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The Gearboat Chronicles

Why, O Why, Owyhee?

We came. We saw. We paddled and rowed and clawed our way against headwinds. The river dropped, I bounced off some rocks, didn’t bounce so quickly off a few others…really didn’t bounce off one in particular…and I can tell you that floating the Owyhee River between Rome, Oregon and Leslie Gulch is a gorgeous stretch of country. Just beautiful. And four days in that canyon at low water with a big boat provides a brisk workout.

The trip was run by our friends at Wet Planet. The paddle boat crews were students and teachers from the Center for Alternative Learning, a high school program in Hood River. Great kids. If I ever have children I want it to be them.

The Owyhee’s got a short window where it’s runnable. Depends on the water in a given year, but from what I gather you’re looking at late March to maybe early June. Mostly April to May. It’s recommended you have 1,000 cfs, or cubic feet per second, of flow to get down the thing. We had that, and more, before launching, and then she dropped off and by the time we were out of there it was in the 800 cfs range.

I’ve been on low water trips with a heavy boat before, but this was a little different than keeping your eye out for the deepest channel in the Grand Ronde or lower Salmon. I started encountering boulder patches and tight sections on the Owyhee that didn’t show up on the river map. So I had to name them myself. There was, ‘You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me.’ ‘Seriously?’ ‘Where Did That Come From?’ and ‘What the?’ I also changed the name of a few rapids, but the language probably won’t be adopted by whoever’s in charge of naming things, so I’ll keep those to myself.

I was having a time getting that 18-foot boat through some of these spots and started finding rocks with my name on them. Then my social security number, passport and portrait etched into their upstream side. I’d initiate evasive maneuvers and bounce off or spin around, slide against and it wasn’t pretty, but I was getting through.

Enter Rocktrap. It’s a good name. Appropriate. I just couldn’t … seem … to … get … clear of that last rock. Thought a last minute spin move would deliver me on by, but nay.

I didn’t think much of that rock, but the boat seemed to like it and wanted to stay there for a while. So we had a nice team building excersice and pulled it off so we could be on our way.

The Owyhee’s lovely. No question. The landscape looks like a Coyote and Roadrunner cartoon, or the Star Wars scene with the Sand People. I’ll be back, and it’ll be in a smaller boat with more water in the river. See you then, Owyhee.