Written By | Jo Kemper
The Minam River has been on my Eastern Oregon paddling todo list for as long as I can remember having an Eastern Oregon list. The Minam River emerges from the heart of the Wallowa Mountains, flows northwest through the Eagle Cap Wilderness, and joins the Wallowa River at Minam. It starts from a modified natural alpine lake where one end of the lake is the source of the Lostine River, and the other end of the same lake is the source of the Minam River. The Minam can be accessed by hiking, horse packing, or flying to one of two grass airstrips along the river, inside the wilderness boundary. To my knowledge, it is the only fly-in access to wilderness paddling option in Oregon.
River flow at the get in | Photo - Catherine Loke
Floating | Photo - Jo Kemper
Portage one | Photo - Catherine Loke
Portage two | Photo - Catherine Loke
From Enterprise, we flew in a Cessna 206, over Cougar Ridge to the smoothest landing on a grass airstrip I could have imagined (shout out to Spence Air Service!). Smoke from the nearby Elbow Creek fire on the Grande Ronde could be seen from the flight, as well as a few other clouds of smoke in the distance. The volunteers staffing the horse ranch welcomed us enthusiastically upon landing. From the airstrip, we made the roughly quarter-mile trek past the horse ranch carrying all of our stuff to the river in remarkable time. Our first attempt at loading our packrafts with all of our overnight gear and food took, well, slightly longer.
Super technical rock garden | Photo - Jo Kemper
Stoked to be floating again
Walking the dog | Photo - Catherine Loke
Camp 1 breakfast spread | Photo - Catherine Loke
Starfishing | Photo - Jo Kemper
Upside-down starfishing | Photo - Catherine Loke
At first the river was deep, clear, and gorgeous. It was channelized enough to float effortlessly, and it appeared we were in for a leisure float through a ponderosa filled wilderness heaven. A few log portages and gravel bars later, we were a lot more appreciative of the channel depth at the very beginning of our trip. We did not make quick downstream progress. We stopped at plenty of swimming holes, and took lots of snack breaks. We found a few things helped with our ultra low flow experience, one being to forgo the spray skirt and starfish on top of our boats to spread the weight out as we encountered extra shallow spots. We also did a lot of dog walking.
Still floating....sort of | Photo - Jo Kemper
The questionable goods | Photo - Catherine Loke
Pool time | Photo - Jo Kemper
Elbow Creek Fire haze settling in above camp | Photo - Catherine Loke
Considering the current hydrological outlook for this area, I’m grateful we had any water. We enjoyed a pristine slice of paradise, and we didn’t see anyone else on the river. We saw more wildlife than mosquitoes, lounged around camp painting watercolors, sunbathed in swimming holes, ate lots of good food, went on hikes, slept out, slept in, and tried to be Winnie the Pooh as much as possible. Our window of opportunity was tight, and the river was closed by the time we reached our takeout, due to the active fire downstream. I’d still like to get into the upper section of this river at a proper flow, where the whitewater lurks in the mountain canyons. For now, I am stoked we were able to make this adventure happen, especially after years of talking about it. Extra special thanks to my friend Catherine, for doing the packrafting things with me, and for taking lovely photos.
Packrafting things | Photo - Jo Kemper
Still figuring out this whole packrafting thing | Photo - Catherine Loke
Winnie the Pooh sighting - no pants
The get out sign | Photo - Catherine Loke