A common experience on the Dean—especially the lower Dean, where Jeff and Kathryn Hickman operate Kimsquit Bay Lodge and where the fish are mere hours, even minutes, from the salt—involves hooking a fish and then watching first your running line, and then your backing, disappear from the reel. About the time your brain catches up to what is unfolding, you hear a sharp “Plink!”—the sound of backing separating from said reel. This is called “getting Deaned.” Everyone wants to experience it as much as they don’t.
For Jeff Hickman, the fish are not the only allure of the Dean. The river flows through extraordinarily wild country, and to this day is only accessible by air or water. Alpine peaks rise off the valley floor at such an abrupt angle that looking up at them causes a sort of reverse vertigo. Even in mid-August, the glaciers are just right there, 6500 feet straight up, so seemingly close you are surprised to look down and find yourself sweating in a t-shirt and waders.
When he speaks of his decision to buy the lodge in 2014, Hickman’s voice grows quiet and reverential. “I just wanted to be here,” he says, gazing out at what is possibly one of the best views of any fishing lodge in the world. “I just wanted to find some way to be here as much as possible.”
Spend enough time with Hickman, and eventually the term “skookum” will come up. The word comes from Chinook Jargon—the trade-language of the many diverse Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest—and means strength, power or ability. It is part and parcel of Hickman’s worldview, a guiding ethos with which he approaches any endeavor—especially and including his project on the Dean.
Kimsquit Bay, the Dean River, the steelhead—they demand respect. Running an off-the-grid fishing lodge is no easy undertaking, and when the Hickmans bought KBL they knew it would need work. The buildings and infrastructure, water and sewer lines, and electrical generators were well-worn from years of hard use. But slowly, over the past five years, the Hickmans and a rotating cast of friends and crew have gradually ticked each to-do item off the list—logistical nightmares be damned.
Hickman could have stopped there, having created a world-class fishing lodge. Instead, he created a world-class fishing lodge that takes as one of its central tenets the idea that if we are going to use a place like the Dean, if we are going to insert ourselves into a wilderness and try to touch the wild as it exists there, then we need to do so in the most mindful way possible, to try to give back some of what we take.
To that end, Hickman’s primary project with the lodge the last couple years has been the introduction of renewable energy. Among the changes he’s most proud of—and which he will happily talk about given any opportunity to do so—is the introduction of renewable diesel fuel. The fuel—Propel Diesel HPR (High Performance Renewable)—powers the lodge’s two generators, three ATV’s, and other vehicles used for transport and chores around the property.
Propel’s Diesel HPR is a fitting addition. Propel was founded in 2004 by Rob Elam—Hickman’s longtime friend and fellow Oregonian. The idea was born on the steelhead rivers of the Pacific Northwest and grounded in the conservation values that Hickman and Elam hold in common. For Hickman, who has used renewable fuels in his own vehicles for years, Diesel HPR turned out to be the answer to his desire to bring KBL closer to his ideals.
A few miles up a gravel two-track through the forest above Kimsquit Bay, a barely discernible trail leads down to the rapids that Dean steelhead must pass in order to reach their spawning grounds in the upper watershed. It’s a sobering sight; even at low water, the rapids move with a pace and power that is breathtaking. That any fish can travel the 1/2-mile long torrent—dotted throughout with short falls that the fish must swim up—seems almost a mystery.
Sit long enough and you’ll eventually catch, out of the corner of your eye, a dark shape holding in the boiling current. It’s gathering strength, teasing out a path of least resistance where no such path can possibly exist. And now it beats its tail against the pounding water. And now it swims up through a solid, sheer cascade of falling water, three times its own length. It traverses the next torrent, and then the next. Power that in turn creates power.