Eleven of us had been waiting a
year to repeat our trip down the
Middle Fork Salmon. Last year the
water was stompinâ€™ 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
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
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