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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