Wednesday, June 28, 2017


There's this river, up in Idaho, called the Salmon.

It's an enormous river draining a corrugated country.  Every big river starts from dozens of smaller creeks being fed by trickles and rivulets.  We put in way up high, in the mountains, on an inches deep creek where winter had not yet released it's grip on the land.  Our float lasted 4 days, dropped thousands of feet and hundreds of miles, and deposited us on the fringe of the desert.

I won't lie: I spent the better part of our first day tense beyond description, stressed by the enormous volume of water rushing down the tiny watercourse that is Marsh Creek.  Eddies were few, wood was everywhere, and scouting was more less out of the question -- both due to the lack of eddies and the constantly engaging whitewater.  It'd take a week to cover the first 15 miles if you wanted to scout everything.

We didn't have a week: 4 days was what we were able to carve out of our everyday lives to make this work.  Covering over 50 miles per day meant that change happened fast -- from brown and white to brown and green, then just green, then colors started to seep in bit by bit.  Emerging spring, happening not over the span of a few weeks but more like half a day.  When you could lift your attention from the whitewater for a moment you'd find yourself yet deeper immersed in that transition.

Moving that fast is anathema to some.  No doubt we'll slow to smell the asters more when we're retired, but we don't yet have that luxury.  And going beat not going by a landslide.  We took the time to slow down and breathe at camp, around the fire, while wandering aimlessly up side drainages every evening.

There was but one swim on the trip.  It was on the Middle Fork, at Velvet Falls.  It was stupid, it happened purely because I hadn't yet shed the anxiety from Marsh Creek, and there's not much more to say about it.  The only upshot is that while collecting myself in an eddy just downstream, I gave myself an ultimatum: Get your shit together and calm the eff down, or wait for a plane and fly backhaul out of Indian Creek a few hours hence.

Fortunately it didn't come to that -- by Indian I'd found my groove and would keep it the rest of the trip.

I'd only seen the Middle Fork once before, at October low water, and just sorta scratched my head in wonder: Why do people flock here?  Who thinks this is the best multi-day river trip in the country?  The burned-out scenery is just so-so, the roads, and bridges, and airstrips, and ranches, and trucks and tractors and ATV's and air traffic make it the exact opposite of a wilderness experience in my mind.  And at low water the whitewater was just way too limited to be the real draw.

I figured that those whom crow so ceaselessly about this river either don't get out much, or come during high water.  So after that trip I vowed I'd give it one more shot, with a lot more water, before drawing a firm conclusion.  Thus did I join this trip.

And yep, the massive added volume of water juiced the rapids way up and made the river feel full value.  But there's a curious aside to that: In 4 days out we saw but one other group, all in one boat.  One.  Which made me wonder even more about the people that rave about this trip.  Where the hell were they?

Where the Middle Fork flowed into the Main the volume of water more than tripled, and we suddenly found ourselves riding the back of a freight train.  I've run the Grand Canyon a handful of times and it is my benchmark for "big water".  The Main Salmon was flowing more than double what I've seen on the Grand, and this was during a cool spell with clouds and light snow -- not much melt making it into the river.  Still, even at this "low" spring flow, the rapids, seams, and boils were an order of magnitude larger than anything on the Grand Canyon, and that freight train delivered us to our takeout in one long 92 mile day.

Thanks to Gerard, Jesse, Jeff, and Drew -- a fantastic crew befitting such a great trip.


  1. Sweet. I had a big smile on my face before I realized the first picture was a video.

  2. Holy smokes, Mike! That is HUGE water. And a 92mi day?!? Come paddle up here around Glenwood sometime! There's a pretty cool little packraft scene here! Having a packraft modification party tonight to customize six or eight people's boats tonight. Your trips continue to inspire me!

  3. +1 for the roll. Outstanding video.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. Also, if you watch closely enough in that last clip, you'll see more than one roll.