Running Wild and Scenic with Greg Hatten and OPB

Editor’s note: Our friend and brand ambassador, Greg Hatten, will be featured on Oregon Field Guide this Thursday, March 7th. Greg was part of a wild and scenic river trip led by Jeremy Starr. Enjoy his words about what’s behind the episode, and be sure to tune in! “Oregon Field Guide” airs Thursday evenings at 8:30 p.m. and repeats Sundays at 1:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. In the Mountain Time zone of Eastern Oregon, the program airs at 9:30 p.m. Thursdays, and at 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Or watch it here:

Running Wild and Scenic with Oregon Field Guide

Enjoy!

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There are 209 rivers in the United States protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. Oregon has 58 of those which, when added together, equal almost 2,000 miles of protected, scenic river.

The Rogue River was one of the original eight rivers inducted into the program and is one of my favorites in the state of Oregon. We run it at least once a year – me and the band of rowers I run with. Our group of river runners is diverse and highly skilled in the arts of rowing, problem solving, outdoor adventure, camping, knot tying, open-fire cooking, fly fishing, river rescue and other handy skills.

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(see blanket here)

A few months ago, on the 50th Anniversary of that legislation, we invited Oregon Public Broadcasting to join us on a tribute trip as we tipped our hats and raised our glasses to the river runners who came before us on the Rogue and charted a course we are privileged to follow every Fall.

For this trip I was privileged to row a replica boat with a design that originated in the early 1940’s – on loan from Roger Fletcher who helped build the boat that’s a perfect twin of the original double-ender on display under the shelter behind Paradise Lodge on the Wild and Scenic Rogue. Rowing a boat with such a history on this tribute trip was pretty amazing.  (I returned it to Roger after the trip in the same shape as when I picked it up – whew).

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 As we wrapped our hands around the worn handles of our oars and pushed off from Graves Creek on an early morning last October, we were immediately swept into that “other” world of white water, jagged rocks, technical rapids, steep green mountains, and a connection with history. Our boats became time machines once again and took us back to an era where the boats were wood, the bears patrolled the river banks and otters barked at intruders. These wild and scenic rivers plunge us into a wilderness which seems as untouched and raw today as I imagine them one hundred years ago.

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Since the winds of the west blew us together fifteen years ago, our group has rowed thousands of river miles and several thousands rapids. There is a rhythm to our routine which is second nature and familiar even though it can be months between trips.

The Oregon Field Guide crew of three had their own rhythm, having shot thousands of hours of outdoor footage together. Their heavy cameras and assorted gear was as weathered as our own river gear and showed the signs of being dragged up mountains, down rivers, and through forests all over the Pacific Northwest.

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Both groups meshed well together from the very beginning. We shared a mission on this trip to connect people to the Rogue River and celebrate its history. We wanted to pay homage to the river runners of the Rogue even before there was a Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. We hoped to take viewers back to a time of wood boats and wilderness where they could smell the campfires and feel the dew at first light on the river.

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(see blanket here)

So when I was asked the question, with a microphone in my face and the camera’s rolling, “Why is it so important to keep these wild places wild?” imagine my disappointment when I opened my mouth and nothing came out. I froze. In my big moment to drive the point home and talk about why these rivers should be protected I stumbled and stuttered and could not form a complete sentence with all the points rattling around in my head.

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photo by Dave Zielinski

I wanted to talk about how small and vulnerable we all feel when faced with the challenge of rowing a difficult rapid in such a wild and remote place. I meant to compare the vulnerability of our boats to our wild rivers and remind people that if you take your eye off the ball for even a second when rowing a boat you will lose it. Same with these wild rivers. Take your eye off the river and someone will be there to exploit it with a casino, a helicopter, a dam, a tram, mining rights, and any number of things that would compromise its character and make it less wild.

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photo by Dave Zielinski

These wild and scenic rivers are beautiful, natural, rugged, and incredible reminders of how spectacular the wilderness can be when it is undeveloped. We need these wild places as sanctuaries to visit and connect with nature in a state of raw and wild beauty. Selfishly, we want these rivers to stay wild and scenic so we can challenge our skills as river runners and outdoor enthusiasts in an environment that is primitive and demanding.

photos by Jayson Hayes

We want to be able to pass this gift of unspoiled wilderness along to our children’s children – so we will continue to keep our eye on the ball to preserve our boats and our rivers just like the river stewards who came before us. When the Oregon Field Guide camera was rolling I was unable to find the words, but am quite sure the pictures and video will have a far greater impact than anything I could’ve said anyway.

You’ll have to watch the program to find out!

Greg Hatten

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Wild and Scenic Rivers Part Two with Greg Hatten and Pendleton

We continue our series with Greg Hatten’s Woodenboat adventures on rivers protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers act. In this installment, Greg’s team approaches the run of a lifetime. 

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Frank Church Wilderness

In June I took my wooden boat down the River of No Return in the Frank Church Wilderness of Idaho. The Middle Fork of the Salmon was one of the original eight rivers inducted into the Wild and Scenic program and the bill was written and championed by Senator Frank Church of Idaho. This trip was special for so many reasons – mostly, because I got to row it alongside some of the best guides and woodenboat river runners on the planet…the Helfrich crew.

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The degree of difficulty of rowing this river in a fragile wooden boat was at the high-end of anything I had ever rowed. From the very first oar-stroke, the extreme gradient drop and rocky rapids provided non-stop rowing action the entire first day. For the five mile start through Sulpher Slide, Hell’s Half Mile and the Class IV Velvet Falls, I had just enough time to catch my breath between rapids and cast an occasional glance around at the beauty and rawness of the river wilderness and steep canyon walls we threaded our boats through.

The absence of dams on this river gives us a truly wild river to run – where the river level and conditions are dictated by the weather, the snow melt, the vertical drop, and the rock slides which change sometimes every year. Nothing controlled or contrived about the Middle Fork – it is in it’s natural state – rugged and raw and almost “untouched” by a human hand.

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