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Posts tagged ‘drift boat’

Canvas & Wool on the McKenzie by Greg Hatten

Our friend Greg Hatten writes about his “home water,” Oregon’s McKenzie River. Greg uses our Yakima Camp blankets and National Park Series blankets on his expeditions. You can learn more about the Parks and the blankets they have inspired here. But for now, just enjoy a trip on the river with Greg. 

far-campThe McKenzie River in the Cascade Range of Oregon is my “home – water” – it’s where I learned to row a drift boat and where I feel the most comfortable on the oars.  Her icy waves, aqua pools, moss covered boulders and challenging rapids bring me back again and again.  It’s a rock garden playground for a wood drift boat and a 90 mile paradise for native redside rainbow trout as the river makes its way down the valley and folds into the Willamette River on its way to the Pacific Ocean.

Tall stands of Douglas fir, western hemlock and red cedar line the banks and steep hills forming a solid curtain of subtle shades of green on both sides of the river. As the McKenzie cuts through the Willamette National Forest, there are small pockets and openings within the dense trees to camp alongside the river.

For 8,000 years, this river was home to Native Americans – mostly of the Kalapuya and the Molala tribes.  In 1812 it was explored by the Pacific Fur Company and was named for the expedition leader, Donald Mackenzie.

Camping in canvas and wool seems appropriate in this place and my mind drifts back in time 200 years as I set up the tent in a small clearing of towering  trees.  With so little evidence of civilization around us, it’s easy to wonder what those explorers in 1812 experienced as they reached this spot on the river, what they saw, how they camped, how they fished, and cooked and ate.

I spread a Pendleton blanket (Badlands National Park) over the floor of the teepee tent, unfurled the cowboy bedrolls and enjoyed the coziness of the shelter for a moment before starting a campfire .  The oars from the boat become a triangle “lamp stand” when lashed together and the camp lantern hanging above our campsite gives off a warm glow casting playful shadows on the ground and tent.  It’s a comfortable camp filled with nostalgia and authenticity.

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Most of my river guests prefer an overnight experience that includes running water, indoor toilets, soft beds, clean sheets, and WIFI.  Not these guests! These guests requested a unique and rustic adventure filled with wood boats, canvas tents, wool blankets, and warm campfires. They wanted to get away from cell phones, computers, and modern conveniences.   It’s an unfiltered McKenzie River experience they seek – a direct connection to the explorers and pioneers that originally explored this McKenzie River Valley.

That evening we ate smoked salmon, fresh vegetables, pasta, and organic strawberries that were so sweet they tasted like they’d been soaking in a brine of sugar water.  After dinner the smoky smell of the campfire complemented the scotch we drank as we talked about the day and made our plans for the next.

Our canvas tent and bedrolls sat on a layer of pine needles and loose soil that created such a soft quiet cushion, sleep came easy.  We inhaled the evergreen aroma of pine and I wondered if it was the same smell two hundred years ago.  The sounds of the running river were close enough to hear but not close enough to disturb as we slumbered away under a canopy of dark swaying boughs overhead.

Morning came early and we broke camp quickly so we could get to the pressing business of river running in a wood boat.  The Class III Marten’s Rapid was on our river agenda and on my mind all morning as we navigated minor rapids and fished our way to the top of this most treacherous rapid on the McKenzie.  As usual, we heard it before we saw it with its low growl that warned of danger.  Two days before us, a drift boat hit the left wall so hard it left a mark on the rock – the moment of impact was captured by a photographer below the rapid and the picture was plastered all over web sites and facebook.

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When the river is low in mid summer, the slot gets narrow and the holes get deep so we pull into an eddy behind “house rock” at the top of the rapid to catch our breath and confirm our line.  The path looks more complicated than usual.  We pushed out of the eddy and picked up speed.  We put the nose of the boat as close to the “can opener” rock as possible and then pulled hard to miss it by a foot.  A rebounding wave off the rock knocked us off course a little and sent us flying towards the wall on the left.  Digging the oars deep, slowed the boat just enough to narrowly miss the wall.  We immediately dropped into a series of sharp swells that tried to swallow the boat and soaked us with breaking waves over the prow.   It was a roller coaster ride with two big holes at the bottom, which we threaded and then pulled over to dry off and bail water out of the boat.  Quite a ride!!

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Some of my favorite rapids on the river are below Marten’s.  They are technical but not brutal and the boat moved with elegance – threading rocks, skirting eddies and working in perfect harmony with the river. The afternoon was hot and sunny as we settled into a rhythm of rowing rapids and fly fishing for trout.

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The last fish brought to the boat that day was a beautiful native redside rainbow trout, a fitting end to a throw-back adventure of Canvas & Wool on the McKenzie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greg Hatten and a Wooden Boat Proposal

Greg Hatten is our guest blogger today. Usually he writes about heart-stopping whitewater river journeys in his wooden boat, the Portola. Today’s post is about another kind of adventure, and it’s more heart-tugging than heart-stopping. We hope you enjoy it.

My youngest daughter and her serious boyfriend, Josh, took an Oregon river ride in my wooden boat one hot summer weekend last year. Despite the lack of fishing time, we all had a great time. This trip was about the water, the waves, and the old man checking out the young man in my daughter’s life. He checked out fine. I liked him much more than the others that had come and gone before him.

One year later, he was eager to come back to Oregon. He was ready to get back in the boat and maybe catch a steelhead on a fly. Understand, this is an accomplishment that requires thousands of casts and years of suffering broken rods, broken leaders, broken spirit. But he had a goal, so we saved the date. As it approached, his interest and questions about the details of the trip increased.

It was going to be a hot, sunny day. We started early. ‘0 dark 30 early, 4:30 AM early. Mentally making our offerings to the steelhead gods, we climbed in my FJ40, pulled the choke, turned on the headlights and headed up river, boat in-tow. We pulled into the boat launch. Judging by the lack of trucks and boats at the ramp, most fishermen had stayed in bed, conceding the day before it even began.

The most elusive of Pacific Northwestern fish proved to be just that. For two hours we fished some of the best pools and slots on the river and felt nothing – not a bite, not a hit, not a take-down, no sign of a steelhead. A familiar fishless ache in my gut prompted me to remind Josh of the degree of difficulty and disappointment associated with chasing steelhead on the fly. And then–WHAM! Josh felt “the tug” — a strong one – and suddenly line was peeling off the reel and the rod was doubled over in a rainbow arc. I heard him say, “WOW.”

It was a great fight with impressive runs and a few sharp jumps caught in vivid HD by the Go-Pro mounted on the bill of a fishing hat. A thirty minute tug-of-war brought a tired fish to the net and into the boat. He did it! On one of the hottest, sunniest days of the summer, Josh had hooked and LANDED his first steelhead on the fly.

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We took the required pictures. He sat there holding the big fish in my boat, looking very serious and clearing his throat. Then he asked my blessing to propose to my daughter. Then it was my turn to feel “the tug,” and Josh heard me say “WOW.” But this had nothing to do with a fish. I thought, are you kidding me? Who’s writing the script for this? He’s holding a trophy fish in my wooden boat and asks for my daughter’s hand in marriage. What could a fly fishing father say but, “Let me shake your slimy hand and welcome you to the family, Son.” Especially since fifteen minutes later, in the very next pool, Josh hooked up and landed a second steelhead in a battle that was even more dramatic than the first. That time, we both said, “WOW”.

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That evening, after a dinner of fresh steelhead on the grill, Josh pulled out a ring and proposed to my daughter Sarah by the light of the campfire over the sound of the McKenzie River flowing behind Eagle Rock Lodge. She said yes. And then I’m pretty sure she said, “WOW.”

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Quite a day.

 

Our congratulations to the happy couple. Be sure to read about Greg’s river adventures here, here and here.

Night in the Canyon by Greg Hatten

Enjoy this, out third and last guest post from Greg–for this trip, anyway.

Nighttime in the Grand Canyon adds another dimension to darkness for me.

1_Nate_PickensPhoto by Nate Pickens

Towering walls rise up almost a mile above the Colorado River to touch the night sky, soft sand wraps around our sleeping bags in a warm embrace, and the river of darkness between the canyon cliffs overhead is filled with so many bright stars that most nights, the ground is visible without the aid of a flashlight.  Darkness in the Grand Canyon is filled with light, and my favorite light comes from the campfire after dinner.

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Photo by Nate Pickens

We throw another log onto the bed of half-spent coals in the fire pan, sink deep into our camp chairs…and take a long breath.  No rapids to scout, no river to run, no boats to wrangle.

The banter is lively as we replay the day – the heroic runs, the botched lines, and the close calls.  Laughter and teasing settles into quiet conversation and reflection as we enjoy the flames of the fire and each other’s presence.  Together, we unwind from the challenges of the day.  Sometimes the only sound in our circle of camp chairs comes from the flickering fire and the river (and occasionally, snoring from Tony).  We listen to the river every second of every waking hour and we hear it in our sleep.  Darkness in the canyon is filled with the sounds of the river and laughter from the circle.

When we’re talked out, we fold our chairs, and one by one, leave the warmth of the fire. Sometimes two or three of us take the campfire conversation deeper into the night.  The smoke from the fire follows us to our sleeping bags and tucks us in. Our best and our worst is on display in the stressful situations of the canyon and in the solitude of my bedroll each night, I sort through which of those “won the day” – and then I sleep.

Darkness in the canyon is filled with the smoky smell of a campfire and self reflection.

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Photo by Izzy Collett

Brightly colored tents sit below the steep rock walls of the canyon.  Some are scattered between boulders and sagebrush or even clustered in bunches on the sand banks of the river.  They glow with a dreamy light.

Some nights there is a special sound to the darkness as Izzy plays a Native American wood flute while she sits on her boat.  The rich low sounds are from a different time and place.  Authentic music mingles with the smoke trails and travels up the canyon on its way to the stars.

It adds a richness to the experience that I will never forget.

The darkness in the canyon is filled with the haunting sounds of the Anasazi flute.

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Photo by Dave Mortenson

In the daylight, my canvas tent blends with the light tan color of the sand.  It’s the same material they used for tents and bags on the 1964 trip we are replicating.  I use the tent when there is a threat of rain or I want a break from the strong winds and blowing sand.

When we’re not in tents, we sleep on the open ground with nothing overhead except the stars in the night-sky.  The distance we hike away from the river to throw our bags down on shore is in direct proportion to the energy we have left at the end of a day spent rowing heavy boats through heavy rapids.  Most of the bags are within 100 feet of the boats on the sand banks above the river.  Some mornings we wake up as part of a sand dune and have to shake our way out of our bags.

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Photo by Greg Hatten

Many nights we sleep on the boats.  It’s my favorite place to spend the night.  Down here boats are life… they’re everything.  We row them through the valley of death and they deliver us from evil… repeatedly.  They carry everything we own and faithfully get us to our next campsite at the end of our rowing day.  They “connect” us to the river with a bond that’s hard to explain.  We love our boats.

6_John_SchroederPhoto by John Schroeder

All covered up in our warm blankets, we peek out in the dark and occasionally see a falling star in the night sky as the water gently slaps the sides of the boat and the river rocks us to sleep.  On “two-blanket” nights it’s cold enough to see our breath – which makes the blankets feel even warmer and the boats seem even cozier.

The darkness in the canyon is filled with cold cheeks, cold noses and gently rocking boats.

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Marble Canyon Tunnel – Photo by Robb Grubb

The darkest dark I found in the canyon wasn’t on the boats at night.  It was in an exploratory tunnel drilled deep in the side of Marble Canyon where construction had begun in the 1950s on one of the last proposed dam projects in the west.

A couple of us tied off our boats on river left and scrambled up the loose shale to the mouth of the tunnel – a hundred feet above the river.  From that elevated vantage point, the canyon looked spectacular.  I tried to imagine a dam in this special spot and couldn’t.  We turned from the river, climbed over the railroad ties and boulders guarding the entrance, and crawled through a portal into the heart of the Marble Canyon wall.

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Marble Canyon Entry – Photo by Robb Grubb

Twenty feet in and we were covered in darkness.  Real deep dark heavy darkness…. an eerie black quiet darkness… and I thought of orcs, and goblins, and the Lord of the Rings.  We turned on a laser light, splashed our way through the puddles on the packed-dirt floor and tripped over loose rocks that had fallen in the narrow passageway.  Walking with an awkward stoop, we finally reached the end of the tunnel several hundred feet from the entrance.  For a moment we turned off the light and just stood there listening to “drip…drip…drip” coming from the dank ceiling and falling to the floor somewhere in the blackness.  For the first time in days we couldn’t hear the river – it was silenced by the tunnel and it was deafening.

We shimmied back out the portal, slid down the shale pile back to our boats and spent a quiet afternoon rowing through the beautiful rose colored walls of Marble Canyon.

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Marble Canyon – Photo by John Schroeder

That night, I reflected again about what the trip in 1964 meant to river runners like us.  That trip and those guys made a huge impact by shining a bright light on the beauty of the canyon.  Their pictures, their videos, and their words inspired millions of people to take a closer look at the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon and for the first time, many of them saw this place as much more than just a source for water.

The darkness in the canyon is filled with passion.

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Last of the Three Part Series by Greg Hatten

Grand Canyoneers

The Drift Boat Adventure for Kids

Greg Hatten, our drift boat adventurer, has been embarking on a new adventure, besides running the rivers of America in handcrafted wooden drift boats. He’s taken on grandfathering in a big way, with three little ones under two years old in his family.

Greg decided that for Christmas, he’d build his grandkids a rocking boat just like his own boat, at 33% the size. He worked with his boat-building buddy, Roger Fletcher, to make it happen.

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The results? Beautiful.

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The boats are carefully hand-built in the same way as the full-size drift boats for which Greg is so well-known. That is a lot of measuring, cutting, shaping, joining, sanding, staining and sealing. As Greg told us, “I only know how to build boats one way.”

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Greg also adapted the classic children’s poem, “Winkin, Blinkin & Nod” by Eugene Field to reflect his passion for drift boating (and Pendleton blankets, it seems). He published copies for each of the grandkids, and the books and boat were quite the hits.

So please enjoy these photos of Greg’s grandkids enjoying their new boat. Information on the rocking boat and book can be found at the Rocking Boat website.

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