Posted by: Columbia River | July 8, 2009

Grand Coulee to Wells Dam

Let the dam portages begin.

Not all that Grand.  Grand Coulee Dam.

Not all that Grand. Grand Coulee Dam.

After spending much of Saturday trying to get a ride around Grand Coulee, Keel and Paul finally arrived on the downstream side around 6pm. Once loaded up they headed out paddling hard to make it to Chief Joseph Dam by the next day. The hope was they would be able to catch a ride with a fisherman taking out and secure a ride around Chief Joseph which would most likely be easier on a Sunday then on a Monday.
The only problem was that Chief Joseph was 44 miles away.

Putting their heads down and paddling through the night the team pushed to make the deadline.  Around 1am the headwinds began and pinned Paul and Keel down at different points on the river.   After a few hours of sleep the wind died down and they continued on.  Making it to within a mile of the boat ramp the team was once again pinned down and forced to wait out the wind.  Frustrated and exhausted from the push the two waited in an eddy watching the river flow upstream.  Just as darkness closed in the wind mellowed and Paul and Keel pushed off making it the final mile to the boat ramp.

Chief Joseph

Chief Joseph

Chief Joseph: Born Hinmuuttu-yalatlat (alternatively Hinmaton-Yalaktit or Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, Nez Perce: “Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain”) in the Wallowa Valley of northeastern Oregon, he was known as Young Joseph during his youth because his father had the same name.

While initially hospitable to the region’s newcomers, Joseph the Elder grew wary when settlers wanted more Indian lands. Tensions grew as the settlers appropriated traditional Indian lands for farming and grazing livestock.

Isaac Stevens, governor of the Washington Territory, organized a council to designate separate areas for Natives and settlers in 1855. Joseph the Elder and the other Nez Perce chiefs signed a treaty with the United States establishing a Nez Perce reservation encompassing 7.7 million acres (31,000 km²) in present-day Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. The 1855 reservation maintained much of the traditional Nez Perce lands, including Joseph’s Wallowa Valley. [1]

An influx of new settlers caused by a gold rush led the government to call a second council in 1863. Government commissioners asked the Nez Perce to accept a new, much smaller reservation of 780,000 acres (3,200 km2) centered around the village of Lapwai in Idaho, and excluding the Wallowa Valley. In exchange, they were promised financial rewards and schools and a hospital for the reservation. Head Chief Lawyer and one of his allied chiefs signed the treaty on behalf of the Nez Perce Nation, but Joseph the Elder and several other chiefs were opposed to selling their lands, and did not sign. [2]

Their refusal to sign caused a rift between the “non-treaty” and “treaty” bands of Nez Perce. The “treaty” Nez Perce moved within the new Idaho reservation’s boundaries, while the “non-treaty” Nez Perce remained on their lands. Joseph the Elder demarcated Wallowa land with a series of poles, proclaiming, “Inside this boundary all our people were born. It circles the graves of our fathers, and we will never give up these graves to any man.”

With 2,000 U.S. soldiers in pursuit, Joseph and other Nez Perce chiefs led 800 Nez Perce toward freedom at the Canadian border. For over three months, the Nez Perce outmaneuvered and battled their pursuers traveling 1,700 miles (2,740 km) across Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. General Howard, leading the opposing cavalry, was impressed with the skill with which the Nez Perce fought, using advance and rear guards, skirmish lines, and field fortifications. Finally, after a devastating five-day battle during freezing weather conditions with no food or blankets, Chief Joseph formally surrendered to General Nelson Appleton Miles on October 5, 1877 in the Bear Paw Mountains of the Montana Territory, less than 40 miles (60 km) south of Canada in a place close to the present-day Chinook in Blaine County. The battle is remembered in popular history by the words attributed to Chief Joseph at the formal surrender:

“Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before, I have it in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed; Looking Glass is dead, Too-hul-hul-sote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are—perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”

By the time Joseph surrendered more than 200 of his followers had died. His plight, however, did not end. Although he had negotiated a safe return home for his people, they were instead taken to eastern Kansas and then to a reservation in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) where many of them died of epidemic diseases.

In 1879 Chief Joseph went to Washington, D.C. to meet with President Rutherford B. Hayes and plead the case of his people. Finally, in 1885, Chief Joseph and his followers were allowed to return to the Pacific Northwest, although many, including Chief Joseph, were taken to the Colville Indian Reservation far from both the rest of their people in Idaho and their homeland in the Wallowa Valley.

Joseph continued to lead his band of Wallowa for another 25 years, at times coming into conflict with the leaders of 11 other tribes living on the reservation. Chief Moses of the Sinkiuse-Columbia in particular resented having to cede a portion of his people’s lands to Joseph’s people, who had “made war on the Great Father.”Wikipedia

Chief Joseph Dam

Chief Joseph Dam

Chief Joseph Dam: is a 5,962 foot (1,817.2 m) long hydroelectric dam spanning the Columbia River, 1.5 miles (2.4 km) upriver from Bridgeport, Washington, USA. The dam was authorized as Foster Creek Dam and Powerhouse for power generation and irrigation by the River and Harbor Act of 1946. The River and Harbor Act of 1948 renamed the project Chief Joseph Dam in honor of the Nez Perce chief who spent his last years in exile on the Colville Indian Reservation. Like the nearby Grand Coulee Dam, Chief Joseph Dam completely blocks salmon migration on the upper Columbia River.

Construction began in 1949, with the main dam and intake structure completed in 1955. Installation of the initial generating units was completed in 1958. Eleven additional turbines were installed between 1973 and 1979, and the dam and lake were raised 10 feet (3 m), boosting the capacity 2,620 MW, making Chief Joseph Dam the second largest hydropower producer in the United States.[1]

The dam is 545 miles (877 km) upriver from the mouth of the Columbia at Astoria, Oregon. It is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Chief Joseph Dam Project Office, and the electricity is marketed by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA).

The reservoir behind the dam is named Rufus Woods Lake, and runs 51 miles (82 km) up the river channel. Bridgeport State Park, on the lake, is adjacent to the dam.Wikipedia

After a much needed night of sleep Keel and Paul began trying to hitch a ride around the dam.  At some point a park ranger came across Keel’s tent and started informing him that camping was not allowed at the dam and could be subject to a fine. Keel agreed to take down the tent and the ranger left, heading straight to where Paul had camped the night before. Lucky for him he had already taken down his tent and the ranger informed him of the same rules about no camping.  In the team’s defense there were no signs from the river side which stated no camping so they had no idea when they showed up the night before that they were camping illegally.

Camping not allowed.

Chief Joseph Dam - Camping not allowed.

After their stern warning Keel came across a fisherman who started telling him that years ago the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was required to assist boaters and provide them with a means for portaging the dam.  It appears that changed in the last couple of years due to a lawsuit where gear was damaged and now the USACE no longer assists boaters.  The ranger even went so far as to try and talk the fisherman out of giving Paul and Keel a ride around the dam claiming liability issues.  Thankfully the fisherman ignored him and gave the team a ride around the dam.

Hitchin' a Ride.

Hitchin' a Ride.

Once around the dam the team pushed off into the moving current below Chief Joseph. Enjoying the flow and no wind the two made great time for a few miles.  Then came the wind.  Keel was able to push on for a few miles but Paul was instantly pinned down once again.

View from Being Pinned Down by Wind.

View from Being Pinned Down by Wind.

After a few hours the wind slowed and Paul was able to continue on for about a mile until he was stopped once again. Frustrated and tired he pulled up to a boat ramp, tied off, and went to sleep to the sounds of an angry couple living next door yelling throughout the night.

Around 5am Paul pushed off thinking Keel was miles ahead of him at this point.  Thankful that the wind had stopped Paul made great time covering the next 20 miles or so.

Sunrise on the Columbia

Sunrise on the Columbia

At one point the river opened up making a bend to the left as well as continuing ahead under a bridge. Not sure which way to go Paul turned left and paddled on.  Fearing he had gone the wrong way he pushed the button on the SPOT and uploaded his position online.  Once the signal went through he called Scott Waidelich who was working hard at Canoe & Kayak and asked him to verify he was going the correct way.  Scott confirmed he was going the right way and Paul continued on. Within a few miles the wind began once again, instantly pushing Paul back upriver.  Paddling hard for river right Paul tied off to a tree below railroad tracks and the highway.  Thinking Keel was probably at the dam at this point Paul sat down hoping to be able to catch up before dark.  After a few hours of waiting Keel paddled up, somehow once again Paul had passed Keel the night before. Fortunately, Keel had been on river left when he came around the corner upriver of Paul and had seen a glimpse of Wells Dam less than a mile away which was out of Paul’s sight on river right, obstructed by a right-hand bend in river.  Laughing at the fact they had made it to the dam the two began looking for the boat ramp which was located on river right near their location.   Looking through binoculars Keel noticed they had actually passed the boat ramp and the two untied and pushed off to head a 1/2 mile back upriver to begin looking for a way around the dam. Just in time for the wind to change directions and start blowing back downriver.

Keel made better time getting upriver and ran up to the road just in time to wave down a passing dump truck.  The driver had seen Paul hours earlier on his way to dump his load and when Keel came running up to the road he stopped to see what was going on.  Now with an empty container the driver helped Paul and Keel load their boats and gear into the back and drove the two around Wells Dam.

Getting a ride with a Dumptruck

Getting a ride with a Dumptruck

Somehow the boat and all the gear fit perfectly.

Somehow the boat and all the gear fit perfectly.

Wells Dam: is a hydroelectric dam located on the Columbia River, downstream from the confluence of the Okanogan River, Methow River, and the Columbia River in Washington State. The dam, associated structures, and machinery make up the Wells Hydroelectric Project. It is owned and operated by Douglas County Public Utility District.

It has produced electricity since August 22, 1967. Its operating license from the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is next up for renewal in 2012. In addition to the two public utility districts, the project provides electricity to Puget Sound Energy, Portland General Electric, PacifiCorp, Avista Corporation, and the Colville Indian Tribe. Its reservoir is named Lake Pateros.Wikipedia

Check back next week for Wells Dam to Wenatchee!


  1. What great pictures!

    Puget Sound Energy hopes all those who love and enjoy the Columbia and other Northwest rivers will use the power the dams generate wisely, by taking steps toward greater energy efficiency.

    If you’re a PSE customer, please check for our rebates on energy efficient lighting, appliances, heating and insulation.

    Thanks for a great read!

    Andy Wappler
    Puget Sound Energy

  2. Looking forward to hearing about the rest of the trip! Great write-up!

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