The Middle Fork of the Salmon River June 19 - 25, 2004 Trip Report
by Shirley Koty

Idaho was better than I had hoped for. There were 22 kayakers, plus 4 people on shredders, 1 in an open boat plus 5 people for raft support / guide duty for our trip. We planned on cold weather but what a pleasant surprise during our week long voyage. The only cold air temps were the first night in the 40's, with maybe one light shower early on the trip. The water was about 45 to 55 degrees from snow melt. Winter paddling gear was worn the first few days, adjusting to fewer layers each day as we approached the dessert canyon near the end of the river. Viewing majestic snow capped mountains as we paddled from the Marsh Creek put in near Stanley then boated 100 miles downstream to Cache Bar on the main Salmon River. Each day was like running a new river with changing terrain, river features and daily hikes, from snow capped mountains, high alpine trees to wide open flats and grasslands, changing again to deep gorges and fast steep drops. What a ride......

So, the day to day story. There were five of us flying together out of Baltimore on Saturday morning. So Pat, Kim Montagne and I left Friday after work to Baltimore for dinner in the Little Italy section of Inner Harbor Friday night. The restaurant had an outside tree covered dining area with a live bluegrass band. What a way to start a vacation. We stayed at Bill and Sally Bauvelt's townhouse that night to catch the early flight out. Saturday's flight to Boise went well except for an extra hour layover in Denver. But it gave us time to see some neat museum / art stores at the Denver airport. When we arrived in Boise, and weren't sure how we would find our guide, Gordo, to transport us 150 miles north to Stanley. When we landed, everything came together. Gordo and his wife Bonnie met us at the baggage claim area. Several other paddlers already arrived and were getting acquainted with our host. We had to wait a few hours for one last passenger to arrive. So, a few of us went with Gordo to a local river store in the Hyde Park section of Boise. I wanted to buy a river knife and Sally wanted to look at the new clothes Idaho had to offer. Hyde Park was sprawling with boutiques, outdoor eateries, antique and specialty shops, plus a local micro brewery. There was even a Mexican restaurant with fish tacos. We sampled some local brews and soaked up the ambiance.

By the time we returned to the airport, everyone was packed and ready to leave. We had one motor home, a small truck and ranger vehicle to transport twelve of us to Stanley. The drive took three hours and the scenery was superb. We arrived in the middle of springtime in Idaho, green grass and abundant wildflowers. Gordo explained it was unusual for such lush surroundings, the grass is usually a buff color 90% of the year. Idaho was experiencing a ten year drought. Gordo grew up in Boise but moved to St Louis, MO. for a career as a firefighter and paramedic. He loved sharing childhood stories and the history of the area. A great tour guide! Along the way we noticed how vast the countryside was dotted with several small airstrips for better access to these remote areas. We could road scout the Payette river by our vehicle, glaring at the class IV - V sections wondering how to run the river. We passed Loaf of Bread Rock at the town of Horseshoe. Just awesome. The temperature went from 80 degrees in Boise to 50 degrees in Stanley. The terrain changed from dessert plains with rounded hills (called benches) to Ponderosa pines, then Douglas firs and high jagged ridges in the Sawtooth mountains.

We arrived at the outfitters, Middle Fork River Expeditions, to meet the other paddlers that drove in. MFRE provided raft support, carried our food, camping supplies and extra clothes for the trip. They loaded our boats on the trailer, and explained how we could pack our waterproof bags. Gordo drove us to the Mountain Village Lodge about three blocks away. The whole town of Stanley has about 100 full time residents. It felt like the world's end. A rustic location with modern conveniences.

We woke up around 6 AM Sunday to walk to the Mountain Village Country Restaurant. It was 40 degrees and raining a little. It was the only time I needed my winter gloves. Everyone gathered at the restaurant for a hearty meal before Gordo picked us up around 7:30. We finished loading our bags on a bus at MFRE's warehouse and was ready to roll by 9 AM. We left our excess baggage and vehicles at the warehouse for safekeeping during our trip. The bus ride was about 30 miles over dirt forest roads to the put in at Marble Creek. The sun was shining and everyone was excited to get underway. Once we arrived, a park volunteer spoke about the background of the river, and instructions us on river safety and a strict carry in, carry out policy. With ten thousand people going through the 'Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness' every year, they didn't want the camp sites looking like a kitty litter box. It took us until 11:30 before we launched down the river. We were 27 strong , including our raft support, and the largest group to paddle that day. There were 6 other groups launching on Sunday from Marble Creek. Once we were underway, we barely saw any other boats the whole trip. We paddled about 11 miles the first day with gradients up to 70 foot per mile and 2,800 cfs. The rapids were aptly named Sulfur Slide, Rams Horn and Hell's Half Mile. All Class III water and straight forward paths. Except for the one awkward roll I had in a class II section, the run went well. Velvet Falls rapid we scouted from the shore. It was our first class IV rapid. It took a half an hour to look at it and about two minutes to run the whole rapid. Everyone went through without any problems. This gave Gordo and the outfitters a sense of the group's paddling skill. We set camp up around 3 PM below another class IV rapid called Powerhouse Rapid. I was ready for a break. The outfitters had oysters, hot sauce, crackers and cheese for our hors o'devoures. This was followed by steak on the grill, dutch oven potatoes and apple crisp for dessert. We had a great variety of dutch oven meals the whole trip, selections like Grilled Salmon, Prime Rib Roast, Lasagna, and a breakfast soufflé. There was wine available with every dinner, and guests brought assorted sodas and beer for added beverages. Sunset was around 9:30 and it was difficult for me to stay up late the first night to watch the stars come out. A few people made the one mile trek to the nearby Sheepeater hot springs that night.

By sunrise, I was ready. A most delightful treat was the groover (toilet) set up by the river for a fabulous view. Truly one with the wild outdoors. Mike, Dave and Jay, from our local club, were ready for a morning hike. So we took off along river on a mountain trail to watch the sunrise. Mike and Dave hiked to the hot springs the night before and had wonderful stories to tell of falling asleep under the stars, in the hot springs with deer and elk close by. On our morning hike, we saw a loon scouting its territory on the river looking for a morning fish to catch. It was great to watch the skilled hunter swoop to the river and scoop up fish without slowing down. By the time we reached camp, breakfast was ready and we just needed to pack up our tents to start our day.
By 9 AM we were all on the river and ready for a 20 mile paddle. We stopped at Indian Creek for the only real toilet bathroom on the river. This was the alternate put in site where guests would fly in when for low water trips. We saw osprey and deer along the river. I wanted to follow Pat through Pistol creek, a class IV section. Pat decided to hand paddle that day. Just to try out the new toys. As I followed him through the rapid, he flipped and could not roll up. I managed to get him right side up as we traveled through. It was the first time I saved him. A small payback for as many times as he rescued me from the water during our years of paddling together. We stopped at a mining camp around Pungo creek. It was a half a mile hike uphill to the mine itself. We enjoyed the view and marveled at the determination of our early pioneers.

We reached Marble Creek camp by 4 PM and the play boaters were ready to surf a big surf wave below the camp called Marble Creek Rapid. One of the outfitter guides (Brooks) took out his surf board and really surfed the wave. I just watched the fun. Then I took some time out for my first sun shower. The water bag was warmed in the sun on a raft all afternoon. I just hung the bottle on a tree, and instant warm shower. It felt good to be clean again.
By the second night, the outfitters had observed we kayakers like to take their tents and find some secluded out of the way location for individual camp sites. Mine was on a rock cliff overlooking the river for that night. The outfitters were used to raft passengers who camped close to the camp fire and did not venture too far. No complaints, just observations.

Early Tuesday morning, I was ready to try surfing the Marble Creek rapid myself. I duct taped my camera to the front of my kayak to video my own carnage. Well the wave grabbed me quite quickly and I was swept away under water. There are a few seconds of just bubbles on the video before the horizon line appeared again. It's funny, going through rapids and rolling seems to last forever. But the camera only captured 30 seconds or so of wild white water and 3 to 10 seconds of rolling. Maybe I had it set to fast forward or something. Oh well, everyone was finished playing by 9 AM and we were underway again for a 15 mile trek on the water.

Tuesday's run was a different river all together. We stopped at Sunflower hot springs beside the river about one mile downstream from the campsite. Everyone got out and enjoyed a bath and riverside shower. The scenery change to Ponderosa Pines, and softer mountain sides. The canyon widened with meadows of green grass, sage brush and Mock Orange shrubs. Even the currants were ripe and eatable. We took a side hike to see some petroglyphs created thousands of years ago by neighboring Indians. They looked like a signs for good hunting in the area. By late afternoon we camped below Jackass rapids a few miles upstream from Loon creek hot springs. It was the largest hot tub type hot springs on the trip and the last hot springs available on the trip. The hike passed through gorgeous meadows and wooded trails up Loon Creek passing Simplot ranch, horse farm and airstrip. We contemplated hiring Simplot to carry our boats up Loon Creek for a nice 20 mile creek paddle of class III rapids. If we had a day to spare, we might have run Loon Creek just for the fun of it. There was a hiking bridge crossing the river which was neat place to stop for pictures. Our camp was beside an ancient Indian winter camp. The ruins of the food stores were quite visible and we did not disturb the ruminants of past tenants of the area. Back at camp, Sally had cracked her kayak bow while paddling that day and Bill duct taped it to seal the leaks. Surprisingly, the tape held out for the rest of the trip leak free.

Wednesday was a 28 mile paddle. The air and water were warmer. The terrain changed again to a more desert like conditions. We found some more class IV rapids with Tappan Falls and Haystacks. We set up safety first before Tappin Falls, just in case. I think the real reason they set up safety at the bottom of a rapid is to film the carnage of the paddlers going through. I flipped and rolled up in the falls. After the Tappin, we stopped at our only tourist trap along the way. The Flying B Ranch. We walked the path from the river through two ornate turnstile gates made of horseshoes. One had a five foot high stack of elk antlers by the turnstile. We were able to buy ice-cream, soda or candy. They had shirts or hats for sale also. It was a fly in ranch for tourists to enjoy the mountains, fishing and hunting. The Flying B generated their own electricity for the ranch. What a lifestyle. Amazingly, this 28 mile paddle was easier than the previous day's 20 mile paddle. After the huge accomplishment for the day we were ready for Jimmy Buffett and margarita night. Gordo and Adam played the guitars and sang around the camp fire. We were asked to bring a tacky Hawaiian shirt for Jimmy Buffett night. I did not have a T shirt so I made a grass skirt from the local grasses with red duct tape. It definitely qualified as tacky. Things went down hill from there. Erin (one of the guides) passed out noise makers for everyone. Pat, Sally, Bill, and Erin danced with the music. Pat was wearing Erin's pink flowered long pants. In which he was showing his finer side to the camera. After some sing alongs and story telling, we were all in bed by 10 or 11PM.

In the morning there was a male grouse parading around the camp trying to coax a lady grouse into courtship. He was having a terrible time convincing her. But was not going to be deterred by all of these kayaking invaders. He stood his ground, strutted around the camp and posed for many pictures. The lady grouse wasn't impressed. Oh well, there was water waiting for us. We packed up and was on the water by 10 AM for a short 13 mile paddle. I rode one of the rafts with Brooks for the beginning two miles. It was a good time to relax and take in the scenery. I was able to take pictures of fellow kayakers in some of the early rapids. When I was ready to paddle again, there wasn't a place to set me ashore to return to the water. So, Brooks set up my kayak on the side of the raft for a seal launch. It was going well until I slid off the raft without my paddle. I was in the water before I knew it. It took another minute or two before I had the spray skirt secured and paddle in hand. My biggest mistake of the day was having the camera strapped to my kayak locked in still picture mode. I thought I was videoing rapids as I paddled through. Surprise! Next up was Impassable Canyon. A deep gorge with no outside trails along the river. The river served up more rapids and fantastic views. Veil Falls was the highlight of the day. We hiked up a steep rocky mountainside to a wind carved stone amphitheatre with a small water falls wispily falling from hundreds of feet above. A soft breeze moved the bottom of the falls around a 50 foot area like a streaming veil. We laid across a huge rock at the bottom of the falls and looked up at the canyon in awe of the view. It was spectacular. Back along the river route, we saw a magpie chasing a golden eagle. Mountain sheep played on a cliff across from a hermit's camp we explored. That night we rested below Cliffside rapid. Since it was the last night on the river, most of us camped as close to the rapids as possible, listening to the falling water all night. The outfitter's made another observation, kayakers ate two to three times as much as rafting guests. They weren't complaining, because it saved on leftover's being thrown out at the trip's end. Although they did have a challenge trying to find enough food for our last meal of lasagna. The meal was great and included left over vegetables in the pasta as well as garlic bread for a side dish. I don't know how they did it. All of the meals were prepared fresh on the water. No canned or instant foods. Including fruits, salads, guacamole dip, biscuits, pasta, and margarita's with fresh limes.

The last day was an early 8 AM start. Only 2 hours and 13 miles of paddling. The biggest white water drops still ahead. Some wave trains were a mile long. Huge tops like ocean waves. Rubber Rapid, Devil's Tooth and House Rock. We paddled most of the stretch single file keeping a safe distance from fellow paddlers. This helped us to scout our path through the rapid, not adding the hazards of close boaters on top of us. All went well as we joined the Main Salmon River. There was a Large M carved on the mountainside to mark the Main. It was odd to see our first road and vehicles in six days. We were leaving the wilderness behind. But the river was not through with us yet. The last rapid was 1/4 mile before the take out. It was a new rapid created last winter, during a blow out landslide covering over one third of the river. This restricted the flow through a narrow passage and caused a 15 foot high wave for us to paddle through. Pat and Eric led the way without scouting. The rest of us stopped to scout it out of our boats first before proceeding. By the time we saw the line and planned our route, Pat and Eric finished the run and was hiking back with their kayaks to go through it again. The line looked like the center of the river from shore. But from river level, center meant river right through the center of the constricted section of the river. I was able to make the correction in time before approaching the wave, no problems, just like a high roller coaster. Jay tried to cross the wave for an easier, less pushy line on river right. He was in a canoe and current pushed him toward the center for a flip and swim down the roller coaster. Bonnie ended up too far left on the side of a big hole. The water took her boat and she cartwheeled through the rapid. Fortunately, there were a few paddlers still scouting the rapid and filmed all the carnage. No injuries, just great stories.
By 10 AM, we were at the take out and loaded up our rafts, boats and gear. Changed into dry clothes and enjoyed a hearty lunch the bus driver provided.

It was about a 5 hour drive up the mountains back to our hotel in Stanley. We passed Elk, Moose and more Eagles along the way. It rained and hailed as we passed through the Continental Divide. A much needed rain for this drought stricken area. Perfect timing. Perfect trip.

 

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