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The Gearboat Chronicles

River Reads Book Club: Astoria by Peter Stark

Ever wondered who the town of John Day or the John Day River was named after? Turns out it’s the same guy. Should have given you a spoiler alert there. Sorry.

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Image search for John Day turned this up, so we’re going with it. Widescreen!

Or maybe you’ve wondered while rafting through Hells Canyon on a Winding Waters trip, looking up at all those jaggedy rocks: what would it be like to hike through this country back in November of 1811, not knowing what you were up against? Here’s a spoiler alert: Not good. Not good at all. In fact, it went real, real bad for some trappers and traders that did just that and you can read all about it in ‘Astoria,’ by Peter Stark, our latest volume included here in the Gearboat Chronicles Book Club for rip-roaring river-related reading.

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Here are a few excerpts describing the trek through Hells Canyon country:

“… We could advance only with the greatest difficulty because of the sharp rocks, and the precipices plunge to the very banks of the river …

… as we had nothing more to eat I killed another horse …”

The large party of about 50 people divided themselves up, trying respective lucks on either side of the river. Wasn’t easy going no matter which side you were on. Here’s a snippet from the report of when the two groups regained contact:

“… for three days after that they ate a beaver they’d killed, wild cherries, and old moccasin soles…”

Horse. Moccasin soles. Yikes.

This is a pretty good read, this Astoria book. Especially if Hells Canyon is on your radar or you have an interest in Pacific Northwest goings on. Or goings went, I guess. The author mentions in the Acknowledgments section that the book started by wondering who John Day was, and after looking into it some he turned up an Ahab-esque ship captain, Hawaiians that pull off some amazing rescues, oddball fontierspeople and all manner of olden times history stuff with a healthy dose of voyageurs paddling birch bark canoes and fighting and even some getting along and more than a little dirty dealing and, you know what, at some point – probably the canoes – you just have to write the book. Nice work, Mr. Stark.


Wallowa is running a nice fishy green at the time of this posting. Paul and I got out this morning for a few hours and ol’ Pablo landed a real nice wild hen, pushing the 30-inch mark. I don’t know how hard she was pushing 30, as I witnessed this from across the river. But upper 20s, for sure. Here’s exactly what it looks like when you’re 5 seconds too late getting your phone to camera mode with wet fingers from across the river. Lesson: we’re all about quick release of wild fish here, photos be darned.


6 Ranch has all that nice, newly restored riverway to run a fly through and James Nash is available to show you his home waters. Also check out the full-day guided trip options and overnight expeditions to get out amongst those steelhead.

Here’s one more try at a recent fish picture. If you look close, looks like the fish is peeing from a fin. Huh.


Good day. And have a pleasant tomorrow.