitchen area in the shade, and a hike up a ridge behind camp that went to the top of the canyon. What more could you want? Well, OK, a hot springs ... but no dice.

For vehicle shuttles, you can sign up at the put-in, and you can buy BLM river maps there as well. It's no farther to the Grande Ronde put-in than it is to drive to Middle Fork. It just happens to be in Oregon!

As the water drops -- it's running at 6,470 this week -- you have to bring your fishing pole. It's a quality trout fishery, and in the fall, it's full-on steelhead fishing similar to the Riggins area in Idaho.

If you don't have your own rafting stuff, there are three outfitters that offer trips on the Grande Ronde: ROW Adventures, Oregon Whitewater Adventures and All Star Rafting and Kayaking. If you have an interest in learning how to row a raft, renting one to float the Grande Ronde would be a great way to break into the sport.

Have fun!

-- SS