Thursday, April 25, 2019

Try floating the Owyhee River with friends or an outfitter - it's spectacular!

My son Drew is ready to roll at the Rome put-in for the Lower Owyhee River.
Bonnie, Rico, Kelley and Lawrence enjoy hanging out in camp on the afternoon of Day 3, below Montgomery Rapids.
Spectacular spot for our camp on night 3.
Hi all,

I managed to get out of town last weekend for a 4-day trip on the Lower Owyhee River. We launched on the warmest day of the year last Friday, when the mercury hit 80 degrees, and amazingly enough, there were a ton of parties launching on the river as well! Imagine that!
Because of deep snow in the Owyhee and Jarbidge-Bruneau river basins last winter, this spring offers a rare, and great chance to float those rivers when the water is high enough to go (April - June). If you don't have your own raft and whitewater gear, consider going with an outfitter. I'd recommend Far & Away Adventures, Wilderness River Outfitters, Barker River Expeditions, and ROW Adventures. Please see press release that I wrote for the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association.
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.

Dad and Drew are bundled up on the morning of Day 3.
We took four days to float 48 miles to the Birch Creek takeout, upstream of Owyhee Reservoir. At a flow of 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), it should have been quite easy to make our river miles. But that isn't how things turned out. After a beautiful, warm and tranquil day on Day 1, we had driving rain, headwinds, thunder and lightning on Day 2. High temperatures were probably in the 40s. Then we had big headwinds on Day 3, but luckily, the skies were clear -- just a cutting Northwest wind. Good thing we came ready to dress very warm!

At 4,000 cfs, the river is comparatively wide and most of the rocks are covered. So from a whitewater perspective, it's a pretty easy and mellow level with good current and fun waves.

The Lower Owyhee has mostly Class 2 rapids, with a few Class 3's and one Class 4, called Montgomery. I would rate that Class 3+ personally. 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 basalt 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 must have caught the green-up at its peak. But the flowers were just starting to pop because it's been such a late spring. 
4. Camping out, campfires, S'mores, great meals and great people. I love camping out in general, and we brought a bunch of firewood for a campfire every night in my fire pan. For the night I cooked, I brought all of the key ingredients for S'mores, and everyone really enjoyed that. I got to bring my son, Drew, along for the trip, and he's really turning into an excellent river camper. Great bonding time for Dad and Drew.

Cool nooks and crannies to explore.
If you go, make sure you have enough time to do some side-hiking. The area around Pruitt's Castle is a great place to hike, Hike-out camp is another sweet hiking spot early in the trip, and below Whistling Bird Rapids, there's a sweet campsite with a way to hike to the top of the rim and enjoy big views of the canyon. 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 getting away on an Owyhee, Bruneau or Jarbidge-Bruneau trip is good medicine for the soul. And you know, right at that moment, that you're extremely fortunate to experience it.
A few notes on happenings this weekend:
  • Idaho Whitewater Association used equipment sale 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday at Cascade River Gear.  
  • Sheep in the Foothills - A band of sheep is moving through the Boise Foothills as we speak for the next week or so. Watch the Life on the Range Facebook page or Ridge to Rivers Facebook page for sheep locations. 
The sheep were north of the Corrals Trailhead and Miller Gulch Trailhead on Wednesday, April 24.

- SS

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