Underwriting provided by:
The Laura Moore Cunningham
Foundation

A Trip with the Idaho Outdoors Yahoo Group

For today's modern adventurers, exploration sometimes starts with the click of a mouse. Leo Hennessy loves to explore. And almost always his adventures start in front of a computer.

Hennessy is one of the creators of something called the Idaho Outdoors Yahoo group, a place where like- minded folks can meet online to plan trips. What started with 20 people, has nearly 1,800 members today, all able to access information on dozens of suggested adventures.

Leo Hennessy in front of computer
Leo Hennessy in front of computer

That means you can post a trip on say, a Thursday, and be assured of having a group join you for an early Saturday morning outing.

Hennessy has a well deserved reputation for unusual and difficult adventures. You never quite know what you're getting into with Leo at the helm! "I like to go out and challenge myself, and then I like to take people out and challenge them," he says, "and it's really fun watching them grow."

Today's adventure takes us deep into Owyhee county, one of the least populated counties in the West. Sometimes it's hard to imagine just what the attraction is out here; so much of the landscape is flat and almost desolate looking.

Heading down a canyon toward Bruneau River
Heading down a canyon toward Bruneau River

"The only thing about this kind of trip is it takes a lot of effort and good equipment to do it," notes Hennessy. "You need to have a really good 4-wheel-drive pick-up because the roads out here are amazing, and that keeps out a lot of the people; you may have to drive two to four hours to go to the end of the road, and then you may have to walk two miles across flat desert."

But suddenly, the flat and desolate becomes the enchanted, and you realize that nature has been busy out here, carving away at the dark basalt and, beneath that, the brownish-red ryolite that underlies so much of Owyhee county.

"The fun part is the sense of not really knowing how to get into these canyons. It took us a little while to wander up and down the edge of the canyon looking for a really safe descent and usually when you get down towards the bottom, they just get narrower and narrower and turn into slot canyons, and you never know what you're going to find."

Tara Hamilton is one of the dozen or so folks who joined Leo on this particular trip to the Bruneau River. "I grew up around the Twin Falls area and went trapping with my dad and exploring and hunting, so I thought I had a really good grasp on what Idaho had to offer. Yet every day I learn more and more that there's no way you could ever see everything in a lifetime. There is a lot of opportunity for adventure here."

Charlie Wilkerson rappelling down a 50 foot cliff in Bruneau Canyon
Charlie Wilkerson rappelling down a 50 foot cliff in Bruneau Canyon

Near the bottom of this canyon, the hikers are stopped by a 50 foot cliff. Going any further will require some technical rope work. And that's where Charlie Wilkerson comes in. With more than 20 years experience, he knows the ropes. "Every situation is unique. You never know what you're going to run into until you get there, and it's always a challenge; but the more you do it, the better you get."

Wilkerson has come prepared for every situation. "Your rigging needs to be prepared such that in the event of an emergency we have a provision built into lower them down or get them back up. There's always back up and safety built into the system."

Down near the Bruneau River a mystery unfolds. It appears that someone had once camped here, or more likely was marooned here. They even left a message under the rock outcropping: WE WALKED OUT, 1970.

Hennessy is one of the first to discover this. "Wow, this is cool! You don't see this very often. This has a story. This whole area, it looks like they camped in here. Wow, look at that!" Someone had left a jar of coffee and a jar of sugar.

"I wonder what happened," mused Hennessy. "It would be interesting to know who this was. Did they make it? I hope they did."

Matt Weyen rappells down a waterfall in Poison Creek drainage. [Photo courtesy Erik Ryan]
Matt Weyen rappells down a waterfall in Poison Creek drainage. [Photo courtesy Erik Ryan]

One thing about today's adventurers: they do have the benefit of modern equipment. They can now go places and do things that might have been considered impossible or foolhardy only a few years ago. And with today's small video cameras, every adventure can be documented.

Matt Weyen remembers one such adventure. "In March of 2013 we did a rappel out at Poison Creek; and it is a waterfall into deep enough water you have to swim out, and it is cold, very cold. We had to put wet suits on, and I was still freezing afterwards. That was a very unique rappel, and it was just pouring over your head with freezing cold water; and when you start, you're feeling fine; and half way down I grabbed the rope, I think, and you know even if you let go of the rope, you're going to fall into water so you're pretty sure you're okay, but it's a little nerve wracking, especially for some people who are shivering before they started. I stayed pretty warm. I had about the right amount on, but by the time I got into the water I was losing it."

"I think the coldest part was dropping into the pool and having to swim out of that," said Tara Hamilton. "You just want everything off immediately, but you can't because you have to go down another waterfall a little bit further down, so you just have to stand out there in the cold. I don't think I've ever been that cold in my life."

Tara Hamilton tries to warm up after a waterfall rappel.
Tara Hamilton tries to warm up after a waterfall rappel.

Melanie Davidson remembers another "Leo" adventure. "We went to a great canyon, filled with rose bushes and stinging nettle. It was torture, but we still loved it because we got to see places that probably nobody has ever seen, so it was a lot of fun. We have the scars to prove it!"

"Typically, we know if we're going on a Leo adventure, there will be no trail," jokes Erik Ryan. "I've lived in the west for most of my life – Wyoming, Montana, Idaho – and certainly Idaho has had the greatest diversity of different types of activities. That's probably the reason I live in Idaho. I spend every evening and the week planning where we can go next. Google Earth and National GeographicTopo really opened up new doors for being able to really scout things ahead of time and find new adventures."

Erik Ryan rappels down a waterfall in February.
Erik Ryan rappels down a waterfall in February.

Ryan says, "You can find folks who want to come out in February and go swimming in the water. There aren't that many people willing to do that, but through these various internet groups you can meet people that actually consider that fun."

Greg Davidson agrees. "Sometimes we drag our behinds in at 4 in the morning, just beat up, having been through the brush all day; and I just really enjoy the group for that. It's a lot of people that remind me of adventures that you would have found back in the 1800s."