July 11-15, 2014
The Main Salmon River has always been one of my favorite rivers. It has fun rapids that aren’t overly technical or scary, beautiful sandy beach camps, wildlife, and great scenery. Karla Lloyd was lucky enough to pick up a permit for this year.
We had 15 people with 4 rafts and 2 two-man inflatable kayaks.
- Lloyd raft: Barry, Karla, & Jarem
- Gardiner raft: Dee & Kim
- Robins raft: Clyde, Karla, & Scott Johnson
- Redd raft: Lee, Kit, and Bob
- IK1: Jamie Gardiner & Nicole Zitting
- IK2: Wade & Hannah Robins
The weather was hotter than expected for mid-July. It felt more like August weather, with temperatures in the upper 90s most of the time. We did get a 20 minute light rain shower one morning, which cooled things off a little. The warm temperatures were great while on the water, but energy zapping while at camp.
We made good time traveling to the put-in at Corn Creek. We left Sandy, Utah at about 7:00 AM, stopped at Barry’s house to meet up with the group and load his gear in the trailer, and arrived at Corn Creek at 4:20 PM. Our goal was to be there in time to sign up for our desired campsites at 5:00 PM.
We hired All River Shuttles out of Whitebird to drive our vehicles around for us. They did an excellent job. Their price was lower than the competition, and they even power-washed our vehicles to get the mud and tar off. The road to Corn Creek was under construction, so it made a mess of our vehicles.
Lee’s crew left for home as soon as we de-rigged our boats, while the rest of us took an evening run on the Lower Salmon from Riggins to Lucile, and then drove home the next morning. I have done the “all-nighter” drive home too many times. I much prefer driving home after a good night’s sleep in a motel and a hot shower. We made it home by about 7:00 PM, with just enough daylight (and energy) left to put away most of the gear.
The water level on the Corn Creek ramp was at 2.0’ when we arrived on the afternoon of July 10. It dropped to about 1.75’ by the time we launched the next morning, and continued to drop throughout the week. This is roughly 6500 cfs.
The flow at Whitebird (below the take-out) was about 12,000 cfs when we launched, and about 9500 cfs when we finished our trip.
Even at this relatively low water level the Main Salmon offers some exhilarating rapids and large waves.
- Killum Rapid is often overlooked, but it can be a fun rapid at some water levels. At 5.5’ on the ramp, Killum had huge waves. At 1.75’ there is a nasty hole on river left, but it is easy to miss and run the main wave train.
- Ranier Rapid is one I can never remember. It has some nice waves, but we ran it without knowing it was Ranier.
- Alder Creek rapid was newly formed in 2011 by a debris flow from Alder Creek. It has some nice waves, with an easy run down the left side.
- Devil’s Teeth Rapid has several very large rocks. The normal run is on the left side, but you need to be careful not to wash up on any of the rocks. I ran it down the right side since we camped right above the rapid. This run was less exciting, but it was the safest run from our launch point.
- Salmon Falls is nothing more than a small ripple. It has been flooded out by Black Creek Rapid.
- Black Creek Rapid was also formed in 2011. It is easily the largest rapid on the Main. You can scout the rapid from the left shore, but it is a treacherous endeavor on slanted rocks covered in sand. The scout is harder than the rapid. The main run is down the left side, but at some water levels an easier run is possible on the right side. The middle is chocked with rocks, so you must go either right or left. We opted to go left. The drop down the tongue is impressive – somewhat like a log flume ride at an amusement park. You really pick up speed, which doesn’t give you much time to maneuver, so be sure to line up properly at the top of the tongue. The waves on the far left are potential boat flippers, so most people run just right of the center of the tongue. Our rafts all made it fine, but both IKs flipped in the third hole.
- Bailey Rapid is another fun rapid with the potential to flip boats. The hidden hole just left of center was runnable, but only Barry had the courage to hit it head on. The rest of us took the safer right sneak.
- Fivemile Rapid is not very well known, but it has a rock or hole hidden behind the large waves at the top of the rapid. The safest run is to sneak down the left side and take a look at the monster hole waiting there to consume unsuspecting boaters. I warned everyone about this, but coming into the rapid it looked so harmless. Barry and Lee both hit the hole head on. Luckily both rafts made it through without flipping.
- Split Rock Rapid has a huge rock in the middle of the river, splitting the river into two channels. We chose to run the right channel, which offered a fun ride through a long set of waves.
- Big Mallard Rapid is deceiving. It looks like you should go right of the monster hole or rock near the left bank, but the current is very strong and pulls you toward the hole (been there, done that). The easiest and safest run is to sneak down the left side about 10’ off the bank. There is a gap between the big rock and a rock on the shore just wide enough to sneak through.
- Elkhorn Rapid is actually a series of rapids back to back. One of them contains “elephant rock”, which in high water makes a hole large enough to swallow a school bus. At lower flows, just pick your way through, avoiding the smaller rocks and holes.
- Growler Rapid is similar to Elkhorn, but smaller and shorter.
- Whiplash Rapid is pretty easy in low water – you just need to avoid slamming into the cliff. In higher water, Whiplash and Elkhorn are the two most dangerous rapids.
- Boise Bar Rapid has a hole that is also capable of flipping a raft, but it is easily avoided if you pay attention.
- Ludwig Rapid is pretty long, but for me it has always been uneventful.
- Dried Meat Rapid has perhaps the largest wave on the river. There is a good drop down the tongue and a huge wave waiting at the bottom. But it is very smooth and easy to run. We didn’t even get any water over the bow.
- Chittam Rapid is a potentially dangerous rapid. If you flip in one of the holes, you could get pushed into the cliff on the left side. If the water is low enough for the island to be visible above the rapid, some guide books suggest running the left side of the island and then ferry to the right to avoid the largest holes. Next time I will do that. We stopped on river right to scout the rapid, but it is a pain to work your way through the bushes and boulders. If you take the right sneak it doesn’t even create good video.
- Vinegar Rapid is big and fun. There are some holes that could flip boats, but there is a good Eddy below, so the danger level is not nearly as high as with Chittam. We ran just right of center to avoid the largest hole. One of our IKs dumped one person and then flipped the boat while trying to rescue her.
- Carey Falls is the last rapid before the Carey Creek boat ramp. It has a large wave at the top right, which provided good surfing for a group of kayakers. This would not be a good place to flip since you would likely miss the take-out.
The Main Salmon has a set of campsites that you can reserve, and others that are first-come, first-serve. We prefer to use the reservation system so we have a destination in mind and don’t have to race other parties to get the good campsites. We were able to reserve three of the four we requested.
- Corn Creek. We had heard that the Corn Creek campground near the put-in sometimes fills up, but we had no trouble getting two campsites for our group.
- Upper Devil’s Teeth. We tried to get Lower Devil’s Teeth camp, but lost out to another group. Upper Devil’s Teeth wasn’t too bad, but Lower Devil’s Teeth is much nicer.
- Lower Yellow Pine. This is a very nice campsite with plenty of trees for hanging hammocks and providing shade. There is also a trail so you can scout Big Mallard Rapid (although a set of binoculars would be helpful).
- Paine Creek. We had Paine Creek reserved, but another group had already set up camp. They said they thought it was a first-come, first-serve campsite. We didn’t feel too bad losing out because this campsite had no shade and the heat radiated out from the rock wall lining the camp.
- Boise Bar. About one mile below Paine Creek we found Boise Bar campsite to be available. This turned out to be a fairly nice camp. There was one large pine tree that provided some shade, although we had to keep moving our chairs as the sun moved west. It had a nice beach for swimming.
- Rabbit Creek. Rabbit Creek camp was a very pleasant surprise. We expected it to be rather poor, but it had a huge beach – and I mean huge. It also had good mid-day shade from some pine trees and early evening shade from the mountainside.
Here are some miscellaneous photos from our trip.
At the take-out we de-rigged our boats but left my raft and the two IKs inflated. Lee headed for home as soon as everything was loaded, while the rest of us enjoyed left-overs for lunch at the picnic area near the take-out.
Following lunch we drove down towards Riggins and stopped at Shorts Bar and launched for a paddle boat run down to Lucile. We did this back in 2006 and it was well worth doing.
This year the water was more than double that of 2006, so we were pleasantly surprised at how many huge roller waves we hit.
- Time Zone Rapid has two sections. Back in 2006 Marcy and Isaac flipped their IK in the first section, climbed back in before the second section, and flipped again. This year Jamie and Hannah flipped. They found it very difficult to climb back in since everyone was very tired after five days on the Main.
- Tight Squeeze was actually smaller at this higher flow. It was a pretty straightforward run down the right side.
- Cherry Creek had some large waves, but was fairly easy.
- Chair Creek probably had the largest waves of the river. We missed the first big wave in the raft, but managed to ride out the rest of the wave train. It was really fun.
- Trap Creek had big waves but I didn’t notice any rocks or holes like we experienced in 2006.
- Fiddle Creek also had huge waves, as well as some monster holes that you would do well to avoid.
- Black Rock Rapid was pretty tame at this level.
The run down this lower portion of the Main Salmon was a great way to end our week on the river. We were all tired, but it was really fun to ride those large waves.