Friday, June 4

South Fork Salmon

The beautiful South Fork Salmon canyon with the great sandbar we camped on near the center of the photo. A few hours after this photo was taken it started pouring down rain.

Phil looking at Devil's Creek rapid on the South Salmon. We were incredibly tempted by the meat line on this one at 5.5'. It was huge, but it looked like it would go. That breaking wave at the right of the photo was dwarfed by some of the features just over the horizon line.

Boats pulled up on the beach! This was the best night of my whole Idaho vacation! Great beach, great weather, beautiful canyon, two of my favorite people in the whole world, burgers and bourbon! It simply doesn't get any better!

This baby elk couldn't have been more than a day old! It could still barely walk.

Hummingbird coming into feed at Jerri Kelly's feeder. She puts out a gallon of sugar water a day for these little guys and boy are there a bunch of them!

All of our stuff (except my cat frame and Phil's creek boat) next to Mike Dorris' Cessna 206 back in McCall.

A grand adventure all the way around! Where to start? Ted has been taking the spring off boating after getting some bone spurs removed from inside his vertebra, but he was a great sport and came to Yellowpine a day after us to camp out, take pictures and be our shuttle bunny. I mention Ted's presence because he put in a pretty solid effort trying to talk us out of running the S. Salmon at the healthy flow of 5.5'. The primary basis of his persuasion was a hair raising trip down the S. Salmon a decade previous at a slightly lesser level. It turns out that when a local long-time Class V boater that just happens to also be a hydrologist drives all the way out to the middle of nowhere to talk you out of putting on a river, it may be worth heeding the advice.

We put on the S. Salmon and proceeded to have a great day running some huge whitewater in one of the most beautiful canyons any of us have ever been down. 5.5' was a really big level and some of the rapids had gigantic Grand Canyon sized features, but with fast technical moves and lots of gradient. However, we felt that everything was pretty manageable and didn't regret our decision to launch one bit. We camped on a great beach river left above a couple of the named Class Vs, Surprise and Elk Creek. The afternoon was spent hiking downstream to scout the rapids and enjoy a beautiful sunny afternoon. We had some burgers for dinner and passed the bourbon around the campfire until late. Truly a wonderful evening!

Then it rained. It rained a lot and the already high river came up a bunch. The gauge went to 6.2', but so much of the water was coming in from tributaries downstream of the gauge and upstream of us that it was really quite a bit higher. Our beautiful beach from the night before was under water. We were cold and wet so we did the only logical thing, we put on our dry suits and went boating. The first rapid, Surprise, looked a fair bit different than it had the day before. The line I had picked out the previous afternoon had been to start center then move to the right behind a rock and run a fairly clean line down through a dozen or so big waves and holes right of center. Now, the marker rock was a hole and I was a little lost going into a huge Class V.

I got my bearings just in time to make the pull right into the alley between features that all seemed capable of flipping my cat. Just as I was starting to feel better about my position in the world, a huge lateral just kind of levitated me to the left about 40' and right into the meat of the rapid. I was perfectly lined up on one of the biggest holes I have ever seen. Bus sized, sometimes pile, sometimes 15-20' breaking wave. I pointed it straight and pushed as hard as I could on the oars. To no avail. I got surfed hard. I was highsiding to the front, to the back, to the side. I was airborn. It was definitely the biggest hole ride I have ever taken and I have no idea how I emerged right side up.

I flushed out just in time to straighten up and push into the next one! Same result. That one flushed me straight, but still a third hole was just downstream. Same thing. I took the three biggest thrashings of my life in quick succession and emerged unscathed and exhausted only to look upstream and see Jake's boat heading toward me upside down. He was swimming strong for shore and made it. Signaling that he was ok, I chased his boat and Phil followed. After keeping tabs on it through Elk Cr. I quickly got it to shore about a mile later.

Phil and I found Jake and looked at each other with wide eyes. We decided to evaluate our options and headed to Elk Creek Ranch which we had seen the day before while hiking around. Al answered the door and told us all the passes were snowed in and we couldn't drive out, if we wanted out we would have to fly. He and his wife Shauna graciously took us to the Kelly's place a few miles down the road because they had internet and phone and lived near the airstrip.

Jim and Jerri Kelly are wonderful people and took great care of us! Phil hopped on the Mail plane that afternoon, but Jake and I had to wait until morning to get a flight out on Mike Dorris' Cessna 206. In the mean time we had a great time watching Jerri's hummingbird feeders and swapping stories with the retired couple. Jerri fed us a great elk taco dinner and put us up with warm showers and comfy beds. After a quick flight in the morning it was all over. Jake and Phil headed home and I picked up Amanda for trips on the Middle Fork and Selway.


Molly said...

Where's the kayak!?!??!?!?

Ian said...

wow, sounds exciting. Way to know when to bail!

Anonymous said...

Looks like a stellar trip!