First Overnight

I’ve come late to touring kayaking. I’d dabbled in whitewater kayaking but didn’t discover touring boats until coming to work at NRS.

Clyde and Tyler cruising on Snake Lake.
Clyde and Tyler cruising on Snake Lake. © Ali Courrier
I carpool with Tyler Harris, another NRS Associate, who is truly a water addict. He’s been a raft guide in Colorado, California and Washington for several seasons, wind surfed, IKed, etc., etc. The Snake River flows between Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Washington, in the valley where we live. Slack water extends above the towns, backed-up by a downstream dam.
Tyler has borrowed one of the Company Use touring kayaks and regularly hauls it down to “Snake Lake” for early morning before work or evening paddles. His tales of invigorating exercise, encounters with curious beavers and stares from curious power boaters had inspired me to think more about this type of boating. So I too grabbed a boat and took an outing on the lake with Tyler and his friend Ali.

It was fun, but camping while boating is my thing, so I started looking for some overnight possibilities. Boat camping on Dworshak Reservoir has always intrigued me. It’s an Army Corps of Engineers project, created by damming the North Fork of the Clearwater River near Orofino, Idaho. The dam backs up water some 60 miles into the Idaho backcountry. Sprinkled along its shores are 121 mini-camps, accessible only by boat. Each has a pit toilet, picnic table and metal fire ring. The touring kayaks would let us easily reach these camps.

Forested slopes spill right down into
Forested slopes spill right down into
Dworshak Reservoir. © Tyler Harris
Tyler and I talked it up and in late June we enlisted six other NRS folks for the trip. Joining us were Marketing Manager David Blue, Customer Service Reps Virginia Williams, Luc Adams (now Southeast Wholesale Rep) and Casey Worzella (now Mid-Atlantic Wholesale Rep), and Warehouse Associates Ashley Grittner and Matt Waterson.

Tyler and I brought our gear up on Friday morning and dumped it off in the Frameshop, where Company Use gear is stored. Virginia and Matt had graciously agreed to do grocery shopping Thursday evening. We took off work at noon, gathered up gear and loaded it, along with four touring kayaks, two sit-on-tops and a canoe in our 15-passenger van and trailer.

We got on the road around 2:30 and headed south. Halfway down the hill into the LC Valley one of the trailer tires shed its tread. The tire stayed inflated so we limped into Lewiston to a tire shop. A half-hour later and a new tire richer, we continued on. Highway 12 to Orofino, then up the Grangemont Road into the woods. When the road T-ed we turned left towards Headquarters. Had we gone right we’d have passed through Pierce, near where gold was first discovered in Idaho in 1860. Beyond Pierce is the Weippe Prairie, where in 1805 the starving Lewis and Clark Expedition stumbled out of the rugged mountains and were welcomed and fed by the Nez Perce people – an act of kindness that some in the tribe later came to regret.

Headquarters is a shadow of its former self. In the logging heyday, there was quite a community there. Now most of the buildings have been moved or demolished. Not far past Headquarters is a sign on a turn off, “Grandad Bridge – 27 miles”. And that’s 27 slow miles of steep, winding gravel road, that takes about an hour to negotiate.

Luc – the proud fisherman.
Luc – the proud fisherman. © Ashley Grittner
The campground at the boat launch is just a large gravel oval with a dozen or so picnic tables and fire pits around its perimeter. Not very scenic, but turn toward the reservoir and the view is breathtaking. Green forested slopes extend down to the blue water’s edge.

We gawked a bit and then started unloading our camping gear in preparation for making our evening meal of grilled hamburgers. As the load in the back of the van began to diminish, I wasn’t seeing one important item. Luc had done most of the inside packing, so I asked him where he’d put the green York Pack. “I didn’t load a York Pack,” he said. My heart sank – it was my kitchen box, with a nested cook set, cooking utensils and my personal eating utensils, bowl, cup, etc! How had we missed packing it? I knew it had gotten to NRS; I’d used our Gear Checklists to inventory and load all my gear into the car. And I’d checked to make sure it all got unloaded at the Frameshop and that our gear pile got loaded into the van and trailer. A mystery indeed.

I was pretty bummed, but the rest of the crew counseled against despair. We inventoried what we had and things looked up. Luc had brought a backpacking stove and a small cook pot, Matt had another one-burner stove with two pots and I had a one-burner with two small nested pots. I’d packed the coffee pot separately and had my commuter cup. We could adapt!

David styling in his hammock, above the bumps and bugs.
David styling in his hammock, above the bumps and bugs. © Luc Adams
Charcoal was ignited and burger patties hit the grill. Instead of turning with a spatula, I jabbed a knife through them to make the flip. Great meal, with all the trimmings, including a small watermelon. Dusk arrived and Tyler the Water Rat couldn’t stand it; he elected to do a night time paddle. Luc and Ashley agreed to join him. Tyler had an Aqua Strobe and I loaned them mine. They paddled off into the fading light, for the point across the lake where the Little North Fork joins the main stem.

We followed the blinking strobes for quite a while. Then they disappeared and we figured they’d rounded the point. Later there were more blinking lights, then red lights and sweeping white lights. We pondered and speculated. Could that be them? What are the red lights? Maybe they’re being abducted by aliens or had an encounter with gunrunners. Just when we were ready to send out the water cavalry, they came gliding up out of the gloom, laughing at the wonder they’d caused. Turned out Luc and Ashley had headlamps with red “nightlight” LEDs!

After the prodigals returned, we retired. Although there was some flash lightning in the distance, I decided not to put up the tent and just tossed the sleeping bag down on my ¾- length backpacking pad, right on the gravel lot. In the night I groggily woke thinking my pad had deflated and the gravel was poking me through it. Then I discovered I’d rolled off the pad and I didn’t even have the deflated pad to soften the gravel.

And a fun time was had by all.
And a fun time was had by all. © Luc Adams
Dawn came early and unrested. Luc and Matt cranked out some delicious breakfast burritos; we drank lots of coffee and packed up our boats. Virginia and Matt chose the canoe, Ashley and Luc took the sit-on-tops and the rest of us boarded the kayaks. We paddled up the reservoir on a beautiful summer morning. Soon we were spread out, coasting along the shore, crossing to the far bank (in places almost a half-mile wide), exploring nooks and coves. Dave and Luc were dedicated to fishing and both caught Smallmouth Bass. Luc was claiming bragging rights because he caught a nice one on his first cast.

We reached a mini-camp about four and a half miles above the put-in by early afternoon. There were only a couple of obvious sleeping sites, looked like it might be a bit cramped for our size group. Tyler, of course, was still up for paddling and volunteered to cruise up farther to see if there was a better camp. Casey wanted to go too. The rest of us hung out, some fishing and exploring, some taking it easy. I laid out on my Neo Touring Skirt and Motion Jacket, used my Hustle for a pillow and was soon making up for a lousy night’s sleep. Dave, that dog, pulled out his Double Nest Hammock and snoozed in suspended comfort.

Lush vegetation and lots of ferns.
Lush vegetation and lots of ferns. © Luc Adams
Tyler and Casey came back with news they’d found a superior camp a mile and a half up and across the lake. We loaded back up and paddled to their find. It was a nice one, right at the mouth of Rooney Creek. We got unloaded, kitchen organized, sleeping sites found. Some swam, some fished, all relaxed.

The evening meal was interesting. The main course was to be a one-pot meal, River Paella, from a recipe given us by Associate Terry Feigenbutz. Terry, in addition to his many other talents is a professionally trained chef; everything he fixes is delicious (here’s a link to his recipe). Ah, the rub, we had no pot large enough to make it a one-pot meal. So, we fired up all three stoves and proceeded to make a five-pot meal. Even without the ability to simmer it all together, it was delicious. Raw veggies, bread and cookies, along with the wine that didn’t make it into the paella, rounded out the meal.

Casey cruising up Benton Creek.
Kayaks glowing in the fading light. © Tyler Harris
We built a fire and enjoyed a great evening. We didn’t make a late night of it, we were tired enough after the day’s paddle. Dave slept in his hammock and the rest of us retired to our sleeping bags. I had set up the tent, minus the rainfly, for bug protection, since I’d set up right in the middle of some thick vegetation.
It was a great night’s sleep and being in the thick shade, I even slept in. Breakfast was bagels and cream cheese, left over cookies, etc. We were about out of drinking water so Luc, Matt and I hiked up the creek to filter some. Such a beautiful place – lush vegetation, lots of birds. I identified at least four varieties of ferns.;
It was probably 11:00 before we got back on the water. The “upstream” wind of yesterday had intensified and was now in our face, blowing 10-20 mph. In the more exposed stretches, we paddled into one-foot swells. It was a tough slog. Tyler, Casey, Dave and I took a fun detour on the way back. We paddled up the twisting slack water in Benton Creek for about three-quarters of a mile, to where the two branches of the creek join. There was a waterfall on one branch and thick, lush vegetation.
Tyler’s kayak nosing into the waterfall at the top of Benton Creek.
Tyler’s kayak nosing into the waterfall at the top of Benton Creek. © Tyler Harris
Back at the boat launch we rested a bit, ate lunch and loaded up. The drive out was hairy. We met several vehicles pulling camp trailers and on the narrow, hidden curves there were some close calls. Back in Orofino we stopped at a grocery store for cold drinks and snacks. Dave got cell phone signal, talked with Keli back in Moscow and came away chuckling. The mystery of the missing kitchen box was solved. Bill Parks, NRS’ founder and President, had just gotten back from a Rogue River raft trip the day we left. He’d picked up the green York Pack, thinking it was his. By the time he discovered the error, we were long gone.
It was a great trip. None of us had overnighted out of kayaks before, so there were many lessons learned. Tyler and I were already planning the next overnight adventure!

Clyde Nicely
e-News Editor