Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tenderfoot

After finding non-stop gems in the Wallowa mountain range, Matt and I convinced ourselves every stream originating atop this ancient granite batholith had the potential to house a classic stretch of whitewater.  We had our eyes set on a particularly intriguing section with an outlandish gradient and plenty of water.  To further our curiosity, there were rumors of buttery smooth water slides ambitious locals use in lieu of a waterpark in the summer.

Hoping to embrace the promised tender feet, we picked a route involving a 2 mile ascent to the top of a pass, followed by a mile bush-wack to a basin just above the first section of gradient.  I was taking the Teva Cherry Bombs on their first Into the Outside mission so was curious to see how they held up.  Shuttled by Caitlin who is equally ambitious, we got underway after some fun with the camera.  Both Matt and I chose to shoulder our boats with overnight gear, which I was moderately concerned about, but in hindsight was certainly the right choice.  The hiking was pretty easy and Matt kept us on the trail even when it was buried in snow.  Eventually we came to the steep climb to the top of the pass, which was made challenging by a cover of snow.  Reaching the top we took in yet another fantastic view provided by this special area.

 The downclimb is where I started to feel tired.  Our shoulders were starting to let us know their part in the struggle, and our legs were burning from the uphill climb.  We made good time down to the valley bottom and were welcomed by a herd of what must have been 100 elk.  Matt got some excellent footage of the herd splitting, charging up the hill, then merging at full speed.



We were stoked to be at the water, with just enough water to float and a gorgeous setting we pushed off with high optimism.  Unfortunately the first portage was only 50 yards downstream.  We decided to take advantage of the trail and portage until the creek looked more runnable.  We eventually found this point, 4 miles later at the designated camp once the main stem of the river was reached.  We kept the best attitudes we could afford as we struggled late into the day.  We passed our planned meet time with Caitlin (who hiked a different trail to meet at camp), and she spent the next hour or so trying to find us.  Finally we met up and she informed us we were very close to camp which was welcome news.  We took a short break and exchanged stories before making the final trudge into camp.  The only part of me that seemed to still have a lot of life left was the Teva Cherry Bomb booties which held strong.



We ate what food we had and schemed future movie ideas before falling asleep in one of my favorite places kayaking has taken me.  We awoke the next day ready for a high water run down county creek #4 that we had run last year.  With the much higher flows (nearly double), we were apprehensive about the rapids, but confident we could deal with whatever we found.  Halfway through the day and we were happy about the extra flow.  This is one of the few class V rivers I have found that becomes less challenging at high flows.  We had a couple extra portages this year, but also got to run a drop we walked last year.  Inclination gorge was just as intimidating as last year, and after a lot of thought and focus I decided to join Matt on the 3rd and 4th descents of this harrowing rapid.  We both had some interesting moves and some backwards moments, but we kept it online and upright for a very exciting run.  The hungry hole at the end of the gorge was avoidable on the far left at this level and we rejoiced as soon as we could eddy out!

We only had one rapid and one short portage to seal launch before the short class III run-out that we blitzed because once again we had failed to arrive at the meet spot with Caitlin on time.  We all found each other at the take out and set out in search of burgers and the Terminal Gravity brewing company in high spirits.

After satisfying our hunger and thirst we returned to La Grande a little more knowledgeable and very tired.  However, I still had a 5 hour drive to the put in on the Deschutes for a field trip.  Armed with Matt's Gazetteer and a homemade mocha, I set out into the night.  However, that is another story in itself.

The Wallowa's continue to impress us and call us back into the hills in the name of exploration and enjoyment of the wilderness.  If remote class V in a memorable setting calls to you too, I encourage all who are capable to get a hold of Matt and see what this reach of Oregon has to offer for yourselves!




   -Jacob

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