Friday, June 17, 2016

Jarbidge-Bruneau River(s)

I know that in my last post I said that the Owyhee is the most remotest, most beautiful, most awesome river in The World, but I had kinda forgotten that it's sister river system  - the Bruneau  - out to the east, just across the border in Idaho is probably all of the Owyhee and more.  And when we found out that the Jarbidge Mountains (in northern Nevada) still had a couple of feet of snow at 8000 feet and the temps were about to blast into the mid-90's, we knew that the river would again spring to life. Our great friend Andy Windle (of Rio Maranon fame) was going to be in town visiting from New Zealand, so the timing was perfect, and once again we were blasting through the northern Utah/southern Idaho desert with kayaks ready to launch.
the pink line in the lower left

A quick explanation for clarity:  the main drainage is the Bruneau (French for "brown"; it runs pretty dirty in the spring, and was named by French trappers back in the day) and it's two main tributaries are the West Fork of the Bruneau and what you'd think would be the East Fork of the Bruneau, but somehow the East Fork took on its own name of "Jarbidge", which some folks say is Shoshone for "monster" (but I think it's Shoshone for "really striking, deep, and craggy canyon with some sweet class 3-5 rapids and beautiful camps!")  Once the Jarbidge and the West Fork join, the river formally becomes the Bruneau for about 50 miles to where it spills into what's left of the Snake "river" (the Snake is basically a series of reservoirs to feed potatoes destined for McDonalds french fries).  Over the last few years there's been so little snow that none of the drainages have had any water, so it's been quite a while since we were in there.  Some things have changed, others haven't.

The first thing that hasn't changed is that Ed Geiger is still a great shuttle driver.

He only shuttles kayakers ("I just don't like rafters!"), is really flexible (once he drove us all the way into Oregon to run shuttle for us on the Owyhee), isn't in it to make a lot of money and is therefore quite fair in his pricing, has two ridiculously huge dogs:
and his trademark move is to put a styrofoam cooler full of ice and beers in your rig at the takeout!  Ed also is a great guy to have if you don't feel like talking; we got in the car at 8:30am and he very-impressively talked steadily until we hit the put in at 10:30.  He'd make for a good Senate fili-blusterer.  

My engineer brother was fiddling with his boat on the little wood-slatted boat ramp at the put in and apparently it got pretty intense because his leatherman slipped out of his jittery, sweaty hands and fell through the slats into neverneverland!  Andy found some pliers and came over to see if he could help, but apparently that task also made him nervous because he then dropped the pliers down the same crack!  After we finally stopped laughing the boyz got down to business (I had to help them get calm) and both tools were retrieved
I'm not sure how the pliers made it out, but once out he duct-taped sticks to the end of them to reach in and grab the leatherman.  it would be impressive.....if he hadn't dropped them in the first place! 
Our trio was one short of a quattro:  Steve "The Scotsman" Mackay is a newly-annointed airline captain and is suffering the cruel irony of the air business in that a promotion automatically puts you at the bottom of the seniority list of pilots in terms of schedules, so he wasn't there with us.  But while Steve was flying over some godforsaken Midwestern state, his Brand New, Unscratched kayak was about to have a nice time on the rio!
the moment looms
the christening! 
The Jarbidge was high (you can see the willows in the water) but previous experience at slightly-higher levels had shown that for the first few miles if you just stay in the middle of the channel and bomb along  -at about 7mph! - without worrying about the lack of eddies and hope that no trees have fallen across the river you're generally fine.  And so it came to pass. 

The Jarbidge is similar to the Owyhee in that rhyolite  -a close cousin of basalt - is the dominant rock, but the difference is that the canyon is a bit smaller and more intimate, though no less dramatic due to the cool formations.

apparently Utah doesn't have all of the phallic looking rocks....
And it's steeper than the Owyhee, with a ton of great class 3-4 rapids:
Brother Paul keeping it cool in the meat. 
One big change was that in the last couple of years a big rockslide came down and created a dam that flooded/buried an upstream rapid that was pretty fun, but at least it created a class 5+ that's a bit of a skitchy portage on slippery grass:
best not to slip
The river is moving fast enough that doing 75 miles in 3 days is really easy, and despite putting on at noon we went over 20 miles and had plenty of time for a leisurely evening of scrabble and other scintillating carryings-on at a beautiful riverside camp.   

Wally's Wallowy Wiggle (or somesuch) is a rapid that's a bit of a step up from the rest:
Andy acing it
and the thing that keeps a lot of the riffraff away is Jarbidge Falls, a good rompstompin' class 5+ that goes ok at lower flows but is a portage for most at most flows.  I didn't get any pics of that; I was too addled by heat and sweat after the portage and could only think about getting back into the icy river! 

A good multi-day Idaho river wouldn't be such without hot springs, and the Bruneau has two:
it didn't sound that appealing to sit in the 90 degree sun in 100 degree water after creating our own personal sweat lodges on the portage, so we floated on by. 
 When the West Fork comes in (the clear water on the left below) it becomes the Bruneau

It's possible for rafts to access the river here, but apparently the road is full on Class 5; 18 miles of softball/football sized rocks that takes hours to navigate, and virtually everyone I've heard of going in there  has done notable damage to their rigs, so again, a good riffraff keeper-outer.  

The Bruneau's walls are a bit higher here (1000 feet, vs 600 feet of the Jarbidge) making it feel sorta dark and ominous.  But the river mostly just burbles along here, again at a pretty zippy rate at medium flows.  

Our nice beach camp lower right; across from the mouth of Sheep Creek, which is another good adventure as well. 
while the Bruneau isn't the Grand Canyon, Selway, or Middle Fork with amazing hikes, there are a couple of nice side canyons:
Andy and Paul again being reminded about hiking in 90 degree heat in dry suits/tops, running for the shade...
the mouth of the side canyon, looking up the Bruneau canyon
Andy working on his "Bruneau" Steel look:
Since the weather forecast was for 20% chance of showers, we basically didn't bring much in the way of shelter; "hey, it's only 20%".  But the skies - like the rivers - don't really care what you think/want, and we got a pretty healthy thunderstorm.  But - as I mentioned in the post about our Owyhee trip  -there are few things better than a nice overhang at a river camp in the rain:
  In most rivers when the walls rise up it usually means the adrenaline meter will start to rise too, because the channel gets constricted and any drops tend to get emphasized, and there have been many anxious downstream looks by people hoping to see the walls fall away.  The Bruneau is a bit different in that the walled-in gorge section is really mellow, and when the walls fall back.....the river starts to stomp!  Five Mile rapids is....a couple of miles, but it contains the best whitewater on the run - pretty much read-and-run class 3-4 - and seems to go on for....miles.  Hard to get many good pics, but here's Brother Paul taking a pretty good wave hit:
Appropriate caption:  Whee!  
And then the walls really go away and you float back into the bleak floodplain of the Snake and civilization, such as it is, but at least you got this still ringing in your ears....

Thanks again to Brother Paul and Kiwi Andy for being great paddlin' pards, and and - of course - thanks to the Scotsman for allowing Andy to break in that new boat o' yourn!  

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