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Upper White River, Oregon from Keeps Mill to Tygh Valley

Upper White River, Oregon from Keeps Mill to Tygh Valley

Article and Photos provided generously by IR Team Member Jo Kemper

May 13-14, 2017


Ample snowpack, a little spontaneity, a gap in the weather; the stars aligned making it possible to get acquainted with a backyard overnighter that has been eluding me for quite some time. Pat Welch’s website described the flow as good, and the ranger district was able to confirm the road to Keeps Mill was open from the south; to access the put in, take Highway 197 southwest out of Tygh Valley and turn right onto the 216 west and follow that until Keeps Mill Road on the right. The last bit of Keeps Mill Road down to the river from the south is pretty rough, I highly recommend clearance for that route.

The Keeps Mill put in, at the confluence of White River and Clear Creek, did not look too promising. Most of what could be seen, which wasn’t much, was overgrown, shallow, and woody.

As we geared up, jokes were flying and bets soaring on how long it would be before our first portage of the day. I silently wondered how long it would be until someone was pissed they agreed to join me on this trip.

To all of our surprise, we only had to portage one time on the 12 mile upper section. We did a one-person peek for wood at a couple different spots, and made several moves under, over, and around logs; some that I would not necessarily want to repeat at any other flow. The flows we had, combined with a small and agile group, provided a healthy balance of stress to fun levels.

The camping potential is next level all along the upper White River. Ponderosas line the shore on a nearly perfect shelf, with hardly a sign of humans, save for a few spots where it’s evident that access is nearby; palpable by the tattered remains of decaying camp rubbish. Upon reaching a glorious camp rather early in the afternoon, the boys dove right into nap time. After nap time we explored the scene on the cliffs above camp, and enjoyed some quality lifestyling.

The camp was only a few miles past the Victor Road bridge (the put in for the lower). The lower section after our camp almost immediately started off with a beautiful canyon, and a portage. This sort of set the stage for the day. At times it felt like for each of the stunning canyon walls, there was an equally unappealing piece of wood. I believe we only portaged 4 times on the second day, 5 if you count one assisted pull over a log jam. It became slightly more challenging for me as the crack(s) in my hull were opening and my loaded boat, half full of water, started to feel less and less agile and more like a sinking ship as the day went on. The canyon is quite impressive, and greatly exceeded my expectations.

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