This past weekend we were invited to go rafting on the lower section of the Owyhee River in southeast Oregon. We’d never done the stretch, but had heard of it and knew it was supposed to be quite beautiful.
It’s 48 miles of class II-IV water (classes vary greatly depending on the level). Typically it’s a spring-runnable river, as the levels become far too low to run it in the summer and fall. With the spectacular winter runoff, the levels were ideal, so it was a perfect time to go paddle it.
Christian and I paddled our little Hyside Mini Max (we were the ONLY paddle boat that we saw on the river…everyone else was rowing and we saw a few commercial trips that had some inflatable kayaks along). Gracie came with, which added an extra level of difficulty to what would normally be a very straightforward section of river.
Other folks along for the trip were our friend/neighbor Colin in his 14 ft boat, George in a cataraft and Dave in his amazingly retro hard-sided Infinicat. The first few miles were flat, meandering through farmland with lots of grassy side channels. We took one of these channels and happened upon a goose nest. A very angry goose greeted us, flying aggressively towards the boat while honking loudly. This startled an already trepidatious Gracie, who backed right off the boat into the water. Christian pulled her back in before she even had a chance to think about paddling, but it was clear she’d been scarred and spent most of the first day trying her darndest to avoid another encounter with the water.
We think we paddled about 16 miles the first day, prioritizing getting a campsite, as the river was absolutely packed. Once we stopped and made camp, we counted 58 boats come by us that night.
By the second day, Gracie was getting her water legs and found that she really enjoyed hopping onto the other boats to say hi. She’d never stay with them long though, whining and worrying as soon as we paddled too far away for her to jump back in with us. When going through any splashy water or rapid, we’d tell her to get into the back of the boat and lay down. At first we’d forcibly put her there and hold onto her if we didn’t both need to paddle, but by the end of the second day she had those commands down and followed them closely every time she heard whitewater approaching.
On the second day, we made the realization that would could tie onto the front of Dave’s Infinicat and create an unstoppable paddle machine. This technique helped us breeze through several long flat sections.
The second day, we stopped at mile 31 to camp below a rapid known as Whistling Bird. It was a great spot to sit and watch boats float by, but also had a nice side canyon hike accessible from the camp. In addition to being Gracie’s first raft trip, it was also her first hike. Christian had to turn around with her after seeing a large rattlesnake and we then kept her on a leash the rest of the trip after realizing what an abundance of snakes there were.
The canyons along this section were varied and beautiful. We knew it had been referred to as the “Grand Canyon of Oregon” but had no clue that it would be so impressive. Each time we entered a new section we’d sit around and stare at the new scenes before us. The last canyon felt like we were in Jurassic Park and John Williams’ soundtrack should be accompanying us while we floated along.
All in all, it was a fantastic trip and we’d do it again in a heartbeat. It was a great opportunity to practice our overnight setup with the Mini Max (it’s only 10 feet, so it’s quite a small boat to take days worth of gear in. We’re hoping we can make this trip a tradition every spring.