2010 Middle Owyhee, Three Forks to Rome - Widowmaker Run

May 01, 2010 at 7:49 AM

OWA Trip Report:  Middle Owyhee, Three Forks to Rome - Widowmaker Run

Dates: May 1-3, 2010

Flow: 1,300 cfs at Put-In; 1,000 at Take Out

Distance: 37 miles

Boats: 3 cats and a 13 foot raft

Shuttle: Eva Matteri (Phone 541-586-2352)

The guide books recommend flows of 1,000 to 5,000 cfs.  Our dates were locked in 6 months in advance, so we felt lucky to have enough water to make the trip happen.  At low flows, the river has plenty of rocks to dodge, and makes the big three rapids on this run very technical.

It’s a long drive to Jordan Valley (probably 10 hours from Portland), then another hour and a half on the 35-mile dirt road to Three Forks put-in.  If wet, your 4WD tires will be throwing a lot of mud; if dry, a decent 2WD vehicle with reasonable clearance will handle it fine.  Jordan Valley has one motel, two restaurants, and one gas station.  An even smaller alternative is Rome, with a gas station + “restaurant”, and a couple cabins.

The river has been called O-windy (because of frequent upstream breezes), but at this flow, we called it Oar-wyhee, due to all the rowing we had to do.  If you don’t like rowing, wait until the weather is good and the flow is higher.

At mile 1.5 is the first event, Ledge Rapid, a technical affair with a fun pour-over  (3-4 foot drop), followed by a nice extended rock garden run out.  It’s probably easier to scout this on the left (larger boulders to hop over and over on the right).

At mile 10 is Half-Mile rapid (long rock garden to maneuver through—scouted right), quickly followed by Raft Flip, which was fairly straight forward drop which we read and ran.

Bombshelter cave at mile 15 is a great camp spot: nice landing, nice shelter, and out of the wind.  Since the Middle Owyhee doesn’t get a lot of traffic, campsites are often not well defined with use trails, etc, and are not plentiful.

On day 2, we had some fun Class 3’s leading up to Widowmaker, a Class 5 rapid with quite a reputation.  We were able scout the top section (left), run it, then scout the bottom section.  The top half was a short drop through a slot between two rock features, then maneuvering to the eddy (also on the left; there is a scouting trail in the right for the whole rapid, which most people seem to use, since there was no trail on the left). 

We ran the bottom part in two pulses of 2 boats each.  The first two ran a twisting slot drop that ended with a water pillow on a rock at the bottom, which would either send you left or right (left preferred), depending on how you hit it.  Given the narrowness of the slot, you had to have your oars shipped, so you had no control after entering the top.  The first two boats ran this uneventfully, although one boat took an unintentional entry route.

The second two boats, led by me, followed after setting up for video.  I misjudged the entry current pulling me to the right, so ended up in a slot which had no real escape—I got perched on a boulder, with one pontoon on either side of it. Probably a difference of 1 or 2 feet laterally in the approach would have avoided this.  The second boat followed my lead, but got to an eddy before hitting the slot.  A two-hour rescue ensued, first pulling me off the rock and into an eddy, then rigging a line to the other side of the river to pull us across the river to an eddy from where we could re-enter the rapid via the intended route.  This time, the run was uneventful, and we collected ourselves on a beach below before enjoying the rest of the scenery downstream.  Camp Two was around mile 31. 

Stretches of the Middle Owyhee have vertical rhyolite walls rising right out of the water.  In other places, the canyon is more open.  After mile 25, the walls turn to basalt, leading to the open prairie of the last 3 miles before the BLM Rome take out.  The lower Owyhee gets a lot more business, so the Rome landing (camping, two outhouses, and now a ranger’s house) has almost as many people as Jordan Valley.

The Widowmaker Run is for people in maneuverable boats with advanced skills and confidence.  Someone on the trip must be expert at reading the water, picking routes, and rescuing those who get into trouble.  Many people line or portage Widowmaker (even outfitters).  This rapid is an order of magnitude harder than the other rapids on this stretch.

There are limited camp spots marked on the map, and some of these aren’t too appealing.  At low flows, three days is probably about right.  At higher water, with a good start and no incidents, two days is probably OK.

Thanks to my good friends who pulled me off the rock (Mike and Dwight), and Trevor for catching the whole incident on video.

Eric Ball

Tags: Owyhee River Three Forks to Rome Widowmaker
Category: Trip Report

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