Middle Fork of The Salmon River, Day 1

I slept late! I never do that, but today I woke up at 6:00, and quickly panicked. At VMI we called it “getting in a shitty”. I had to hook up the trailer and get out of this difficult camp. Just making the turn out onto the road would be a bit hazardous. Then it’s a 20-minute drive to Stanley, where the bus leaves at 7:30. I needed coffee and something to eat.

I told myself to calm down. There is plenty of time. After a quick coffee, I hooked up and headed out slowly, not wanting to knock the rear bumper of the trailer on this steep descent. Thankfully, there was no traffic, and I made it to Stanley in plenty of time. 

Jess, of Idaho Wilderness Company, called telling me where to park the trailer. She had arranged for Carla to move the trailer to Challis and keep it at her house for the week. I left her sticky notes of instruction – turn on the lights, put it in tow mode, turn on the air brake and plug in the forward video camera. I had met Carla on my last trip down the Middle Fork. She told me about riding a bike across the country when she was young, telling me, yes, there are hills in Kansas, and she called Missouri Misery. On another trip, she rode around British Columbia and back.

There was an orientation meeting at River 1 last night. The back porch faces the Salmon River with fields on the other side and a small mountain behind. It is such a beautiful spot, I had to make myself concentrate on what Steve Zettel had to say. He is a great leader, as I learned on the last trip. He is both strict and pleasant. He made it clear that no technology is allowed – no ipads, no GPS, no satellite radios and your phone won’t work anyway. He wants you to break away from our dependency on these gadgets and enjoy the trip through the Frank Church Wilderness, where there are no roads, but 3,700 square miles of wilderness. 

He said if you fall out of the boat, it’s your fault. People tend to get complacent and not hold on when going through rapids. “If the boat is right-side-up and you fall out, it’s your fault. There will be a lot of rapids the first day, so we won’t get the kayaks out. After that, you can kayak until the last day.” Ron Lowrey has kayaked the whole trip in his own kayak. This is his 16th trip with Idaho Wilderness Company down this river. 

Ron has so many stories of hunting with Steve, starting when Steve was 18 I think. He should write a book. It is great fun sitting around the fire listening to Ron’s stories, and he has a bunch. Elk hunts, moose hunts, Bighorn hunts and then there’s the grizzly bear charge.

Steve was the Challis wrestling coach for years. Most of his guides were former wrestlers, except Tristan, who played basketball. He puts up with no nonsense, but is fair. I found out on the last trip that these are excellent young men, who love being outdoors. Maybe I appreciate them because I have turned over my share of canoes on far lesser rivers. I have been tossed out of rafts by “guides” who are hung over and reckless.

We loaded our gear on the bus and spread out for social distancing. Our driver said this would be the scariest part of the trip as we drive an hour and a half up a dirt and gravel road in a school bus through the mountains to Boundary Creek.

We looked for wildlife, Jess’s brother, Phil, opening a window and standing to get a better look. A few people cancelled because they didn’t want to fly with Covid 19 lurking. That gave Jess’s family the opportunity to come, so her father, brother and cousin, Natalie, came along. Those that did fly said there weren’t many on their planes. 

By the end of the bus trip, we drove along huge drop-offs. Thank God we didn’t meet anyone coming the other way, but our driver kept in radio contact with someone, who told of someone coming out. She is an excellent driver.

Steve warned us the rest of the trip would be one of solitude, but for the next hour, it’s like being in Disney World with lots of companies at the launch. Keep your gear in your hand. There was another orientation, Steve warning us of the hazards. “Rattlesnakes will warn you when you approach. Most people get injuries getting in and out of the boats. Ticks may be the biggest danger. If you pull one off, put it in a plastic bag so you can show the doctor.” I was surprised by the last statement here in Idaho, but having Lyme Disease, I paid attention. 

But then there was a shocker. Steve wasn’t going! Ron went right up to get the story. He had taken a fall while riding his mountain bike and hurt his shoulder. On his trip down the river last week, he didn’t have his usual strength and his hand would get numb. He had a doctor’s appointment in Boise, so his son, Steven, would be in charge.

We loaded up and got on our way. The Salmon is called “The River of No Return”. I had no idea what was in store for me on my last trip. Would it be like the New River Gorge, or the Gauley? But I have seen the river, so now I could relax and enjoy the ride, knowing I am in excellent hands. Ron and I got into the boat with Tristan.

“At 2.367 million acres (9,580 km2), it is the largest contiguous federally managed wilderness in the United States outside of Alaska, which is second in area only to the contiguous area of the state-managed Adirondack Park in upstate New York, which contains some 46% of its state-managed area of 9,375 square miles (24,281 km2) as wilderness parkland. The Death Valley Wilderness is the largest single designated area but consists of numerous disconnected units.[3][4] The wilderness protects several mountain ranges, extensive wildlife, and a popular whitewater rafting river: the Salmon River“. From Wikipedia.

The main Salmon River is called “The River of No Return” because once you enter the canyon, the is no getting back upstream. Lewis and Clark explored the main Salmon, but coming to the gorge, said it was impassible. https://idahosalmonriver.org/salmon-river/history/

1st morning picture out my tent door

  3 comments for “Middle Fork of The Salmon River, Day 1

  1. C K
    July 27, 2020 at 10:00 am

    this sounds so exciting – wish I were there….

  2. LeRoy Adam Bruton
    July 27, 2020 at 12:26 pm

    Now we are seeing the good stuff.

  3. Pam
    July 27, 2020 at 1:26 pm

    So glad you are making this trip. Love the beautiful pictures and fun stories.

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