Owyhee River SUP Expedition
This time next week I'll be deep in the wilderness. I will be on a paddle board expedition on the Owhyee River in one of the most remote river canyons in the Lower 48. This is the "heart of darkness," as it were. Though there have been stand up paddle boards on the more populated section between Rome and Leslie Gulch, this will be the first SUP-supported 200-mile descent of the Owyhee starting near its headwaters on the Nevada/Idaho boarder through southeastern Oregon.
To view where we are in real time between March 23rd-31st, click here via Delorme InReach.
(How did it go? Click here for trip report.)
My paddling partner Torrey Piatt and I will be hitting the water on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation after a 7 hour drive from where we live in Bend, Oregon. (Complicated shuttle logistics are made relatively simple for us by being dropped off by my wife who is continuing to Utah. We'll get a pick up from her in Rome, Oregon 9 days later on her return. There are shuttle services that charge in excess of $800 for this.)
With no dam controls the river is wild with its water level completely dependent on snow melt. This is the first year in a few when there has been enough water for a commercial rafting trips. Levels will be fairly high for our paddle board expedition which should make for pretty exciting and fast paddling.
I have never been on the Owyhee, though its reputation precedes itself. In fact, it has been the river I have dreamed about from the beginning of my river SUP touring "career." Long, remote, and with very few people are some of the attractions. It is Wild in every sense or the word. It is free flowing and has numerous rapids, some of which require portaging around. Lots of Class IIIs, IVs, a few Vs punctuate the pool drop character of the river hidden in the shadow of steep canyon walls. People have died here. People have disappeared here. In fact, the name Owhyee is a bastardization of Hawaii, referring to Hawaiian explorers who were lost here over a hundred years ago.
There are three section of the main Owyhee, the upper, middle, and lower. We plan on running it all if time and logistics allow.
The Upper is characterized by narrow passages, canyon gorges, natural hot springs, and absolute remoteness. It's not easy to get to find a good put-in, and it's difficult to get out. We'll be dropped off near the town of Owyhee where we will begin floating through a shallow and braided waterway before making our way into the canyon. The few people who paddle here every year are in kayaks or small rafts. Portaging Owyhee Falls (Class VI) is known to be time consuming and exhausting even with the smallest of water craft. Making portages as simple as possible is one reason I love river paddle boarding.
The Middle section between Three Forks and Rome is the most infamous. Many challenging rapids including the fatal Widow Maker are here. Expert boaters look forward to this section. We are paddle boarding this section?! Yes, yes we are. Mind you, expedition river SUP isn't what most people thing of paddle boarding. It's more like kayaking without having to rely on rolling to recover. Standing up is merely an option for SUP river running. Kneeling, sitting, or walking around hazards are possible ways to deal with rapids. The gear will be rigged to flip with cam straps and D-rings, so in case of a capsize they will be easier to right than any raft . Falling in rapids is never good, but the boards act like giant rescue craft when it does happen. In the best case scenario, the paddler crawls back aboard and keeps going.
The most popular section is the Lower between Rome and Leslie Gulch. Manageable Class III rapids give excitement to a 50+ mile stretch of canyon and ranchlands. It appears that this is the choice section for commercial trips and offers a great taste of the Owhyee experience.
Much of the entire main Owyhee is wild, scenic, and remote. The Owyhee Canyonlands is designated as Wilderness in Idaho. Check out the Owyhee Canyonlands site and Oregon Natural Desert Association ONDA for more information on the preservation of this area.
Outfitting a river SUP expedition is a hybrid between whitewater rafting and ultralight backpacking. We will be focusing on important but minimal gear. We will be packing 9 days worth of gear, food, and camera equipment in 65L drybags which will be tethered to our expedition-ready inflatable boards. We'll be wearing dry suits, PFD's, quick release leashes, helmets, and looking every bit the part of whitewater kayaker.
Gear list includes:
Hala Hoss and Fame paddle boards.
Kialoa Insanity SWIFT whitewater adjustable paddles.
Sea to Summit Hydraulic and Big River drybags and the Solution Access Deckbag. I love these bags for their durability and the fact they have loops which make rigging to the board easy. The Sea to Summit deck bag always travels with me as a great way to access small but important things during the day.
Astral PFDs and shoes.
To view my Garmin Connect page, click here.
To see where we are in real time on the trip between March 23rd and March 31st, click here.
How did it go? Click here for trip report.