Freezing in Hells Canyon

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October 2, 2009
Road to nowhere
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Road to nowhere
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Having spent a few weeks and more than a few dollars preparing for our first overnight, two-up ride together, we didn’t want the Jarbidge club ride¹ cancellation to mean the end of the season, new gear and expectations unspent. So my wife and I rolled the dice and began considering routes to nearby, unseen destinations.

  1. Idaho Adventure Motorcycle Club: motoidaho.com/motoidaho
High way to Montour
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High way to Montour
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It wasn’t exactly the route we planned but a forecasted chance of Sunday rain rising at the last minute to 100% and other trials and tribulations called for improvising along the way. As planned, we headed to Montour up Eagle Road as it turns first to gravel and then dirt.

Welcome to Montour
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Welcome to Montour
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It is a fun route. It gets a bit rutted and rocky toward the end but entertaining, not bad. Seeking scenery more than efficiency, we looped around the relative oasis of Montour.

Black Canyon dam
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Black Canyon dam
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That Black Canyon highway is a good bit of fun. We passed our turn-off to check out the dam. We’d never been over there. We hoped to walk out there but clearly they must guard against terrorists (teenagers). Oh well. On we went.

Squaw Butte views
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Squaw Butte views
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The road up to Squaw Butte is gravel, the last few miles of which is unavoidable washboard. Meh. This is the final image of an un-dented, un-gouged, un-scratched skid plate, header pipe, cylinder head and pannier (queue tears).

Our route so far
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Our route so far
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This pretty well covers the way we’d so far ridden from Boise.

Endless horizon
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Endless horizon
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It is even more desolate to the west.

Trees!
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Trees!
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I was glad we were going north.

Kid check
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Kid check
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Doesn't look so bad
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Doesn’t look so bad
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Not about to break the adventure riding code of ethics, I’d found a route off the butte different from the one ridden up. It looked good to me.

Less fun
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Less fun
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It began all friendly and welcoming like you see above. “Come on big GS, this is easy” it cooed. Besides, it obviously would be downhill.

I enjoy a trail with some bumps. It’s the bumps that move and roll around that make me nuts. That this was one of the easier sections is made obvious by the fact that I’m on top of the motorcycle rather than under it! There are several sections where even on foot, we couldn’t help but stumble.

Too much of this
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Too much of this
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The thought balloon above my head: “This won’t be easy to lift.” A few minutes later: “I don’t think that will buff out.” And of course, tears.

The bike went on its side a few times. This was the only time I wasn’t able to step off the bike before it happened. A peg or something landed right on my ankle and I was glad that my indecision before leaving about wearing the riding boots (they hurt my toes) resulted in still wearing those tall boots.

It was such a frustrating experience to make every effort and still not keep it upright. Inching along, I would nonetheless end up with rolling rocks under the wheels and under my feet (not to mention branches scraping along the windshield, smacking me in the head). Down I would go. I blame the GPS.

If curses could crack rocks it would have been a sandy ride.

My wife, Jessica, was so good about it. Truly. She tried to keep ahead of me on foot to move rocks from the path. Later, I told her I should pimp her out to other riders needing to clear trails. She had a lot of patience for the situation.

Eventually we made it off the butte. The ATV track crossed cow pastures, back and forth across a stream for a good ways. We dutifully opened and closed gates. And then finally, after being tricked once by a road mirage, the actual road! But … a chained and padlocked gate. No way!

Surely it violates the Geneva Convention to have stretched wire gates across one end of your land, with signs reading “please close behind you,” implying that access is permitted, but then a locked steel gate at the opposite end, just where you could otherwise return to the public road.

Lucky for the owner, I had no bolt cutters on me. After the big battle of rolling rocks, I was that frustrated. There was no way we could make it back over the butte. I studied the situation, contemplating the tools I did have. A screw driver. I could use a screw driver to unwind the metal ties that held the barbed wire to the stakes. And so I did. Four wires, two stakes, then Jessica stood on the wires while I rode over. Then I carefully wired them back up, even a bit better, I think, than before.

We were onto gravel. Big Flat Road and Crane Road, it looks like. And wow. I kept expecting to emerge from the featureless terrain hardly worthy of a bombing range. We flew along the road … and flew. But still nothing.

Nothing.

The point of a back-road route was to sight-see. But there wasn’t so much as one rock stacked on another out there, not to mention a tree or bit of shrub. So at the first chance, we abandoned the planned route in exchange for a straight-ish shot to Weiser. Soon, coming around a corner, we saw a rock face and knew we’d made the right choice. It was such a welcome sight of something that we stopped to look for a minute.

What neither of us could fathom are the people who’ve setup camps and homes out here.

Finally some rest
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Finally some rest
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The whole butte and gate thing on top of getting out late had us behind schedule for Hells Canyon. After a bite in Weiser, we decided we’d better just take the first campsite we saw.

We end up a lot nearer the highway than befits true camping. And I think we might have ridden down what was intended as a walking path but since nobody in Cambridge, Idaho, has ever unauthorized me I figured I couldn’t be one of those “prohibited unauthorized vehicles” mentioned on the sign. Besides, this was practically an emergency which made us more of an emergency vehicle.

Loud tarp
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Loud tarp
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Since we were dealing with a new tent and new gear, we hustled to setup before dark. We needed to be able to see those instructions! With rain in the forecast, I also setup the tarp. We were prepared.

Or not. Instead of rain we got wind. The wind was unkind to the tarp. The tarp howled and flapped in protest throughout the night. I got up twice to reconfigure it, poking around in the windy darkness in my bare feet, still expecting rain. In our sleeping bag, I was repeatedly awakened by the sound of something large clawing around our tent and cooler outside. It was not a restful night.

Survived the night
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Survived the night
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We were over-prepared for just an overnighter. That was intentional. Part of the purpose was to test new gear. A new camp stove failed the test. After a restless night of a wind whipped tarp and imagined beasts, we were eager to try the new coffee percolator. I prepared to fire up the stove. No? No!

One connector, one button. How could it fail? I fiddled. I did a field disassembly. Nothing. Screw it, I decided to have an open fire in spite of the continuing wind. We set the pot on the flames and poured our coffee from the blackened metal.

Warming up
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Warming up
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It wasn’t cold like forecasted. It hadn’t rained like forecasted. Having come that far, shouldn’t we continue to the canyon? Of course, we reasoned.

The original plan was back roads from Council by Bear over to Hells Canyon. But now we were expediting. Highway 71 from Cambridge is actually a lot of fun with nice views. No complaints. I pulled up the thermometer and watched it click down to 42°F as we climbed up and over to Brownlee Reservoir. Brrr. Heated grips: on. But it warmed back up to near 50° as we descended to the water. Ahhh.

Making power
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Making power
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We cruised with no plan but to see where the day would take us. I think that’s my favorite kind of ride plan.

Bandit
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Bandit
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We explored side roads on a whim. It was getting a little chilly, though, even down in the canyon. Jessica added a fine silk scarf to her repertoire and took to jamming her hands inside my jacket.

Hells refuge
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Hells refuge
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Near Oxbow, we decided it was time for another warm-up.

Busy place
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Busy place
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We didn’t have much company. I guess some folks pay attention to the weather forecast.

She must love me
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She must love me
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The food was good. What next? I offered some options. We decided to head further north on the highway-side of the river, maybe take the road over to Council. As we emerged from the restaurant, though, rain was picking up in earnest. New plan: head home.

The ride out of Brownlee was a tough one. Steady rain became a driving rain. As we climbed, I saw the temperature fall below 40°F. Then lower. Finally 32° and heavy snow. Gah.

Speed is what keeps us in a mostly-dry cocoon. Snow began to pile on my visor as I slowed for the winding road. Finally I had to lift the visor to see. Ouch. Then the inside of the visor got wet and putting it back down, a lost option. So we had to go slower which meant even more snow and rain landing on us. You might say the situation snowballed.

This was among the expected possibilities so I couldn’t cry too much.

Last warm-up
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Last warm-up
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Our gear kept us dry enough. We stopped for a final latte to warm up in Cambridge before shooting home.

The culprit
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The culprit
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Nothing can make a driving rain at 42° on the highway feel comfortable … except having just come through heavy snow at 32°.

Ah, adventure it was. From Cambridge to Boise, the rain never let up. In fact, it came down pretty hard in places. But we sped on, passing cars, passing trucks, slicing through standing water, glad for the big bike keeping us relatively comfortable behind its fat front end.

Finally home ... I’m not a typical fan of a hot bath but that time: “Have you started that bath yet!?”