Hiking the Lower Deschutes Canyon, Oregon in Spring

30 05 2017

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The winter of 2016-17 brought record rainfall to many parts of the Pacific Northwest, including Portland and Seattle, which saw all-time records for the October – April periods. It was great for skiers. Great for replenishing reservoirs. But it. Just. Kept. On. Raining. Sometimes, the only way to escape Portland’s gloom is to head east, past the Cascades. There, the clouds part and it’s likely a sunny hike can be had!

There are many good springtime hikes in the eastern Columbia Gorge. Wildflowers start coming out in March and peak sometime in late April. One nice choice are the trails along the Lower Deschutes River Canyon. There are three main trails leading from the mouth of the river. One is an old railroad bed converted to a bike trail. Another follows the riverside, snaking along. And a third is in between these two. It is possible to go many many miles upstream following the old railroad bed.

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To get there, take I-84 east from Portland, past The Dalles, to Deschutes River State Park. Park at the area in the southern part of the park.

Laura and I decided to do this hike as it’s a rolling terrain hike and doesn’t involve lots of elevation gain. A loop is possible by taking the river trail about 3 miles to where it climbs and connects with the railroad bed trail.

We had wonderful weather. It was warm in the sun. A train on the opposite side slowly made its way, stopping for a time.

The river was flowing swiftly, emptying Central Oregon of all the excess water from the spring rains.

We saw the occasional balsam root flowers starting to emerge, plus some others I couldn’t identify.

Total hike mileage was 6.5 miles, a good conditioning hike.

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Laura photographs some emerging flowers

The Deschutes River cuts through some of Oregon’s interesting Geologic features. So the trail offers some natural interest. Along the way one can view layers of basalt and ash laid down over millenia. In some spots natural lava bridges formed.

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Weather plus the river have carved some interesting shapes into the rocks here. For wildlife, we saw mostly ospreys and buzzards. Supposedly there are deer and rattlesnakes in the area as well. It’s popular with anglers for the trout and salmon. And backpacking is possible along this trail, too.

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For me, spring and fall are the best times to hike this canyon. Obviously it offers sun when Portland is cloudy. But in the midst of summer, this canyon has three things I don’t like: Intense heat, little shade and often punishing wind. In the summer, it just bakes here. And that heat, which makes air rise, means something has to displace it. And that is air from the Columbia River and the Pacific. In the summer, by afternoon, it can be like a convection vortex here. I have even seen a kite torn from its string! Rafters cannot make progress against this force – often being forced to spend the night and start off in the morning.

So for me, it’s all about the seasons, and this hike is just GREAT in spring!





John Day River Oregon: A Day Running the River!

9 07 2013

IMG_0587Fraternity brother Tully Alford and I spend some “bro time” every summer camping. This year, for our first camp-out we returned to the John Day River. It’s in dry central north Oregon, an area way below the radar of many outdoor enthusiasts, yet if offers tremendous opportunities for those venturing there! Imagine floating down a canyon-walled river. With every turn, a new world unfolds. Not a house or road to be seen. Eagles and hawks float above, bass swim below. Yet only two and a half hours from Portland!

This year we decided to float the river – camping and the using a river shuttle service to pick us up and deliver us to our car at the end of the run. The John Day River is famous for long, flat stretches of running river with rapids connecting them. And for beautiful canyons with layered rocks overhead.

IMG_0579We packed up my new 2013 Ford Escape with Jackson Kayaks Rogue 9 and Rogue 10 kayaks. These kayaks are perfect for this trip, because they are good for the whitewater stretches, but also have a rear hatch – good for storing gear and food – and a skeg for the flat sections so they can be paddled straight.

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Tully getting ready at the put in!

As Tully had no experience in whitewater I gave him a tutorial on entering and exiting the main current into eddies. And, I explained that in rapids there are these things called “holes,” though I couldn’t really explain what they do. So you know, a hole is a backwash behind a boulder. If your boat gets stuck in one, it can be difficult to get out. Your boat gets “sucked in” by the hole.

Running the John Day River is characterized by long stretches of flat water separated by rapids. The plan was for me to run the rapid ahead and Tully follow me through. This worked great until the very end of the day.

I was very impressed! Tully made it through everything and found it fun!

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Tully chills out after a rapid…

Tully began the day in a wetsuit but as the temperature rose, he felt heat-distressed and at lunch took it off. The Jackson Rogue 9’s hatch took the wetsuit with lots of spare room. Lunch was sumptuous. We found a shaded peninsula and made sandwiches of mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, turkey, lettuce, cheddar cheese and tomato. Plus fresh oranges for dessert.IMG_0588

Back on the water. The river and canyons unfolded one after the other. We heard, but could not see, Bighorn Sheep in the hills above. We saw bald eagles. The occasional Smallmouth bass swam below.

The run was from Spray to Service Creek, about 17 river miles. We were told it would take all day. I never believed it, but it was true. We set off at 10:00 a.m. and took out at 4:00 and we were pretty tired. It was a great day. The John Day River took its prize in the last rapid, the hardest of the day. As we approached, I could only see the horizon line and nothing of the features below. We had agreed we did not want to bother scouting, because none of the other rapids were all that hard. As first paddler I went in. Immediately I noticed three holes and lined up my kayak to pass by each one. However, on the second hole, there turned out to be another right behind it, invisible from above. After scooting by the 2nd hole, I darted across and paddled hard past the surprise hole. Tully was not able to do that, and got stuck in that hole. I did not know this until I had made it completely past the rapid and into the pool beyond. Then I looked back and saw carnage! Tully holding on to his boat, but the paddle, spray skirt, his glasses, etc. were floating by and sinking. He looked pretty shaken up and I towed his boat to the shore and he grabbed on.

We kayaked the last stretch and hauled out. No matter, we had a GREAT day on the John Day River!

The evening meal was grilled salmon, salad and mashed potatoes. IMG_0581

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And lots and lots of beer! Tully caps it off with a rendition of The Grateful Dead’s “Ripple.” There’ll be some more campouts coming this summer!

 





We Love Clean Rivers New Brand / Clackamas County Voluntourism in September!

5 08 2011

Seven months in the making, We Love Clean Rivers, the Portland, Oregon-based river cleanup non-profit, launched its new website Thursday! I’m on the board of directors. I led the re-branding effort. After countless meetings on company identity, phraseology, logos, colors, business cards, stationery and more, we are done and it’s launched!

I also spearheaded the voluntourism weekends project for the Clackamas County Tourism and Cultural Affairs Department. We Love Clean Rivers got a grant from the department, part of which was to put together tourist weekends surrounding our cleanups! You can work a cleanup one day – and putting on FUN cleanups is what we’re all about…stay in a hotel in Clackamas County, and the other weekend day treat yourself to rafting, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, or fly fishing! Check out the opportunities on the voluntourism page of the We Love Clean Rivers website…

When are these weekends? The Clackamas River Cleanup, September 10-11, and the Great Willamette Cleanup, October 8-9! See you there!