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Sage looks back: West Little Owyhee

Posted by hhagemeier@onda.org at Jul 16, 2013 01:27 PM |
Sage Clegg, now back in Bend, looks back at her hike through the West Little Owyhee River Canyon along the Oregon Natural Desert Association's Oregon Desert Trail.
Sage looks back: West Little Owyhee

Sage reaches Anderson Crossing.

Sage Clegg is now back in Bend, enjoying the comforts of home. But she is sharing what she was unable to during her lack of cell coverage in the West Little Owyhee River Canyon in the Owyhee Canyonlands. Here is more about her journey toward Rome.

Sage: Canyon, west little

Hiking the West Little Owyhee River Canyon involves a lot of brush and wet feet, but also a lot of beauty.

Tired after a long and hot day, I finally reached Anderson Crossing, where I had cached food with Renee and Kirk a couple days earlier. I walked down the hill, sloshed through the greasy water, and found the rock pile my food was under. I used a flat rock to help me dig up the buried treasure, then wandered off to find a nice spot to camp and eat some of the treats I stashed myself!

The sky threatened rain and the lightning sparked away like fireworks as I ate a pickle from a package and a gourmet soup from a bag -- might sound disgusting, but this was a welcome departure from my normal greasy salami slabs on a crumbled tortilla.

In the last of the day's light, I set up my shelter. A couple hours later I woke to rain bombing down on my Cuben Fiber ceiling. Everything was squared away well and I was able to sleep peacefully through the storm, feeling lucky to be down in the canyon, safe from getting zapped by a bolt of lightning.

In the morning I repeatedly hit my snooze button, realizing I had no heat to beat or crazy miles to walk today to get to water -- I was going down a river!!

Eventually I packed up, cramming all my familiar things into the unfamiliar trash compactor bags. I twisted the tops extra tight and prepared all my things for being amphibious, then set off to the river.

About 10 steps into the day I almost stepped on a giant rattlesnake. I told myself it was no big deal, and it certainly wasn't an omen of bad things to come in the canyon. Then about two minutes later another rattler conducted an amazing alligator-type roll into the grasses away from my feet. All this and I hadn't even reached the river bank yet!

I cautiously poked the grasses with my trekking poles before getting on my hands an knees and crawling through the brush to the river. I looked up at the canyon walls towering above me, the thick brush all around me and the tea-colored water flooding into my socks. I felt alone in a way I hadn't yet in this hike: Fearful, uncertain and desperately lonely. I asked the canyon for safe passage, and told it that while I expected to be battered, sore and exhausted when I emerged down river, I was just asking to still be alive and kicking all the way through.

I sloshed on down the river, and when I emerged on land, another rattler shook and wrapped into a defensive coil! All told by the end of my first day in the Owyhee I encountered nine rattlesnakes. They rule the universe of the West Little Owyhee, and as a traveler in their world I had to be constantly alert.

Besides the snakes, the walking was brushy but engaging. Every bend revealed a new challenge and surprise. Beautiful spires, beaver dams, slippery algae covered rocks, stinging nettles and rose thorns, jumbled house-sized boulders to crawl through and the swimming!

My first swim with the trash bag system washed away a huge part of my canyon travel anxiety. I eased into the warmish water and waded in to hip deep, then waist, then found myself peacefully bobbing along through every pool I could. I would emerge on the other side of each pool soaked and dripping, refreshed. Swimming far and away was a more enjoyable way to move down canyon in contrast with the skin-shredding shwacks through the creek's side brush. Unfortunately there was no way to swim the whole time because the river was completely dry in many places, and swimming with a pack on is still pretty slow going.

-- Sage Clegg

Sage: Spring, west little

This beautiful, lush green seep offered a cool and refreshing break from the bleak plains and relentless sun. I collected a diatom sample (for scientific research), ate lunch and sat quietly as a deer and her two fawns grazed in the meadow. After the deer ran off, a handful of pronghorn passed by and swallows zipped in and out of their nests. After the break I trudged off toward Anderson Crossing as afternoon heat lightning began cracking in the sky.

Sage: water, west little

About to swim here in the West Little Owyhee.

Sage: Lizard, west little

This guy blends in! Horned lizard.

Sage: Tree, west little

A giant juniper in louse canyon. Trees are a rare sight in the eastern Oregon desert, and I somehow held myself back from wrapping my arms around this giant old western juniper.

Sage: Arch, west little

Cool arch in the upper West Little Owyhee: This arch was the first of many beautiful formations along the Owyhee. At this point I was hiking along what seemed to be a long-abandon wagon trail -- the grooves in the ground sometimes were a few feet deep. I passed by an old rock corral and couldn't help but think these people scored with their homestead -- plenty of water, flat space and beauty all around!


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Jeff G.
Jeff G. says:
Jul 16, 2013 01:59 PM

I've very much enjoyed reading about your journey. It's inspiring me to leave behind my mostly forest hikes for a couple desert adventures. Cheers.

Jane Fox
Jane Fox says:
Jul 28, 2013 01:56 PM

I am interested in having you give your presentation in the Tri-Cities and would like to know how we would set that up.

Dan Ekblaw
Dan Ekblaw says:
Aug 05, 2013 09:21 AM

I am so envious of your adveture. Oh well, I've had my share, too, but more in the Hart Mtn.-Sttens Mtn. neighborhood, not so much around the Owyhee. Solo is the best way to go to truly experience the grandeur of the Oregon high desert. Next time, forget the alarm clock and the trekking poles. Too much gear just holds you back. And why hold yourself back from hugging trees, if that's what you want to do? Alone in the wilderness you can do exactly as you please at all times, and no one will bother you about it. That's half the beauty of it. Keep exploring; a lifetime of adventure awaits. How exciting! Peace out.

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