September 16, 2019, Day 12
Three Forks to Louse Canyon (beneath Overtime Reservoir) ~OC 67 , ~14.4 miles, ~146.5 miles total
Rivers in deserts are magical. The Owyhee is magical. This is a beautiful place to be. It’s tempting to linger at Three Forks. To explore a bit up each confluence canyon of the river. To wade over to the hot springs for a soak. To admire the changing colors of the rhyolite cliffs with their shades of patina and lichen collages. To sit, with gaze lifted up to note geese and herons flying over and marvel as swallows swoop. To watch the light change on the river as fish rise. To observe how a day unfolds for the wildlife residents of this beautiful canyon.
Another time. This time we’re self-commissioned to head up the West Little Owyhee. We know that the next four days and 80-some miles are no cake walk. So we take in as much of the Three Forks magic as we can while we keep moving, lured on by the mysteries and myths ahead. (Gabriel is right, I am a conflicted thru-hiker.)
We did stop earlier than normal for breakfast this morning so we could enjoy views of Three Forks Dome and the short segment of narrows along the main fork of the Owyhee. Then it was several miles of road walking to get to Five Bar and the confluence with the West Little Owyhee River.
Cloudy skies filtered the sun and its warmth. I couldn’t help but have a dose of wishful thinking that it would have been nice to have 90-degree weather on this stretch of the ODT! But that’s not to be. It’ll be in the 60s or low 70s today and tomorrow with a chance of showers in the forecast. Not ideal conditions, but not horrible either.
From the road along Brown Ridge we could see hints of the canyon realm we’d soon be entering, grassy uplands rolling over steep cliffs, but no hint of how deep. After a few toe touches with the river and peekaboo views from the rim, we’re excited to spend multiple days in the canyon! The West Little Owyhee River and Louse Canyon have earned such superlatives as a national Wild and Scenic River (for its entire 63.1 miles), rugged, remote, and rarely visited. A part of Oregon with canyon narrows, buff cliffs, and terrain akin to southern Utah (not in rock age mind you). Our curiosity has been piqued for years. We’ve been anticipating this introduction.
The descent to the river near Five Bar held all the thrills of walking into a beautiful canyon. Spires and pinnacles of marvelous form, colorful lichens, shadows of ravens on canyon walls, canyon wren trills, and the suggestion of hidden secret delights, small and marvelous. We forded the Owyhee River, where it was just above the knee deep. Thankfully, no flailing or swimming in a swift current required as is the case for spring ODT travlers. After a snack break at the confluence, we headed up the West Little Owyhee River.
With every bend we were curious what we’d see next. Wash strolling. Beaver pool wading. Willow schwacking. Boulder negotiating. All the primary skills of canyon travel used. The West Little Owyhee River and Louse Canyon terrain features feel similar to parts of Kanab Canyon in Arizona.
Normally we like to hike until dusk to make the most of daylight. But as we traveled further up canyon the clouds rolled in and suggested rain was coming. The part of Louse Canyon we were in is more bouldery, narrow at times, with few level spots big enough for our tent. We couldn’t be choosy. So we started looking for home earlier than normal. We even did the rare thing of backtracking a bit to a spot we’d seen earlier (we hardly ever backtrack on a thru-hike!). A sandy bench cozied up to a juniper. We used river rocks to pitch our mid (free standing tents are heavy but have advantages at times) and got inside just as the rains started in earnest.
It rains 6 out of 12 days on the Oregon Desert Trail. (And three of those dry days were in Nampa.)