Earlier this month Paul Clark and I returned from the first ever self supported stand up paddle trip through the wild Owyhee Canyon. Nine days and 154 hard earned miles beginning at the Duck Valley Indian Reservation on the Idaho and Nevada border, and ending in Rome, Oregon.
Paul has made a niche and specialized in long distance multi day expeditions utilizing numerous types of water craft and within the last few years stand up paddleboards. I on the other hand had never done an expedition of this nature.. ever. So i really wasn't sure what exactly i was getting myself into. Turned out i was getting into one of the most challenging mental and physical tests i've had. Pretty rad. The canyon itself was incredible. Through the miles the face and temperament of the canyon and the river changed dramatically. Breathing and contracting. When jets would sore high above the canyon the sound would echo like thunder, rattling around the canyon walls like it was growling at us. That place felt like one of the most alive places i've been. Truly awake if you will. And in the first couple days we were on it, it really didn't seem to want us there. But after a couple days of beating us up it seemed to relax a little. Until it started beating us up again.. But the strain and the rewards on this trip certainly woke up a part of me that i'd like to indulge again and continue to explore what's possible with trips like this. So tough, so fun. And it presented an opportunity for me to learn a whole lot about myself, and how i deal with things whether they be stressful or beneficial. Being out that long with nothing but your thoughts and time to contemplate is a pretty amazing feeling. But here's a few pieces of the trip to give a bit of an idea of how it was. We still have plenty more photos, vids, and journal entries from the trip which will see the light soon. Check it out.
Below: From the get go it wasn't easy. To get to the mouth of the Canyon we were lucky enough to have a mile or so hike through a cow pasture with literal.. uh.. Sh*t rivers running through it.. Whatever, it's an adventure. But apparently stand up paddle boards work as great bridges.. which worked out great.
Below: At this moment we were six miles into the canyon. And we thought the trip was over. Due to the extremely narrow and technical nature of the top sections of the river getting the boards or our bodies pinned on rocks was a real hazard. Demonstrated flawlessly by Paul here. ;) Fortunately we were able to wiggle the board out after about two hours of trying different angles, thinking it was a lost cause, and planning our escape route. That hike out would have sucked.. Dodged a bullet on that one! But even though we were able to proceed everything within Paul's dry bags was absolutely soaked. And it was not warm outside. A chilly start to a chilly trip.
Below: Pardon the language. The stoke was real.
Below: Pipeline, Class IV. Aesthetically this was by far my favorite rapid of the trip. Super narrow entry into a perfect little pool drop. I could've run this thing all day. If only it didn't take so many miles and bruises to get access to it..
Below: Paul cruising the middle section of one of the hundred unnamed Class III rapids we stumbled upon.
Below: Huge caves were all over along the sides of the river. We checked a few of them out, and fortunately didn't find a mountain lion or anything hanging out in them. (We saw a number of cougar tracks and even a pool of blood while we were out there. Somebody's watchin youuuu.)
Below: The entrance rapid to Widowmaker Class V. The Widowmaker is the crown jewel of the Owyhee for obvious reasons. It's big, burly, technical, and scary. With the water levels during our trip being on the low end of what the river ideally is Widowmaker was just a choker waiting to gobble someone up. So much to our dismay, mixed with a touch of relief, we had to portage around it. Next time.
Below: Portaging was a very common theme throughout the trip due to the water level making some of the squeezes between the boulders far too thin to make. Some of the portages were pretty hairy, either involving us hiking along steep slippery hillsides or maneuvering through massive boulder fields. It was always interesting. Especially carrying around an 11' foot board and dry bags through all that.
Below: So the day before the below pictures were taken was the most agonizing day of the trip for me. The amount of calories i brought with me compared to the amount of exertion we were outputting wasn't enough. That paired with freezing air temps and 40-50mph gusts of headwind literally blowing us back upstream made for a day where i could not stop yelling every curse word i've ever heard straight at the sky. My throat was raw. My mind, my body, were exhausted. I wasn't thinking straight and sure enough as it always seems to happen in those situations. Something went wrong. A gust of wind flipped my board sending me hurling into the frigid water. And what i realized at that moment.. My drysuit chest zipper was unzipped. The second i hit the water my breath was instantly taken and the legs of my drysuit filled with water. I started sinking. I grappled and weezed my way back onto the board, thankfully the dry bags on the front gave enough counterweight against the however many pounds of water now in my suit to keep my head above water and somehow get back on the board. And all i can do once i'm back on the board... Is start to scream. But all i scream is "YES. YES. YES." Because honestly that feeling is the feeling i've been searching for my whole life. It was absolute perfection. Shaking from the cold, wind beaten lips, and bleeding hands in the middle of nowhere. I fell in love. But the reality of the situation set in pretty quickly and i realized i needed to move. So i paddled as hard as i could with the singular thought on my mind being the hot springs that we knew were between 1-5 miles away from the point i was at. So i paddled. And paddled. And eventually caught up with Paul who was a little ways ahead of me. And we kept paddling. And paddling. At this point my body is cramping, i'm soaking wet and just getting colder. So we pulled off and didn't make it to the hot springs.. And i eventually got warm with Paul's help of bringing me a new batch of hot water every few minutes and stuffing myself inside a sleeping bag. So everything worked out. But the next day the hot springs were every bit as magical as i had imagined. Yew!
Below: Here's a clip that Paul put together with some POV from my GoPro and a couple killer still photos he took. More cool stuff to come! And be sure to check out the rest of Paul's clips on his Vimeo and Youtube channels.