Take a trip down the Owyhee with Helfrich River Outfitters!
Day 3: Montgomery
Today’s float gets underway quick. Our campsite lies outside of a popular part of the trip at Montgomery Canyon. This two-mile stretch is the deepest part of the canyon, with cliff falls rising up 800 feet above us. Most people call the first part of the canyon “Iron Point Canyon,” but that name was assigned after the Helfrich family had already been floating down here for years, so to them the whole canyon is Montgomery.
We take it slow through this part of the trip, lazily drifting through and admiring the canyon. Some people take out their fishing poles to fish from the drift boats. One of the guests even catches something. The canyon starts to squeeze in on us, becoming even more dramatic. Canyons like this are impressive from afar, but the view from within one, with no bank where the rock wall disappears into the river is uncommon, and even more amazing. The canyon isn’t all calm as there are two class III rapids, “Rock Trap” and “Squeeze,” both at higher water. The canyon does include the hardest and most technical run of the trip–Montgomery.
The group leaves the water to scout before tackling Montgomery. This time, we do want to stay left, although with the sheer cliff wall, moving too far left can be dangerous, especially for wooden drift boats. Now that Sena has had time to survey the class IV rapid and we’ve strapped in our gear before heading into the whitewater, our run goes smoothly and we set up below to watch the drift boats come through. Not a single scratch is made among the group.
We exit Montgomery Canyon and find ourselves back in the open. The vastly different landscapes are what make the Owyhee wilderness unique. One minute you have sheer cliffs on either side of you, squeezing the river into a narrow passage, and the next, you are out in the open, the river wide and shallow. The next three miles are lazy and open, giving us the chance to grab some refreshments from the cooler and relax. After about three miles, we hit a few technical runs, “Nuisance” (class IV, though today it runs like a class III) and “Morcum Dam” (class III).
Morcum Dam was constructed in 1963 to irrigate the Hole-In-The-Ground Ranch. The ranch’s name comes from the fact that from above, as from planes flying over, the landscape literally drops, looking like a hole in the ground. The rapid isn’t difficult, but our guides need to be conscious of rebar sticking out of the water; left behind by a dam-destroying flood years ago, the metal could pierce our boats if we aren’t careful.
Past the dam and Hole-In-The-Ground, we pull over to observe a plethora of petroglyphs carved into the rocks. This region of the Owyhee was inhabited by the Shoshone-Paiute tribe and the petroglyphs are estimated to be between 8,000-10,000 years old. The carvings are very detailed and even a tourist like myself can make out some of the images.
Not far from the pictographs, we arrive at the evening’s campsite, “Bobcat.” Bobcat is a much different campsite than the nights prior: not small, but more compact, grass instead of sand, and an eddie to bathe in. Our tents rest on a small hill with a giant field behind us. Across the river, we have a spectacular view of “Devil’s Tower.”
Devil’s Tower is hard to describe. It looks like something built by aliens. It’s the group’s consensus (though it has no factual basis) that the Native Americans here probably worshipped this rock. It juts out of a landscape as a singular formation and looks very similar to the rock in Wyoming that shares its name. Flat on top, with streaks of lava that hardened while running down its sides, it’s a bewildering feature of the canyon to say the least.
That night the camp takes bets on where the sun will rise in the morning, using sticks as an ancient dial to determine the outcome. We feast on a piece of steak I have never heard of before, “Teres Major.” Technically a sirloin, this piece of meat cuts easier than a filet mignon and boasts even more flavor than a ribeye. It is without a doubt our favorite meal of the trip. I stay up up with a couple members of the group, drinking too much around the campfire before retiring back to the tent at the end of Day Three.
Follow our adventure on video:
Text and video by: Jonathan Conti
Photos by: Chad Case