Salmon Supreme Trip Report
by Rick Groff
The 2007 Salmon Supreme rafting crew huddled in their sleeping bags at Boundary Creek Camp in the early morning hours of May 29th- waiting for the morning chill to lift and the guests to arrive. Frost lined the bag openings from frozen breaths, a 0 degree bag needed it's occupant to dress in fleece to help ward off the cold. It was 20+ degrees and no one wanted out. It was still better than the first put in here last year where our ECHO River Trips crew faced several inches of new snow while rigging the boats and waiting for early morning put in.
There were six of us on this year's crew: Colleen, the consummate rafting queen whose river skills are unquestioned and pleasant demeanor infectious; Ian, an earnestly solemn and talented guide whose years on the Middle Fork are punctuated with stints as a professional fishing guide in Montana; Zach, who will be arriving with the guests on the transport bus from Stanley shortly, is the pacesetter for the three primary guides and the source of boundless creatively positive energy and an obvious card carrying member of the "Too Much Fun" club.
Rounding out the guide group are the AB’s (Assistant Boaters- those of us working this trip to gain our Idaho guide’s certification for the Middle Fork) including Geoff, a rapier witted guide from ECHO’s Rogue operation whose humor and general good nature are contagious; Ori- a hard working and eager young Oregonian attempting to work her way into an ECHO summer position on the Rogue and yours truly, a middle aged man trapped in a boy's brain, with issues of existential uncertainty for which rafting helps serve as a temporary elixer.
Riding as safety kayakers are JT and Dave two long time ECHO guides whose familiarity and comfort on the Middle Fork are undisputed and very obvious. These two are dialed in.
The guests arrive at mid-morning. Chris and Linda, a middle-aged couple of inexhaustible good cheer; Alex, a helpful and friendly retired adventurer, Lloyd, a reserved engineer from the South West whose love for the outdoors will become clear; Jody, an exceedingly fit family practice doctor with a gift for Southern understatement, and, of course, Bill the ECHO River Trips legend who has more trips down the Middle Fork with the company than some of it’s newer guides. His ribald good humor with an East Coast bite will provide all with constant entertainment. Bill is generous to a fault.
We leave Boundary in 2 Avon Spirits, the 18' workhorses of most river operations, a 14' Adventurer used as the paddle raft on which most will travel down the river and the Cataraft a 16' pair of tubes lashed to an aluminum frame and able to withstand nearly any significant river condition. It’s a beautifully sunny Idaho morning. The water is cold, the guests eager and the guides banter comfortably.
First night's camp is about 20 miles downstream at Dolly Lake. The guests and guides are tired after a long day of rigging, orientation and getting accustomed to the rigors of paddling through a series of Class III and IV rapids including the sudden appearance of Velvet Falls, a Class IV falls that inspires discussion if not trepidation with most groups. Lessons on "Groover" etiquette are explained and the elimination habits of more than a few people will change markedly for the next 7 days.
Salmon dinner is prepared, eaten and commended by all. Tents are rigged, paco pads and sleeping bags laid and the darkness of our first river night consumes the canyon.
Day 2 is protracted as guests rise slowly from that first uncertain night’s sleep on the water’s edge. After a filling breaky we raft down past Lake Creek's blowout where a large logjam has given away creating a treacherous section of the river that requires scouting and a decision to unload the guests and have the guides take the rafts through. An incorrect move or bad timing would be sure to have less than desirous consequences involving large trees, giant root balls and fast moving, cold water. Providence and rafting skills shine and the trip is able to continue with the mornings events captured on digital memory cards for later embellishment.
The day’s float takes us past Sunflower Hot Springs where pleasingly warm water flows up through these mountains and then accumulates in small sitting pools only to then flow out off the rock ledge assisted by an old hollowed log to create a bucolic river shower that most avail themselves of. Onward, past Middle Fork Lodge where the rich and super rich stay and are pampered to the tune of a week’s wages spent for the luxury of a single night in a small cabin along the same river that sustains our travel.
Night 2 is at Whitey Cox camp at mile 46. Whitey’s grave sits on the bench above the beach, the spot where he died placer mining in 1954 at the age of 40. Ian prepares BBQ rib eye steaks and the kitchen crew wrangles together a wonderful salad and garlic mashed potatoes. As is customary, the beer flows- the guests seem more relaxed as their familiarity with one another and the guides matures. The weather is warm . . . life is good.
Day 3 on the river begins as the sun rises over the canyon's Eastern edge. We’re on the water at 9:45 after a collaborative effort to breakdown camp and rig gear. The goal today is to raft nearly 30 miles to Survey camp at Mile 75. It’s a big day on the water for the paddle crew as they pass through the Tappan Rapds without incident but with river blasts to their upper body. It's then off to Haystack/Bernard Rapid a dynamic section that has changed recently as the result of debris flows from nearby Pole and Bernard Creeks. At this flow it’s a fairly easy run for the bigger boats. The paddlers are treated to a 5-minute excursion through an arcade style wave train with giant water crests plowing over and into their raft, the screams are honest and real.
We reach Survey Camp at 4:30 and set about derigging the boats with one hand and holding a beer with the other. Tonight is special- it’s fajitas and "Riverritas" the ECHO combination of ample portions of Mr. Cuervo, lime aid, beer and fresh lime over ice. Food, drinks and good conversation are offered and consumed until the darkness sends the guests off to bed. Unnamed crewmembers will wait up in an attempt to see the anticipated Blue Moon rising that is supposed to materialize tonight. However, the only thing that materializes at our camp by close to dawn is an empty Riverrita cooler and several headaches.
The last day on the Middle Fork begins in customary fashion. The Blaster starting at 6:00 am for coffee, breakfast is shopped and the staples of tea, cereal, oatmeal, sugar, honey, etc are placed on the drink/cup table. A Dutch oven fries a side of bacon confirming the adage that when river trips float . . . pigs die. Ori concocts a beautiful collection of pancakes with the requisite fruit; the morning is a success despite the fact that we know we're leaving this beautiful canyon. All trip members are by now a, mostly, integral whole. This transition is one of the most marvelous events that occurs on these multi-day trips. From strangers to family in a couple memorable float days- wow, were it just so easy on the outside! Perhaps Government’s could take notice of this psychological phenomenon?
On to the Main Salmon and a rendezvous with our hosts there the Sawtooth Adventure Company. We leave Survey Camp and, shortly thereafter, roar through Redside and Weber Rapids as a prelude to Rubber, Hancock and House rapids. These were big water rapids with large wave trains and some spotty rock gardens. Lots of fun and no one wants to stop. Unfortunately, the river flows only one way.
We turn the corner and meet the Main Salmon at mile 96. We've had three days of fun, excitement and growth on this wonderful Middle Fork. Yet, there’s one more big rapid, Cramer Creek, to run before we rest for the day. We scout, decide and run; lots of screams and hoots. We’re at camp at Cache Bar on the Main Salmon by 4:00 PM- its 82 degrees, we have a sandy beach and Koob on the upper shelf- our new friends/guides show.
Eric, the owner of Sawtooth, is now trip leader; an elfish ex-actor with a colossal sense of humor and a deep understanding of the Main Salmon river shed and an admirable work ethic he fills the position well. Becka and Johnny are his assistants. We also pick up Krista, a longtime ECHO guide taking the season off to marry her sweetheart in Utah. She is a funster: vibrant, helpful and a welcome addition.
The afternoon and evening at Cache Bar are relaxing. Lots of sun, sand, beer and games. Some of the guests swim and all enjoy themselves. JT and Dave will leave us tomorrow. They cook up a memorable BBQ cheeseburger dinner enjoyed by all.
Our 5th day is on the Main Salmon and begins early- we're on the river by 8:30 AM- it's a 40 mile day. Lots of big water but without the technical moves on the Middle Fork. It’s warm; the water is not so cold- it beats being at the office. We arrive at Big Mallard Camp at 4:30; the group is tired but upbeat. It’s been a great day covering 40 miles of the Main Salmon in about 8 hours. Appetizers and beer are offered and willingly accepted by most. Dinner is ample and enjoyed.
Day 6 of the trip starts with a big breakfast of custom egg sandwiches and Canadian bacon and fruit. We get on the river by 9:30 AM. Paddle rafters have a big day on large wave trains. Camp was to have been Lower Bull Creek but there is a party there so we raft down another two miles to California Creek, a large, sandy and classic main campsite.
We are soon introduced to Paco man who, in his regular job runs Sawtooth Adventure Company. Paco man's claim to fame is wrapping himself in one or two 2" thick Paco pads and allowing himself to be thrown into the river with lovely women and Rogue River guides. Paco man entertains evryone until self-discipline dictates otherwise. The evening is spent in a modified Bocce Ball game and ammo can tug of war. Colleen, the gifted athlete, reigns supreme. The group appears to be amazed and amused at the theater appearing before them with the backdrop of canyon walls and the flowing river.
The last day of the trip begins with wonderful breakfast of bagel sandwiches with lox. It’s an early two-hour float to take out. We need to be there by 11:00 Am as most of the guests fly out of McCall at around 3:00PM and it’s a two hour shuttle. We have a big rapid to deal with however. We scout and run Chittum Rapid immediately above Vinegar Creek where we are about to finish our trip. Zach takes the paddle boat trough a tricky chute on river right again impressing the group with his leadership and boating skills, Colleen takes her Spirit in backwards on a reverse ferry showing her fearlessness and proficiency on the river. The rest of us make it through with grand success as well. Voices are hoarse from all the yelling the last week.
Take out goes smooth. The bus for the guests is late- stress takes over. It appears as the truck loaded with guests leaves for the airport. Hugs, promises of future trips and good cheer are everywhere- maybe a tear here and there as well. It’s tough to leave your new family so soon after you’ve found them. The last we see of our new friends is their van’s trailer’s taillights turning the bend. Hot showers and clean sheets have to be on their minds- it is ours.
A few of us lay on the boat ramp reminiscing the last few days. It’s warm with a slight breeze, we’re tired and not looking forward to the 10+ hour drive back to the Salmon guide house. We laugh, tease and then, leave.