2014 President's Day RogueSchutes Trip
February 17, 2014 at 12:50 PM
The annual OWA Rogue Trip was getting ready to roll in early February with a launch date of February 15. The trip was supposedly capped at 45 but I hear 47 ultimately signed up. First time trip leader Steve Olsund did a fine job herding cats to get things organized. There was concern about the amount of water in, or not in, the Rogue due to the very dry weather. We watched the gauge bounce around the mid to high teens, low but enough. Many years ago I was on a summer trip at 970 cfs. It was bony. We all took the guide chute, but the falls is actually doable at very low flows.
Then, just a few days before our Friday departure the forecast changed dramatically. Several very wet storms were due to roll in and the forecast for Sunday shot up to around 30,000 feet! My daughter Jenifer had run the Rogue at 30k as her guide school graduation float so I gave her a call. Two words: DON’T GO! She said the rapids were washed out and replaced by huge whirlpools, the water was dangerously fast and camp spots were all under water. They had one person in their sweep boat whose job was to sit on the back of the boat looking upstream for logs bearing down on them so they would have time to get out of the way before they got run over. I passed this info on to Steve and I am sure many other folks chimed in. Steve wisely decided to fight another day. Steve made the right call and shifted the trip to the Deschutes. The Deschutes in February: what could possibly go wrong?
A shorter drive to Warm Springs made for a more leisurely departure on Valentine’s Day. There is something a little odd about getting passed by snowboarders and skiers when you are towing your raft. We also noticed that when we came out of the mountains there was still a fair amount of snow in the desert. The next surprise was when we reached the rim, there was snow all the way down to the river. Our destination was the campground at Mecca Flat just a couple of miles north of highway 26 along the river. Mecca Flat is flat with picnic tables. Covering the ground was at least an inch of soggy wet snow. The few places without snow were mud. Yech! Most of our intrepid bunch, which now numbered about 20 after the switch toughed it out in their tents and it poured all night. Yours truly slept in my truck.
I am getting ahead of myself. There was the matter of Friday night dinner and the plan had been to unhook the trailer and go to Madras. Someone in the group was sharp enough to remember that the new Warm Springs casino was only three miles away back out on 26 so off we went for the buffet. Nineteen bucks for not many choices but we were hungry. And the place was pretty much packed with people. The casino appears to be the place to be in Warm Springs on Friday night.
We spent a considerable amount of time people watching before heading back to our cold dark wet campsite. The good news is that all the overnight rain melted most of the snow and better yet, is stopped raining shortly after we got up.
The launch was surprisingly short of chaos. The river was the highest I had ever seen, with estimates between 8000 and 10,000. Whatever it was, it was a lot for the Deschutes and the water was really moving. We made short work of the run down to Whiskey Dick, just above Whitehorse. Skip brought his huge tarp to ward off the showers that were still around. At some point in the middle of the night (I was sleeping outside with cot and bivy sack) I heard a low roar that slowly grew in volume until the camp was blasted by a huge gust of wind. Just as quickly, the wind died down. When we got up the next morning, Skip’s tarp had been ripped virtually in half. He said he would take it to a local sail maker to have it sewn up and heavily reinforced.
Next morning was the highlight of the trip-Whitehorse. No one knew what to expect but it was awesome. All but the very biggest rocks were completely buried and the wave train at the top was huge and an absolute blast. The other trip highlight, in my book was Buckskin Mary at the end of the boating day. It was at least triple its normal size with a long and big waive train. Fun fun fun. We camped that night just below Buckskin where Steve made dinner. I thought there was a rule that trip leaders don’t do meals. There should be. But thanks Steve. And bacon and eggs and hash browns for breakfast and I forgot who cooked but it was great.
On day three we had a strong downstream wind to go with the fast water. At one point I guessed we were doing 10 mph. Bruce Ripley later said he had pegged it at 11. Not sure how it calculated that but I believe it. Boxcar was also huge and people got soaked. Most of us decided to end the trip at Maupin City Park but about 7 brave souls continued on. Someone called a local guide to haul the drivers down to Sandy beach to retrieve our vehicles. On the way back to Maupin we saw the last two boats come down the left side of Oak Springs. There was a huge pour over at the bottom and the carnage was one flip and one swimmer. The hole on the right was pretty much buried and looked a lot easier than normal. From there it was lunch in Maupin and a long slow drive home across snowy Government Camp.
By Rick Carman