Words and photos by John Webster
The Whitewater State, as Idaho is informally known, received a solid snowpack for the 2015-16 winter, and paddlers looked to the southernmost part of the state to see if the desert rivers would run. Prayers were answered and bucket lists were checked off when the Owyhee, Bruneau, and Jarbidge rivers all flowed consistently for longer than they have in years. By the powers of Instagram and the one-degree of separation in kayaking, Trent Meisenheimer invited me on a trip down the Jarbidge and Bruneau, two corridors of enchantment and profound views.
The rapids, cliff walls, and camps on the 71-mile run were new to everyone in the party, which added a sense of discovery to the whole trip. We were told many things about this stretch: the scenery is amazing, the portages are a pain, and the water is cold in the spring. We found all of this to be true.
We put on the Jarbidge near the Idaho-Nevada border and followed it north. From Day One on this stretch, we encountered what can only be described as maze-like scenery. Even though we were following the river, we passed some corners we swore we’d seen before. Everything surrounding us was dream-like. There was nothing to distract us, only ways to feel connected to this corridor deep in the Idaho desert.
Day Two tested us with wind, clouds, and colder temperatures. Light rain lingered as we met the Bruneau and its ominous gates that led us deep into the canyon.
Day Three was filled with 40 miles of paddling. Throughout the day, we saw massive rock structures and the Sheep Creek confluence, another classic desert run. After paddling a majority of those 40 miles in headwinds, we began to hear a roar: the aptly named 5 Mile Rapid. The consistent Class IV section was completely rejuvenating and reminded us once again of classic Idaho whitewater… big, fun read-and-run.
The hype was true; these two rivers are absolutely incredible. I found myself constantly looking up, bumping my boat into rocks because I was so enchanted by this place. Check out the photo gallery above to get a taste of why this run, though hard to catch, is worth waiting for.
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