In the footsteps of legends: Oregon Team Attempts Columbia River Source to Sea

"The logistics of a mission like this are unreal! Though it seems like we’ve got everything dialed, I have a feeling we’re going to have to make a lot of it up as we go along."


The Columbia River Basin map illustration.


The team warms up on the Little White Salmon in Washington before heading north. Photo by Keel Brightman.
Right now, Ryan Scott, Paul Gamache and Keel Brightman are wrapping up day 2 of their two-month source to sea descent of the Columbia River. Their early season start has proven somewhat complicating, but their spirit of exploration and goal of shedding light on the value of the Columbia River basin remains unhampered. Paddlinglife caught up with the trio as they packed their bags to head to the source and asked how it’s been getting this far into the mission.

PL: What inspired this source to sea journey of the Columbia River?

Keel: In January, Ryan approached me with the idea of Source to Seaing the Columbia and I couldn’t come up with a good reason to say no. It seemed like a hell of a journey! Paddling has been the focus of my life and I knew this would be one of those trips I’d never forget.

Paul: For me it was moving to Seattle two years ago and writing down runs that go into the Columbia. Eventually, it turned into trying to make a huge list of everything that flows to the ocean. Once you see everything that makes up the Columbia it’s hard to not do something to help at least raise a flag and show ways to explore and promote other sustainable resources as well as hopefully have a few people appreciate the Columbia a little more. At first I thought about doing the trip solo in a kayak but the logistics were next to impossible to put together for one person. Ryan brought it up again at one of his film premieres while we were hanging out with Cody, and of course Cody was into trying to pull it off. Turned out that when we bumped the trip from the middle of March to the 1st it interfered with Cody’s school schedule. So somehow he now gets to go paddle a bunch of awesome rivers and creeks while we get after it on flatwater.

PL: Tell us a little about the process. How did you get to the point where you could actually say, “Ok, we’re really going to do this”?

Ryan: I have wanted to do a Source to Sea of the Columbia for a few years. Last fall, Paul mentioned it several times in just a few weeks and Cody Howard and me actually started to motivate to make it happen.

Paul: A while back I was talking to Ryan about linking to videos on his Gorgehits site for a whitewater racing website I was working on. We started joking about paddling the Columbia and then in January just decided to do it. The time was right, the elements were all there, I was moving back down to California, and it was a great way to try and pull something off that would definitely be an experience.

Keel: I said yes right away, but when I picked up 200 lbs of apples to dry for GORP, the weight of the situation definitely set in!


PL: What does it take to make a trip like this work? Give us a little taste of the logistics.

Ryan: Time. The planning for this trip was tough because we did it in less than 90 days, which for most expeditions of this size is unthinkable. We’ve had to work on planning the Columbia Experience and really nothing else for the last few months.

Paul: People. Everyone we talked to really made this possible. Everything really came together in a 2-month timeframe, and there are a lot of people to thank for that. We were definitely fortunate for the support from companies and individuals that promote such efforts. Luck would have to be a close second.

The logistics of a mission like this are unreal! It’s been crazy trying to pull it all together within two months. Though it seems like we’ve got everything dialed, I have a feeling we’re going to have to make a lot of it up as we go along. To give you some idea of the logistics we’re working though: solar powering a wireless laptop, organizing a two month river expedition, dealing with 14 dam portages, a frozen source, trip-ending disastrous headwinds, exhaustion, border issues, building a website, video, photos, researching the history, contact with sponsors, a river which we can’t really filter drinking water from, putting together 4 or 5 community float trips, as well as the Cal-Salmon Nordheimer Race which I have to be back for by the first weekend of May. Figuring out how to get a van to put-in is the one we’re really working on right now.

Keel: Everybody just got fired up about it and started filling in the blanks with websites, sponsors, donations, food, etc. It was definitely a challenge to figure out how much food three guys were going to eat within two months. Especially since I really like food.

PL: What goals do you have for this project? What message do you want people to take away?

Ryan: The Columbia River was dammed into a series of lakes by massive hydroelectric projects, a move that closed off Native American cultures and a natural land that would never be the same. The same thing is happening all over the world. Our goal is to push away from hydroelectric energy and into alternate sources like solar and wind power to help reduce the amount of waste and dammed rivers and streams.

Paul It would be great if something actually happened about the smelting and other blatant disregards for the environment that occur along the Columbia Basin. Enforcement from both Canada and the U.S. of environmental policies would be a great step, and social responsibility not being the first thing to go when the economy goes flat would be incredible. A couple American Whitewater signups or renewed memberships wouldn’t be bad either!

Keel: I just think it will be something I’ll remember for a really long time. Paddling on the Columbia for two months will definitely be a unique experience that I can hopefully share with people through my photos and writing.


PL: Are you going to be releasing media during the expedition? What do we have to look forward to and where can we find it?

Ryan: We will have regular updates from the river during the expedition and we’re going to release a DVD when we get back. Cody Howard and I are collaborating on a documentary that we expect to release in the spring of 2010. Until then you can keep up with our trip at:
Our blog: www.thecolumbiaexperience.com (includes a SPOT tracking map)
Wend Magazine: www.wendmag.com.
And, of course, on Facebook

PL: Good luck, guys!





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