Thread: The Owyhee
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Old August 12th, 2015, 12:14 AM
chris snell chris snell is offline
Christopher Snell
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 1,383
Culebra Canyon

After the whiskeyed revelry the night before, it was a slow and painful wake-up for the crew, especially when we discovered that neither Jason nor Kevin had brought a French press either. Desperate for caffeine, we mixed Folgers and hot cocoa and sat around camp until our throbbing heads cleared enough to start breaking camp.

We heard that there were showers available to campers at the Outdoor Inn so Peter and I headed that way while the rest of the crew gassed up and poked around town. To shower there, you pay $2 and get a towel and soap from the restaurant. The shower is at the back of the restroom. It's basic but, when you're as filthy as we were, it's amazing. When I finished mine, I came out onto the front porch where the crew was drinking a morning beer with the locals.

By this time, the cut on my foot was really hurting and I was limping around. My plan was to rummage through my kit for the Superglue and glue it back together. The locals saw what I was up to and were emphatic that I called the town medic to come take a look at it. Being an Army guy, there's nothing more lame than sick call so I resisted but they were insistent. Life in a sleepy retiree community is so quiet that a sliced foot might have been the most exciting thing to happen all week. They called the medic and only a minute or two later, she came riding up on her ATV wearing blue jeans and scrubs with her medical kit. Unfortunately, she didn't have any alcohol wipes or anti-bacterial ointment so all she could do was put a Steri-Strip over the gash to close it.

We left the Outdoor Inn and Peter and I headed to the two-pump gas station to fill up before the group departed. One of the really neat things about Jarbidge is the 24-hour pay-at-the-pump gas station. It's not often that you find gas in such an out-of-the-way place that's available at 11PM on a Sunday night if you needed it.

For our 220-mile off-road run the day before, Peter's gasoline-powered D1 took about 16 gallons. My 300Tdi, by comparison, was miserly and only burned about 8 gallons of diesel for the same distance. This is the real advantage of 300Tdi power for the Land Rover owner on a trip like this. Gone are the days of fretting over the tiny D90 fuel tank and bumming jerry cans from friends with roof racks. Now I just top off whenever it's convenient.

For the overland traveller in Jarbidge, I should also note that there is an unmanned telephone switching office near the north end of town that has open, free wireless Internet access for passersby. Incredibly, Jarbidge is moving ahead of most of the United States and bringing high speed fiber optic internet to town. The internet here is ridiculously fast and we greedily downloaded large batches of topo maps for areas we thought we might visit.

Finally--after what seems like forever--the herd of four departed Jarbidge. As I mentioned in my first post, I've been piecing together this route for two years now and I had mapped out a path out of Jarbidge that minimized improved roads. Just past town, we turned west on a nearly hidden track that drops down a steep cutbank to the Jarbidge River. The water approached the floorboards but the river was narrow and we were quickly climbing up the steep and slippery bank on the other side. No sooner did we get all four trucks across than we came to a Road Closed sign in the middle of the trail. We later found out that the switchbacks above town had washed out.

We cross the river for a second time and get the crew back onto the main road, where I stop for a quick map recon:

Photo by Peter Matusov

We end up re-routing north of town around large cattle operation up on the ridgeline above Jarbidge Canyon. We skirt the woodline before dropping back down to the rolling Owyhee desert where the doubletrack begin to vanish and the track becomes rough.

Photo by Peter Matusov

Photo by Peter Matusov

The group is hungry for lunch and I scout the map for a good stopping point. I spot a 4WD road leading to the top of a small mountain with about 400' of prominence. "Are you guys game for driving up this one?", I ask.

Jason is always game.

Photo by Peter Matusov

We start the slow, low-range climb up the mountain and ten minutes later, we're on top and it's time for lunch.

Photo by Peter Matusov

When I was packing for the trip, I made the mistake of using my Pelican 1650 as my kitchen case. It made sense because the Coleman two-burner stove fits neatly inside, along with the slat table and everything else. Unfortunately, due to the layout of my tub, the only place this case can ride is up front by the bulkhead. To get at the kitchen, you have to unload the entire truck. It's bullshit. So, I eat my deli counter lunch out of the Ziploc baggies, drink one of Kevin's Kokanee beers, and wax philosophical about a better storage system for my truck.

Kokanee--only available in Canada--must be the best lager-style mass market beer in North America. I have no idea how Kevin got ahold of these but I was grateful. The name is pretty funny, though. I can't drink it without thinking of this:

After lunch, things get interesting. I had previously scouted a potential campsite along the banks of the Owyhee River that would hopefully afford us a small, level spot and maybe even a swimming hole. To get there, we would have to follow some old 4WD roads down a series of feeder canyons. Those who have wheeled with me know that I love the rarely-followed path--the more marginal, the better. Sometimes it pans out and sometimes it doesn't; trails like these are why I won't wheel with anyone pulling a trailer.

Today's route was completely impromptu and took us on some doubletrack that was, at best, overgrown, but mostly entirely invisible. Shortly after turning into the first canyon, the trail became very steep, muddy, and washed-out. To make matters worse, the moisture of the canyons supported a thick overgrowth of willows, tamarisk, blackberries, and poison oak that had to be broken through by force of truck--and a complete disregard for my shitty MOD paint job. The ground was a slick, soupy, foul-smelling mix of clay and cow shit. The winches were unspooled and I found myself slogging through poison oak and this mud to get hooked up. Like a fool, I was wearing my sandals to beat the heat and my foot slipped out and my Steri-Strip came off, exposing the cut on my foot to the disgusting mire that was all around.

It was completely gonzo.

It was almost a full hour of slogging just to get down the mile-long canyon. Peter may have a GoPro video of this section but none of us--as far as I know--have any photos. It was too intense.

Finally, we exited the canyon into a larger feeder canyon. The trail was still invisible but was at least passable. Eventually this feeder made it down to a National Forest road that traced the floor of the Bruneau Canyon. It wasn't much better, though. We had four miles of this to drive and it, too, was overgrown with tamarisk and willow.

I made it only a hundred yards before ripping the mag-mount antenna off the truck and destroying the cable. Amazingly, the Diamond NR770HB antenna itself was completely undamaged. This is one bad-ass amateur radio antenna.

At this point, we decided that whatever campsite might exist four miles down the trail simply wasn't worth the effort. It was late in the day and we would head north again to the edge of the mountains. Kevin had to be at work the next evening and he was worried that any potential campsite might be too far from the roads that would get him home in time. So, he decided to bail. Jason had to leave the next day but decided to caravan with Kevin just to be safe. They split off to the north that afternoon and it was just Peter and me again.

Amazingly, we drove only four or five miles before happening on yet another incredible campsite, a high ridge with a 270 view of the Snake River Valley to the north and the Owyhee Mountains to the west. I was totally bummed that our friends had bailed and wished they could have joined us at this spot.

Photo by Peter Matusov

My first order of business was to attend to my foot, which was now looking quite nasty. I cleaned it off with dish soap and water and then used Purell to sterilize the area. Peter dug out his first aid kit and found some anti-bacterial ointment and I applied this and then sealed the entire thing up with a strip of duct tape. After the repair was complete, I put on my Blundstones and kept them on until the end of the trip--I had no more problems. Amazingly, with the duct tape to stabilize the cut and the ointment to kill off the cow shit beasties, the cut healed quickly. I was soon back in business with my photo-taking and feeling much better.

With an hour of daylight left, we set up camp and Peter began preparations to grill lamb chops. The amigos traditionally cook up this meal on the first night of our trips on which we're all together. We celebrate with the lamb and shots of The Glenlivet in little plastic cups.

Peter prepared the chops with salt and pepper and began a slow roast on his charcoal grill:

I set about trying out a new trail recipe for me: french fries. Just to spite Jason, who grew up on an Idaho farm, I like to bring Washington potatoes to Idaho.

After chopping them, I gave them a good water soak, dried them, then fried them in the cast iron. It takes a really long time to bring oil up to temperature at altitude and on cast iron so it was dark before they were ready. Sadly, I didn't take any photos of them but they were amazing and worth the wait.

We watched the sun set while we stuffed ourselves on lamb and fries and washed it down with Macallan. I slept in the back of the truck, better than I've slept in months.

We would head for the real canyons in the morning.

More to come.

Photo by Peter Matusov
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