Atlantic to Pacific Journal

   Snake River 

June 14th: Clarkston to somewhere past Boyer Park on the Snake River

Gordy and Dave helped me get down to the river this morning.Gordy

For a full-sized picture of them, please see my Snake River photos. The gate from the marina I came through last night was locked so we had to carry my canoe and gear down over the river bank next to the marina.
Although this is the Snake River it actually is a series of lakes starting here at Clarkston all the way to the Tri-Cities where it joins the Columbia River. Then the Columbia also becomes a series of lakes all the way to the Pacific Ocean. This is because both rivers have a number of dams now. Back in the Lewis and Clark days this was a free and fast flowing river. Not now. It is basically slack water with little or no current and most likely I will have the prevailing winds in my face coming from the west or northwest which could drastically cut my mileage.

However, today there is little wind and I can tell there is a little current in my favor.

As I pushed off I noticed my first barge across the river. Very small, as is the tugboat pushing it, as compared to the barges on the Ohio.

The day's paddle went well. In the morning I thought I was making super fast time as I was counting down the numbers painted on bark markers alongside the riverbanks. I noticed I was at 24 in about two hours and knew I'd started at 34. Figuring these were mile markers I was doing great. Then in two more hours the next marker appeared, 22! So I figured it could not be mile markers but rather markers numbered only to let barges know what turn in the river they were at.

Late in the day I was out in the middle of nowhere and I heard voices. So a scull of about 7 rowers came paddling by with a motorboat yelling instructions to them. I figure they were learning the art of skulling, but out here I see nothing that shows a marina or town nearby.

In a mile I found out my answer. On the north shore was this nice building with the name, Cougar's Rowing Club. Must be a town somewhere nearby that loves this sport.

At about 6:30 PM I was approaching my first dam on the Snake, which I will need to portage around. On the Ohio if you remember, I was allowed to go through the locks. Here I am not. Plus they only have certain times of the day they open the locks to public motorboat traffic. This will be a bit of a hassle for it means I will need to hook up to my bike and portage around. This portage is supposed to be about a mile but some will be as much as 5 miles as I move along.

Well, as I neared the Lower Granite Dam there was a sign saying the portage is on the right side of the river. Naturally I was on the left side, so moved over but never found the portage. I went all the way to the dam, but no portage (I was on the earth side of the dam so it was safe.) I couldn't get out here because of the steep rock wall so I paddled back until I found a place I could get my gear up and over to what was a dirt road. I carried my first load of stuff up and on my way back I noticed this sign lying on the ground that said, "Boat Portage". Some portage landing. Nothing more than a low spot in the riverbank.

Well, I got my gear loaded up and headed up to the road leading away from the dam only to see that the road was gated off. I looked all around but there was no-one in sight. I pedaled over to the road on the dam leading to the locks. That too was gated off. I yelled; no answer. Went back; still no-one around. I'm inside a gated area with barbed wire strung all the way around the top. Now what. I figured I'd have to set up camp here until morning and as I was about to do so, I see a white pickup coming up the road on the other side of the gate. Good, they came to my rescue. The guy stopped at the gate, got out and said, "How did you get in there? Don't you know you are trespassing on federal property?" I said, " Well, I came by way of the river and was just following the signs that lead me to your fine portage and came up here to get to the other side and found myself gated in." Well, he made a phone call to the lockmaster, upon which I was asked to show my ID, which of course was packed away. Eventually I was allowed through and the man I was talking to turned out to be a very nice person. He said he was just following his instructions and was sorry for the hassle. He told me most of the dams ahead are not gated like this one. Maybe one more, but then they should all be outside the lock authority area. He pointed out where I could get back into the river and left. Where he pointed to was another spot downriver where I would need to carry most of my gear over a bank. Man, these dam portages are going to be more of a hassle than I thought. I lost an hour or more of time, although I believe by the time I stopped to make camp I'd come 40 or more miles and that was with a very late morning start. I hope that continues and I will be in good shape. On the down side, because of the late start, I only stopped once and that was for a quick bathroom stop. Just a bit of a sore back as I crawl to my tent. Tomorrow I will take some breaks.

June 15th: Snake River (West of Boyer Park) to Below Lower Monumental Dam

Last night as lay in my tent going over the day's events and wondering about portaging around the dams ahead, I was looking at my map and thinking, man it looks like a long way to Portland. Yesterday when I was figuring the mileage and made the decision to go home I added it up to be actually less than 300 miles, more like 275. Now I see I made a slight error in my calculations. Slight - by about 90 miles! It is actually 360 plus miles, which means I'm going to be way off no matter how hard I work to get to Portland. Yesterday I was hoping to be near Cascade Locks by Sunday at noon. That would put me 40 miles from Portland. Now it looks like I will be lucky to get to Umatilla or Roosevelt, OR which are 180 and 120 miles respectively away from Portland. That means everything must go right...and of course 14 - 15 hour days.

I can hear my friend Jim ( Jim is my friend that goes way back to kindergarden who's meeting me in Portland on the 27th) now when I tell him. His comment will be, "Hoff, why, for all these years, do I continue to put up with your nonsense!" (Plus a few words that need not be mentioned). After he's finished his tirade, I will give him the response I always do, " Because I'm the only friend you got!" He will come back with another response that need not be mentioned, but in the end I know he'll be here and we'll make do. Although, I do feel bad about it, there's not many that would come all this way to pick up a foolish old man canoeing across the country. But again, deep down he knows I'll always be there for him when needed.

The day went well, although what breeze there was naturally was in my face, coming out of the northwest in the morning. And when I made my turn southwest, the wind did the same. Sometimes you just cannot win. I was able to make it around the next two dams, Little Goose and Lower Monumental with little trouble. In fact I picked up some valuable mileage by bike portaging a little further around each. Tomorrow if all goes well I should be close to the Tri-Cities area in the morning which is where the Snake joins the Columbia. With a good day tomorrow and a half day on Sunday I may have a chance to get to the Roosevelt/Arlington area which puts me about 120 miles from Portland. We'll see; time for bed.

June 16th: Below Lower Monumental Dam to Sand Station

Interesting day. It started out relatively peacefully with a nice morning paddle to Ice Harbor Dam. The portage around the dam was about a mile. The takeout was easy but I found no boat ramp to put in at below the dam, rather it became another climb down over a rocky shoreline. As I paddle towards the Tri-Cities area I notice a lot more farming along both sides of the river with massive well pumps every mile or so pumping water from the Snake River to the fields. The call this area Palouse Country, whatever that means.

By noon I make it to the confluence of the Columbia in the Tri-Cities area. Everything has gone well all morning. Very little wind and just a nice cool day for paddling. I got my first hint that the afternoon will be the total opposite when I tried to take a short cut from the main channel and got hung up on one sandbar after another. It took a good 15 to minutes to get through. Twice I had to get out and pull my canoe over a variety of sandbars. Once clear I next needed to get down and around the wide open lake area which stretches south and then west of the Tri-Cities. I thought I had it all figured out, but after an hour of paddling I realized I was going too far south and was about to miss my turn west. To me it looked like I needed to go around a huge grain dock at the far end of this massive bay, but instead I should have started across the lake almost immediately when I made my turn off the Snake. Now I must cross the widest part of this lake, which looks like it is over two miles wide. In my notes it talked about this area being very dangerous because the winds can come up quickly. Reason this thought crossed my mind was because the winds were coming up a little more than quickly! By the time I was in the middle of this bay, whitecaps were beginning to form and I was approximately a mile from either shore. After paddling for close to another hour (a paddle that should have taken 15 minutes) I make it to the west shoreline and start to follow that shoreline around a 90 degree corner of the Columbia. Even though I'm somewhat protected by the rock wall along this shoreline, paddling is extremely tough.

I also notice one sailboat, with motor running, heading very fast to the Tri-Cities area and on the far shoreline a couple more heading to Walla Walla Yacht Club marina. I realize I'm the only one left on the water and I'm on the far northwest side of the river with nothing but a tall riprap of rock wall for miles in both directions. Well, I continue to paddle close to shore, hoping that when I complete the west turn things will get better. Not the case, they were getting worse which became very obvious when I notice this unusual block of wood lodged in the rocky riprap on the shoreline that I thought I passed a minute or so ago. Which turned out to be the case, for I was paddling as hard as I could and I was losing ground! I was going backwards.

Decision time. I could stay on this rock cliff side and wait it out or I could try and make it over to the other side. I thought back to the Lake Sakakawea incident when I almost lost everything including my life (forgot to mention that then). After assessing the situation I figured I would try to get across. Why do that? Well, here I felt I was in more control of the situation than I was on Lake Sakakawea. There's a car on the far shoreline driving back and forth watching me so I figure if I do dump someone will know it. Second, the water is much warmer so hypothermia should not be an issue. Plus the number one reason: I had to try! So off I went! I paddled as much as I could at a 45 degree angle into the waves. Which quickly became impossible. (By the way I figure it to be about 3/4 of a mile across.) So I decided on paddling as fast as I could, parallel with the waves and as the big ones came I turned to go with them and let them carry me like a surfboard. Out in the middle as I was doing the surfing technique I could look straight down and I mean straight down at the lower part of the wave which seemed a good 10 feet below me. It was a very serious situation, but I must say, just to ease the tension, at one point I thought, "I wonder what kind of style points they are giving me on shore." This worked well except when every so often two waves would come almost at the same time. Twice I thought I was going over but somehow managed not to. Well, I made it across and that car that was watching left when I was within 50 feet of the shore, knowing I was out of harm's way. I was hoping to thank the person, but he/she probably thought they'd wasted enough time with this idiot!

Well, I got everything out of my canoe, emptied out the water and put my trailer together for what I figured was going to be a very tough, into the wind 20 mile bike portage to the nearest camping area, Sand Station, which is east of Umatilla, OR.

Later that evening after arriving at the park I was informed the winds were gusting over 45 miles an hour and were expected to last through the next day. Now I really am glad I made the decision to cross over the lake. Even more glad the day is over.

Now I must figure out where to store my gear and how I'm going to get to Portland. I figure my paddling is over so I'm thinking I will bike portage as far as I can tomorrow morning, keeping an eye out for a storage unit where I may be able to keep my gear.

Well, that's for tomorrow. Right now I need a good night's rest after a very interesting day!


The generosity of these companies contributed to making a successful adventure...

Balance Bar

The Atlantic to Pacific Journey was greatly helped by a generous grant from Balance Bar.


Jeff Foster Trucking

Jeff Foster Trucking, Inc. provides national top quality transportation services.  The corporate office is located in Superior, WI.


ZRE Racing Equipment

"Faster, Lighter, Stronger, Better" high performance canoe paddles from Zaveral Racing Equipment.


Bass Pro Shops

World's Leading Supplier of Premium Outdoor Gear


Very Special Thanks

Rich Designs of Superior WI for my "Atlantic to Pacific" decal!!!



A great place owned by my friend Pat Paquette.