You may remember this spring I headed to the Owyhee Canyonlands to lead a hike on Section 25 of the Oregon Desert Trail for the group Friends of the Owyhee (FOTO). That was also the first time I had hiked that section because in 2016 I had packrafted the river and reservoir as part of a water alternate to the ODT from Section 21ish (I put in at 5 Bar) to the end at Section 25. Essentially I paddled 141 miles as opposed to hiking 142 miles. I don’t know how the numbers are so close, but pretty cool that they are!
I hope to continue guiding hikes for FOTO, so decided to give myself and the future hikers on these trips a break and hike it first. While the trip this spring went really well and we made it on the 27-mile (primarily cross country) section just fine, I was doing a lot of micro navigation as we were hiking. I found that since I was leading people who might be on their first cross country hike ever, that ideally I wanted to have a mental lay of the land before getting out there all together.
So I connected with Becky, a FOTO board member, to see if she wanted to hike with me and help shuttle a car at the very least. Becky was the co-leader on my spring trip and we got along great, so was stoked when she was free and wanted to come along for a day of hiking.
Becky was able to pick me up in Rome yesterday where I left my car, and we drove around to the incredible Leslie Gulch. If you want to know why it’s incredible, check this out:
I decided we would hike a potential alternative that would bypass a steep and challenging bit of trail between Spring Creek and Leslie Gulch. At high water hikers have been flummoxed by this section as the map shows the route going on the banks of the river…a bank I have never seen since I started working for ONDA. Apparently when this section was originally scouted the water was so low that you could easily walk on the edge. Not so in the past few years. Even well seasoned athletes like Jeff Browning and Heather “Anish” Anderson have had problems here: Anish backtracking and finding a route inland, and Jeff, basically ended his attempted ultra run of the Owyhee after getting here in the middle of the night and not finding a way around until day time, precious hours he needed to finish on time. Watch the Patagonia film about his attempt here.
So Becky and I took off behind the Slocum Creek Campground to see what we could see. The canyon was awesome walking, until it wasn’t, and we climbed up a thousand feet to the rolling ridgeline above and tried our luck up top. It went! It went with one kind of sketchy talus field, that wasn’t too sketchy once we got there. We continued on, found some various things of interest (I’m being vague on purpose!) and when I could see the rest of the high route was clean, we dropped into a drainage to see if we could get back out.
And we did! We didn’t hike the whole alternate I had scoped out on Google earth, as Becky had to get back to Boise, and I would try and connect the route tomorrow from the original ODT.
So that would leave me trying to walk game trails high above the river to make my way around the problem area like most of the other hikers have done. There is no flat path along the water again, and for September in a dry year that is interesting…it must have been incredibly low when Jeremy (my predecessor) was creating the route.