The Big Windy fire that kept us away from the Rogue River for our first two trips had, as much as a fire can, settled into a more predictable pattern. It wasn’t crowning from tree top to tree top and it hadn’t jumped the river. Officials were calling it a “healthy fire” since it’s behavior was to creep along at ground level confined to just the understory, despite having burned thousands of acres.
The BLM reopened the river corridor allowing trips to resume. There were still restrictions in place from Howard Creek down to Missouri Creek with regards to where you could stop during the day as well as camp each night. The normal shuttle route over Bear Camp Road was closed meaning trips would have to return via the coastal route. We were pretty excited about the prospects of getting at least one trip in on the Rogue this season. Thanks to Jim Ritter at RRJ we had been keeping our guests on each trip up to date on the fire’s status. This third group was happy to hear about the reopening and they understood there would be smoke for part of the trip- how much and where was up to the wind.
In addition to the great white water and instructional opportunities the Rogue presents, we were all pretty curious about seeing the effects of the fire. From our first night’s camp at Wildcat we could see the smoke and occasional flames from the Howard Creek area a mile downstream. Thankfully we had downstream wind and air at camp was clean with blue sky above.
Howard Creek, we were told, was where fire crews were putting in a fire line to form the eastern boundary of the fire. Just before we arrived in camp, in the flats above Tyee rapid, a large tanker helicopter dropped down to within feet of the water’s surface and began slurping up water. It flew off in the direction of the Howard Creek drainage and returned to begin the process all over again.
Day 2 dawned an eerie, heavy day. The clouds built as we packed up, obscuring the sun and holding the smoke in while the rain began to fall. We made our way past the most active part of the fire visible from the river. It was the most bizarre scene, the trees were green and healthy while underneath, smoldering moss and grass occasionally gave rise to a small flareup. Rarely on the hillside we saw the glow from a burning tree trunk -surrounded by green trees! We could see scorched areas where the fire had come down almost to the water’s edge. It looked as if fingers of the fire had extended down the hill. The worst area was around Horseshoe bend where a stretch of shoreline from Jenny Creek down to the point at Horseshoe had been scorched. We learned later that was the result of a back burn that firemen set to prevent the fire from jumping the river.
As the cool, steady rain fell, all I could think about were the positive affects as it washed the smoke from the sky. By the time we made it to camp at Mule Creek the air was clean and altho we set up tents, the skies cleared and the stars were bright.
Day 3 dawned clear and the Rogue was looking like it’s old self again. We paddled Mule Creek Canyon and Blossom Bar under sunny skies, watched Johnny skip stones and talked him into his first session of bottom walking (picture big rock, calm pool, start walking, hold breath- oh and heavy parental supervision and approval) all before lunch.
On the last night, after the evening’s festivities and dinner, people wandered off to bed, tired from another good day. Three of us remained, standing at the edge of camp looking up at the night’s sky. Mostly we were silent, enjoying the beauty of the moment.
Adventure is defined as “outcome unknown”. Thanks to all that joined us on this and the trip on the Deschutes this year. We are grateful for your adventurous spirit and for placing your trust in us and the fantastic crew we work with from Rogue River Journeys. Together we all made some great memories.
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