For the third time on the trip, I had missed out hearing about something important going on, and I was annoyed.  The latest buzz I heard near my tent was about a hike somewhere up on the ridge behind us.  Who set that up?  Why didn’t I know about it?  I wondered.

A dozen of us from the Obsidian hiking club out of Eugene were rafting the Owyhee River in southeastern Oregon, a remote river few have heard of.  For river guides, the Owyhee is one they want on their resume. The prior four years, winter had not delivered a snowpack sufficient to produce enough meltwater to support rafting, but this year’s winter had been good, the river runnable; indeed, our guides had taken four groups down the Owyhee already. The snowpack, however, disappeared under April temperatures that were again 30 degrees above normal.  We had been told our mid-May trip was in jeopardy, and given the rapid fall in river flow, were certain we wouldn’t be able to do the trip.  Unexpected rain came, however, and the river flow stayed over 1000 CFS (cubic feet per second), slightly more than the 800 CFS  necessary to run the rapids. Not many would follow us in 2016.

The prior night had been the most special of the trip, I thought.  We camped in Green Dragon Canyon, a narrow chasm 1000 feet deep, maybe 50 yards on either side of the river before the cliffs began.  I often stared at the river, the walls, and the narrow patch of sky, saying how lucky I was.  One couldn’t have a better camp, and the next morning’s thunderstorm, echoing off the walls, echoed my thoughts.


View from my tent, Green Dragon Canyon, Owyhee River

On this, our last full day on the Owyhee, we camped in a gorge with sedimentary rocks and compressed ash forming spires and faces and cats, orange columns below basalt rims on either side.  The upper rim was 1600’ above us, and I had heard the hike was going to the rim.  I came over to a group of 5 that was about to leave and asked to join.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have any other details.  That was a bad oversight on my part, for 1600 feet vertical is a major hike to take in late afternoon.


The ridge we climbed.  I stopped about two-thirds of the way to the bottom of the upper rock ledge.

The pace at the outset was fast, very fast, too fast, and I fell behind, surprised.  One man dropped out within a minute.  Then I looked down and saw squirming bodies that looked like crushed mice.  And blood.  And intestines. A large Chukar suddenly flew off to my right.  I then realized I was seeing dying young birds that had just been stepped on by the hikers ahead of me.  I called out and they came back, in time to see the young birds struggle one last time before thankfully dying quickly.

One of the hikers, a woman, stood there in shock, her mouth open, totally appalled.  She had been in the lead group.  Another man said, “They are an introduced species,” as if that had anything to do with the fact that fast hikers, bent on speed and little else, had just killed birds in their home in a place we all loved and wanted to protect.  Some protection.

The woman replied, “So am I.”  She had been born in Japan and lived there 12 years.

Normally, I don’t think of omens, but this was not a good one.  The hikers, including the woman, continued as if nothing had happened, a blistering pace up the ridge, barely switching back at all.  I was not on a steep trail, which I can handle, but scree, large rocks, and nothing to hang on.  My walking stick didn’t come with me on the trip.  My stick had been my paddle.

The four regrouped periodically, and I caught up, just in time for them to go higher and faster.  Wow, they were good.  Then again, I had been in the kayak all day and had worked hard. Up I went, now 50 yards behind, well below the fourth hiker, grabbing rocks, bushes, anything I could.  I gained 100 meters elevation, 125, then 150, puffing.  I looked up at the receding group, and suddenly I heard a “NO” come from me.  I spoke the word audibly.

I stopped.  It had been a few weeks since I last vocalized a NO in the woods.  It occurred on a solo scouting trip past Young Rock on my way to Moon Point, outside of Oakridge, Oregon.  I had gone several miles and up nearly 3000 feet, through snow, over some difficult blowdowns, a few streams, until I encountered a trio of fallen giants that I couldn’t go neither up and around nor down and around.   Or through.  I was less than a half mile from my destination, but I said NO and turned around.


Near where I said “NO” by Young’s Rock

NO sounds bad.  Negativity is not nice.  It means quit, failure, didn’t do it, wasn’t good enough, all those things.

It also can mean one has wisdom.

I did not like where I was, perched on the side of a ridge at a 45 degree angle.  On my own, given enough time, I could probably get to the top.  I didn’t know that the top they were going to was only another 75-100 meters.  I am literal, and the top of the ridge was 500 meters above our camp. Then I had to come down this stuff.  No matter; all I knew was that I was not going further. I listen to my “NO.”

I turned and stared in sudden wonder at the Owyhee, far below me.  I could see the last rapids we had done and the ones we would run the following morning, our last day on the river. That probably would be the last time I would ever see the river, although I am as cautious about saying the last time as I am saying the next time.  I may have extraordinary luck, or I may die. Stuff happens.

But what I saw as a result of my “NO” was a beautiful scene below me.  There are different kinds of orange, and for those who don’t appreciate the distinction, it is worth running the Owyhee, for the river is colored by geologic events that happened millions of years ago and by flowers that happened to bloom in the past week.

I would be careful on the way down, both for my sake and the sake of the locals.


The Owyhee River from where I stopped.


Sunset on the Owyhee


“Cat Rock”, Shiprock at sunset.


View upstream, where we saw eight Bighorns earlier that day


One of the Bighorns.  Picture taken from a kayak being moved by the current.

One Response to “LISTENING TO “NO””

  1. Sally Says:

    So much for the stereotypical image of hikers being lovers of nature. This lot weren’t even considerate of their fellow hikers.

    What a lesson that was?

    I’ve been on several hikes with people who are so hell bent on getting from A to B or just babbling, they were oblivious to the breathtaking scenery.

    I soon learned to pick my walking companions more carefully or more often, go by myself at my own pace. I would rather cover a shorter distance in order to fully savour each breathtaking piece of scenery.


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