Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Few Interesting Rivers – in different ways.

For the past week Ash and I have been on a little road trip that was precipitated by our niece Brooke’s graduation in Yakima, and we decided to pack way too much stuff in and on top of our car to paddle rivers, shred singletrack, and ski volcanoes in our old home states of Oregon and Washington.    Things were generally looking good weather wise a week or two before we left, with mild weather enabling good corn on the peaks and good flows in the rios, but then a series of storms started rolling in that would provide a bit more challenge to maximizing the Northwest’s goods. 

The elusive Jarbridge/Bruneau river had popped up briefly into floatable flows, just long enough and high enough that it got us excited that we could start our trip with that 3 day deeply-remote wilderness gem.  But the cool weather (and, as it turns out, lack of snow up high) shut that down, so we kept going into Oregon heading for the mighty John Day river. 

Despite the fact that both of us grew up doing rivers in the Northwest within a relative stone’s throw from the John Day and the fact that not only does it have over 280 miles of floatable water (longest undammed river in the West) but also 148 of those miles are designated as “Wild and Scenic” (Utah has exactly… miles of Wild and Scenic river designations) neither of us had done any sections of it, and I had remembered seeing a huge framed photo of the JD canyon in our buddy Paul Ecker’s house that made it look spectactular.  The only problem with the John Day is that it is…..flat.  My “need” to run hard whitewater has been tempered by the fact that I live in the desert, don’t get out much, and therefore any river time is good time, but it’s always fun to at least run some whitewater.  The main John Day simply doesn’t have much beyond moving – barely, that is – water.  We considered the concept of doing what we have done many times in the past:  just do a combination of chasing down good – but short - whitewater runs on different rivers in OR/WA and then interspersing them with fun mountain bike rides and – in this case – charge up Mt Adams, St Helens, Hood, etc for some good spring skis, but the allure of leaving both the car and civilization behind for a few days was quite strong, so we loaded up our boats and headed down for a 2.5 day trip down the 70 miles classic wilderness section of the JD. 

What the John Day lacks in whitewater it makes up for in beauty.  The canyon is pretty much the columnar basalt capital of the world:

And it’s about 2000 feet deep, and that particular section is quite remote.  Despite the fact that we were doing it over Memorial Day weekend, we seemed to be somewhat behind the curve of other floaters, since we saw only one party on the first day and one other party on the second (the third morning we caught up and passed all the rest!).   And the canyon is indeed beautiful:

When we did the random hikes to get up high above the river the views were great:

remember this next time you want to buy balloons for your kid's birthday; we were a LONG ways from anywhere that this may have floated from...

And the river itself was nice:

 This was the last kayaker to dare the treacherous flatwater of the John Day:

and the camping was nice also:

We had met a National Park Ranger who was “checking out the trails” early in the morning in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (there’s a total of a half-mile of trails to oggle at petrified leaves and wood in the place where we stopped; all within sight of the road!) who – when we told him of our plans – asked “so, you guys eat freeze-dried foods?”  Uh…. no.  We bring a bag of wine, a lot of beer:

And some pretty decadent food:
Big Wood Bread Bagels, Chevre, Baba Ghanoush, zuke bread, organic figs.....yep, freeze dried!

While on the river we worked on perfecting a new sport:  whitewater napping:

And our fledgling careers modeling the latest in river fashion:

And Ash crushed me in the Scrabble rubber match to prove once again who is the Scrabble Champ of our piece of our world. 

The Yarrow was in bloom, which is cool (yarrow grows everywhere; from the coasts to the deserts to the mountains; the only plant – as far as I know, which isn’t very far–that is able to do that):

We were glad to be on the river, because even though it was the eastern-Oregon desert it rained quite a bit, and we were imagining that the peaks we wanted to ski were generally getting rained on and/or were pretty whited out.  We were not glad to not having brought a fishing pole along, because it’s small-mouth bass heaven, and though I’m pretty much a non-fisherman, I can do fried bass on a riverside camp! 

After getting off the JD we busted up to Hood River to connect with our buddy Tom Wooding who was only in town for one day, and we were able to shred some classic Hood river and Mt Hood singletrack between rain storms (It’s so nice not to have to worry about the rain/clay thing like we do in SLC; if it’s raining in Oregon….just ride anyway).  Then again faced with a daunting forecast of only rain, we decided the best place to be was on the river, so – after a 25+ year hiatus for both of us – we headed for the Deschutes River.

Long ago when I paddled in Oregon I personally designated the Deschutes a “sacrificial” river.  It’s dam-release, warm, consistent, developed, just enough lame whitewater to be a yee-haw rafting river that’s wildly popular, and  - truth be told, especially after being in the dramatic John Day canyon, not even that pretty.  But it’s as wet as any river around, so down we went to spend another couple of nights on the rio.  We saw LOTS of these guys:

Since it’s pretty famous for big trout, and the camping was decent:

Despite the periodic passing (ie pre-dawn) of this guy:

At one point we were stoked to see this sign giving us the opportunity for a side hike:

But we after going up these nicely developed stairs:

All we saw was this:

Looking for the trail:

Whatever, the Deschutes is lame!   But we made it into a nice time, as always. 

The last river of quick note is the White Salmon.  We didn’t paddle it (a stellar little river but we’ve both done it a zillion times) but it made national news a couple of years ago when the infamous Condit Dam was taken out after a many-year struggle to rid the river of the useless dam.  This used to be Northwestern Lake:

You can see the old concrete boat ramp to the right of the photo

And here’s a better-exposed shot of the river itself:

And now it’s just beautiful free-flowing river down past the old dam site down to the Columbia.  A huge victory for American Whitewater, American Rivers, and all the people who love free flowing rivers, and hopefully a harbinger of similar actions to come (dams have also been taken out on the Penobscot in Maine, the Elwha on the Olympic Peninsula, and the Sandy and Hood rivers across the way in Oregon).  It was super cool to see this and it was inspiring to see how quickly a scrungy little lake became a beautiful river again. 

Last year we had the good fortune to do a middle fork/main salmon trip for over 200 miles of awesome paddling, and that trip was hard to beat.  It was good that we acknowledged that fact, because this time we definitely did NOT beat that!  But we’ve had a fun week on the rios regardless,

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