June 27 – July 1, 2019
Gabe exercised “beginners’ luck” and drew a permit for the coveted Middle Fork of the Salmon River.
We had five rafts; Jamie captaining a 14’ paddle boat, with Dee, Layne, Barry, and Rob each managing a 16’ oar rig.
Utah had an above average snowpack this year, but Idaho was pretty close to normal. The flow was 3.1’ when we launched on June 27, dropping to about 2.85’ on day 5.
For the most part, we had great weather. Day 2 was a little chilly, but day 3 was absolutely perfect with clear sunny skies and ideal temperatures. We had a few light rain sprinkles during the night at the Boundary Creek put-in camp and our final camp at Elk Bar, but otherwise avoided any rain storms.
Elk Bar was a fair campsite. This year the beach was fairly steep, making it challenging to find good tent sites. All of our other camps (Joe Bump, Lower Grouse, and State Land Left) were great.
The Upper Canyon
Last year we launched with a flow of about 3.75’ – just over ½’ higher than this year. That small difference made a huge difference in the character of the river. The upper 1.5 days of the river is pretty swift and shallow, and difficult to pull over to stop.
The water was so shallow at the launch site, it was difficult to get in any solid oar strokes, so Rob and I both got snagged up on rocks right within site of the put-in. Things improved as we moved down river with numerous side streams adding water to the flow, but there were numerous places to get hung up or even wrap on rocks.
Jamie also had challenges because half of her six-man crew were newbies. They had no time to practice the basic raft maneuvering strokes, as is evident in the video. They did much, much better on subsequent days.
We got a fairly late start due to the crowd at the put-in (with one huge commercial outfitter), but luckily, we only had to go about 10 miles the first day. We stopped at Sulphur Slide for lunch, where Lee told of his brief swim in the shallow water. He reminded us to keep our feet downstream to protect ourselves from oncoming rocks.
After lunch I turned the oars over to Kevin. Sulphur Slide is long and rocky, and Kevin had no chance to warm up. We spun off a large boulder on the side of the river, dumping me into the river. The water is swift and shallow, making it almost impossible to keep my feet downstream to push off rocks. I had to lay fairly flat in the water, so I really couldn’t even see what was coming due to the waves. I bounced and slid off several large boulders and took on some huge bruises in spite of wearing a wetsuit. I was glad I finally invested in a good helmet. According to my helmet camera, I was in the water for almost two minutes before Kevin could get close enough for Isaac to pull me back into the boat. My advice is to “stay in the boat”.
Jamie and I each had clean runs through Velvet Falls. Last year I was unable to catch the Eddy and hit the deepest part of the hole. This year we ran it just as I planned. Rob was right behind me, and he hit the hole dead on. Luckily the flow was such that it didn’t cause him to stall and surf the hole for several minutes, as can happen at times.
The first portion of Powerhouse was shallow and wide. Lee (rowing Rob’s boat) went left and got stuck, so we went right. Isaac was able to successfully dodge all of the rocks and avoid getting stuck ourselves.
And in the final part of Powerhouse, Lee managed to pin on the same rock Jason pinned on last year. Rob climbed out on the rock to help push off the boat, only to be left stranded in the middle of the river. Jamie was able to pick him up down stream a bit so he didn’t have to walk all the way to camp.
Pistol Creek was pretty easy at these flows, but it could be dangerous if you got too far right and hit the large boulders. Jamie was a little too far right and went over one of the submerged rocks, but it didn’t cause any serious threat.
The Middle Section
The middle portion of the trip is mostly pretty tame in terms of rapids, but there are several nice hot springs through this section. We stopped briefly at Sunflower Hot Springs, and then took the one-mile hike up to the Loon Creek Hot Spring. The weather was so good, that the hot water wasn’t too appealing, but it was still worth the stop.
We also stopped at the Flying B Ranch for an ice cream bar.
Tappan Falls and Marble Creek are pretty fun rapids in this middle section. Kathy and Kristen took a short swim in Marble Creek when their boat stalled briefly in the hole, catching them off guard. Kristen was startled when she came up underneath the boat, but quickly moved out from underneath.
Tappan Falls is usually a fun ride down the tongue on river right. It has a nice drop and one big wave. This makes a good photo spot from either side of the river. You do want to avoid the holes in the middle, or you could be stuck for quite a long time.
The Lower Canyon
After the first 1.5-days, the river becomes a more traditional western “pool-and-drop” style river. The rapids get much larger as you move down stream and enter Impassable Canyon.
At some water levels Redside could be the most dangerous rapid on the river. At these flows, it was a pretty easy run, but you do have to decide whether to pull left or right of the ‘wrap rock’ waiting for you at the bottom of the slot.
Weber and Rubber were not as big as last year, but still offered good fun and decent waves. The other short, rocky rapids in the lower section were pretty easy to read-and-run, but you do need to pay attention or you could get stuck on a rock or in a hole.
We stopped to see Mist Falls and a waterfall behind the Parrot Cabin.
The final rapid – Crammer Creek – had the largest waves of the entire trip. The water volume increases dramatically after joining the main Salmon. We rode the main tongue down the center. It has a huge drop, but the waves don’t really have much kick. Jamie took the more adventurous route just left of center and hit a huge back wave for a fantastic ride and fantastic ending to our video.
This year I had five cameras. Jamie had a GoPro Hero 7 on her helmet in the paddle boat, with a Hero 5 mounted on the bow of the boat. The ‘bow camera’ got great shots of the paddle crew. Unfortunately, we didn’t get bow footage of many of the larger rapids because someone operated the camera incorrectly and put it in ‘still’ mode rather than video mode. But we did capture some great stills that way.
I also had a Hero 7 on my helmet, and an old Hero 3 mounted on the portable toilet, facing back at the person rowing. We affectionately refer to this as the “hooter cam”. The image quality, color, and sound from the Hero 3 is pretty poor in comparison to the newer Hero 7s. The Hero 7s were recording 4k video, the Hero 5 was recording 2.7k video, and the H3 was HD resolution.
The 5th camera was also recording HD. This is a Panasonic handheld camcorder. This only got used on rapids where we could stop to take pictures.
Here are some of our best photos from the trip. Thanks to Hannah for contributing her photos to the collection.