Editorial & Photos By Gary DeVon
Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune
19 July 2007
This year’s Greater Columbia Water Trails Inaugural River Run from Oroville to Tonasket was a great time, although my arms were just about worn out by the time my friends Mo (Maureen), Geoff and I finally passed under the Fourth Street Bridge.
We planned on splitting the paddling chores in a single canoe, but opted instead for the three Nu Canoes that Ed Lawrence of Extreme Adventures offered us to try. We each had our own craft - a kind of combination kayak and canoe to navigate down the mighty Okanogan. I think Mo thought it was going to be more of a river “float.” That was just wishful thinking as we all soon found out that if we didn’t paddle we’d have been at it all night. As it was our timing was perfect - last in the water and last out - just in time for a great steak dinner at the Tonasket Eagles.
Arnie Marchand, one of the event’s organizers, commented to me the other day that some people were speculating that all three of us “were out of our minds” so to speak. However, the event was not a race so my friends and I took our sweet time exploring the river, having lunch on a sandy beach and stopping often to cool down from the 90 plus degree heat with a swim.
Those who have only driven the highway and have never paddled from Oroville to Tonasket might not realize just how much the Okanogan meanders. A trip of 16 road miles becomes a trip of 25 miles by river. After paddling around the first of many oxbows that greet you as you leave Oroville it dawns on you that you’ve only made it as far as the gravel pile south of town. However, once you finally reach that elusive Ellisforde Bridge the river straightens considerably and it’s a quick last effort to get you to Tonasket.
The little rapids just before Tonasket’s Fourth Street Bridge are fun. Take it from me if you hit them just right for maximum effect you can end up with a face full of water while mumbling a “thank you” under your breath to Ed who loaned you a dry bag for your camera before departing the Oroville access point.
Although much smaller, the rapids remind my old college buddy Geoff and I of our first canoe adventure down the Smith Fork in Montana. To Geoff’s older brother, the River Ranger’s disbelief, we went in three times the first day. Our scrambles to right the canoe were accompanied by shouts of “save the Scotch” echoing against the steep canyon walls.
No Scotch on this trip and no getting stuck balanced precariously on a big rock either. No, the Okanogan is a gentle river and with the exception of McLaughlin Falls further south (which I look forward to tackling some day) is just perfect for “stillwater” paddle trips.
I’m glad our northern leg of the river from Oroville to Tonasket is the beginning of the Greater Columbia River Trail and I’m glad I got in on the inaugural voyage with my friends. I’m already looking forward to next year.
Lastly, my apologies to author Norman Maclean for borrowing the title of his classic book on life and fly fishing. It’s one of my favorites, although his Young Men and Fire might be more appropriate for the county this week.