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Idaho
by John Simpkin 7/1/2007


Eleven of us had been waiting a year to repeat our trip down the Middle Fork Salmon. Last year the water was stompin’ at over 6 on the gauge (8500 cfs) and much of the run was solid big-water IV. This year the snowfall was quite a bit less, and we would be looking at a bit over 3 on the gauge (2500 cfs). I was very curious to learn how the river would treat us, having seen the gates of hell last year, and the bumping and grinding of low water in July two years ago. As it turned out we saw nothing harder than cl III+/IV-.

Six of us left Colfax June 4 at about 9:00 am headed for Nampa Idaho that evening. We'd meet some of the others in Crouch on the Payette, and pick up the rest at the Boise airport a few days later. One boater was flying all the way to our meeting site in Stanley the day before we put-in on the Middle Fork. Kevin's van was loaded to the gills with a raft, camping gear, and kayaks as we pulled on to Interstate 80 headed east.

Marathon driving is marathon driving, especially across Nevada. I Continued on Page 3 brought 500 feet of cheap climbing rope to tie as many Monkey Fists as I could to pass the time. Chuck was reading McPhee's "Assembling California", Ken spent his time polishing his sunglasses and camera; and polishing his sunglasses and camera; and polishing his sunglasses and camera. Dave wanted to learn how to tie Monkey Fist's, Kevin brought more CD's than Amazon offers for sale, and Linda was either reading or telling Kevin where to go (as in driving directions).

We pulled into Nampa in the early evening. Linda found us a nice motel right on the freeway. There was a good Mexican restaurant nearby, so we went for dinner. Kevin had a hard time with the spicy food, but we all thought the meal was a good one. The motel had self-serve fruit, cereal, juice, waffles, biscuits and gravy, and coffee waiting for us at breakfast, so we were on the road in good shape the following morning.

We went to the premier kayak store in Boise in the morning, waited for Ken to inspect every river shoe the store possessed, and then bought $200 worth of camping food at the local Maxi Save Food Mart. Ken bought conditioner instead of shampoo, realized that in the parking lot, and bolted for the store again to exchange the conditioner for shampoo. I was assigned to go back and retrieve him. Checking the weather as we headed for a Payette campground, we decided to look for alternatives to "camping". Linda dialed up a Crouch realtor-type who placed us in a nice, unoccupied house on a creek in Crouch. We arrived in Crouch, unloaded our unnecessaryto- boating gear, and did the Staircase run (cl IV) on the SF Payette: big fun. We hot tubbed that night and had a nice meal. We did Staircase again the next day and the upper part of the Main Payette (cl II/ III) where Chuck demonstrated extreme surfing technique. Our fourth day out found us again on the SF Payette doing Swirly Canyon (cl II/III), and heading for our Middle Salmon pre-trip meeting in Stanley.

Stanley is a very pretty town near the headwaters of the Salmon. Main St. Stanley sports a spectacular view of the Sawtooth Range on one side, and a pastoral vista of the meandering Salmon River on the other. The town is populated by about 100 locals. The bulk of the town was pur-chased by Bill Harrah (think Nevada gambling) 35 years ago. Control of much of the commercial and property interests in the town eventually passed to a family corporation.

We met with the outfitter, Brad Frei, that evening for the pre-trip spiel. Early the following morning (June 8) I kicked myself out of bed and went looking for coffee. An hour later I had eaten a nice breakfast, watched a spectacular sunrise on the Sawtooths, seen a bald eagle leisurely fly over downtown Stanley, and watched Linda scramble to get photos of two red foxes playing across the road. We set out for the Middle Fork put in on the outfitter's bus after everyone had fed.

Boundary Creek is the chaotic USFS put-in for a 100 mile, six day trip down the Middle Salmon. We trucked our gear down to the river's edge at Boundary as outfitters and private rafters scrambled to load gear and push their rafts into the current. We followed the rafts in our hard-shells, anticipating the excitement ahead. The first day had us dancing down several easy cl IV creeky rapids and blowing through Velvet Falls. Velvet is easy to do provided you make the eddy on the left. Pam decided to miss the eddy on the left, opting instead for the bottomless hole on the right. We were all later treated to a spectacular rehash of her thrashing courtesy of Ken's polished and cleaned video camera replay. I think we had three swims of no consequence the first couple of days : Sulfur Slide and Velvet if memory serves.

Days two and three on the Middle Salmon were more sedate than day one, but still fun with numerous cl II+/ III rapids and super surfing at Marble. The camping was wonderful. The outfitter supplied wine, hot showers, nice tents, cots, thermarest pads, and great food. Hot springs were an added bonus, as were the beautiful beaches, mild temperatures, and the constant metamorphosis of the canyon walls as the sunlight played on them. We saw mountain sheep, otter, mink, eagles, offs prey, deer, elk, and clouds of feathery caddis flys. The scenery was spectacular. We began our trip in an alpine forest. As the river descended, the topography became increasingly arid. Towards the end of day four we entered a deep, sparsely vegetated canyon, emerging on day six into a stark (yet beautiful) high desert. All of the guides are local, and most of them have spent many years on the Middle Salmon. Brad the outfitter lives in Grangeville and has rafted the Middle Fork since he was a kid. He flies corporate jets, and raises cattle. Bill and Ryan Blackadar are grandsons of local legend Walt, and have rafted and kayaked the Middle Salmon and Payette all their lives. Shane, Matt, and Levi are all locals going to college. All of the guides are princes and couldn't be more helpful.

The challenges of the river picked up the last two days. The Middle Salmon had increased its volume with the inflow of numerous creeks and streams by the time it was 70 miles downstream of Boundary Creek. The many wave trains were bouncier and were interspersed with half a dozen very fun class III+/IV- rapids. We only had two swims the last half of the trip; those in major rapids that fed into easy-recovery pools.

The Middle Salmon joins the Main several miles above takeout. We all looked forward to the biggest rapid we'd see on the Main; Kramer. The water is relatively big at this point and the waves at Kramer are huge. Everyone except me made it through right side up. I got blown up big time but managed a sloppy (but effective) roll. Later that evening we were all sorting gear back in Stanley and looking forward to one final day of boating.

Our last day on the river was on the NF Payette. We left Stanley mid morning and drove up the North Fork from Banks gawking at the 16 miles of cl IV/V insanity below the highway, and anticipating the very scenic cl II/III Carbarton run. The Carbarton may be the prettiest stretch of river I've ever boated. The alpine forest on this reach is stunning. The looong pools at the top are edged with lush green carpets, and wildlife abounds. The last couple of miles of the Carbarton sees the river channel up. The wave trains are bouncier and rapids a bit more challenging. The run ends with the most challenging rapid on the run, Howard's Plunge, followed by another looong pool.

We ate Mexican again in Nampa, slept, negotiated the maze of roads out of Boise, and headed for home on day twelve.





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