Airstream Time

Exploring North America in an Airstream

Posts from the ‘Middle Fork Salmon River’ category

Middle Fork Salmon River, Sunday

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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Sipping coffee, I watched these amazing kids carry their heavy bags, sleeping bags, day bags and water bottles to the boats. By now everyone had the routine down. Too bad it’s the last day with two of the biggest rapids. Ron got into the boat with Ty. It was the only day he didn’t fish. Hmmm, how big were these rapids? Apparently they are below the junction of the Main Salmon with the Middle Fork, or what they call the Main and the Middle. Why would it surprise me that Sarah, Llydia and all the girls were in the paddle boat with Bob and Dog. As we came to a gorgeous spot that reminded me of Half Dome in Yosemite, I asked Ty for my Nikon, which I had kept in a Pelican case when we were on the water, only taking it out mornings, evenings and some lunches. I found if I strapped the cast to the bed pad I was sitting on, I could get to it quickly, then put it back in rapids. Geez, it took 6 days to figure that out! By the time I got it sorted out, we were passing the photo opportunity. Next time I will know better. 2020, God willing.

Then Ty said, “There’s the road.” Damn! Civilization! I looked back at the paddle boat behind us as we entered the second worst rapid on the river. Was that Llydia riding on the front of the paddle boat???? “The Bronco Seat”, Ron said. They were too far back to get a good look, but then we came to the second rapid. With the camera strapped down, I got on the floor and grabbed the rope. Ty handled it expertly as all the guides had done the entire week. We eddied out the watch the paddle boat in case something happened. There was a dark-haired girl in the Bronco Seat now, with a GpPro on her head. Sarah! The story goes she asked her parents if she could sit in the Bronco Seat for this rapid. Her father, Chris, said, “We all make decisions Sarah.” Her mother said, “Good luck” as they kept fishing. These girls are my heroes, and they were from the first day! As the boat floats past, Sarah just flashes that beautiful smile.

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There was a great lunch at the landing. Jess was there. I had a great talk with Carla, who helps with driving, loading and whatever else is needed. She told the story of riding a bike across the country from the Oregon coast to Virginia in the 70’s. She talked about the roads, the difficulties, but mostly the people she met, and the generosity of them. As I have seen time and time again, the adventure is one thing, but the people we meet make it special. That is certainly the case on this trip.

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We loaded on a very nice bus for a one-hour drive to where Ron had his car shuttled. I could easily have fallen asleep, but the entire drive followed the Main Salmon River. It was too pretty to sleep, and I shot a few pictures out the window.

Group photoOur group

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Here’s to you, all my new friends. That FireBall is darned good! Thanks for sharing!

Middle Fork Salmon River, Saturday

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Trying to define the way Cartwheel Bob came down the mountain last night, Steve asked Sarah and Llydia to demonstrate handstands and cartwheels. The crowd voted it was more cartwheel.

I got in the boat with Steven with Brian in the front fishing. Many had said their favorite day was the 5th, and now I see why. Early on we stopped at an incredible, ancient cave overlooking the river. A perfect, grassy area was in the front for a perfect camp. Pictographs were all over the cave. Probably used for thousands of years as a major camp, I can only imagine the stories that went around those campfires. Back down the rocky climb, Tristan, Tanner, AJ and Steven were jumping onto a big rock and then doing flips into the river.

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The next stop was a hike up to a brilliant little waterfall tumbling over the wall of a blind canyon. This was the home of a man who died in the 1930’s. He was one of many who enjoyed the beauty and solitary lifestyle. He had a tiny cabin beside the river and a ladder up the cliff wall, which led to an grassy, open area where he built a larger cabin. He had a garden and grazed his animals. Steve had climbed the cliffs to explore in years past. I gazed at the cliffs and imagined climbing it.

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We stopped for lunch next to Big Creek at 11:00. Steve said we could jump off the bridge, which of course the guides and the girls did, and that’s a high bridge. We could hang out, swim or walk up Big Creek. I opted for a walk up Big Creek. I hadn’t gone far before I turned back to get the Nikon camera. What a gorgeous, classic western, clear blue trout stream! Maureen, Cathy and Sharron walked ahead. Steve warned to be careful fishing it, as it is hard to get to sometimes. I found John casting from a rock above the stream. Flowers and berries were everywhere. I kept looking among big rock slides for a rattlesnake, but never saw one. I did find several grouse, and John caught me to point out some sheep. I walked up to a bridge, passing the ladies as they walked back. I later learned that Steve has a 6-day trip to Big Creek. You fly in, then take a horseback ride to a cabin. He said the stream rarely gets fished. Now there’s a trip I would like to take!

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We heard stories about “The Wall”, where Maureen had turned over her kayak last year. That’s why I wasn’t in a kayak and was in the boat with Steven. As we rounded a bend into a long stretch of calm water, I could hear the rapid in the distance. I have learned through the years if there is a big calm area, there is often a big rapid at the other end. As the first boat neared the rapid, Steve yelled, “STAY AWAYYYY FROM THE WALLLL”. Each guide echoed the cry up the river until the paddle boat made some defiant cry I couldn’t understand. The river makes a right-hand turn where the whole force of the river powers its way up against a giant wall. We barely touched it – the only rock we touched the whole trip, with the exception of some shallow rocks we floated over. All the boats eddied out below and beside the rapid. A group was camped across from the rapid, and had obviously been practicing the run through it. Our paddle boat came through like professionals with everyone cheering.

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When we got to camp, we settled into the routine, which entailed finding our tents, rolling out the sleeping bag, finding a headlamp, shaving kit and other essentials. Then to the chairs for cocktail hour…s and so many stories, great stories and lots of laughter. Then Steve began asking “Who was born on the first? The second?” Of course the question came, “What month?” “Doesn’t matter. Who was born on the third?” Then he starts digging a hole in the sand and buries a white bucket and fills it with water. Then the same about 40 feet down the beach. He filled beer and soft drink cans with sand and water and explains the game. It’s like horseshoes, or Cornhole. Nearest to the bucket gets a point, a leaner two points, in the bucket gets three. Two practice throws and off you go. I was paired with Tristan, but let him down. Cathy, it turns out, is a senior horseshoe champion, and they crushed us. Who knew? Before going back, I will have to practice. With everyone playing, including guides, it takes a while, but drinking is not prohibited. Steve forbids electronics of any flavor, and makes you sign a form in agreement. At one point during the game, Sarah was showing the ladies the GoPro movies of going through “The Wall”. “Put that away!”, he said with authority. “You can watch that next week.” With no TV, no cell phones and no computers, there is so much more interaction, so much entertainment and so many great stories! The game resumes, and it was lots of fun. The evening was topped off with Smores brought out by Maureen.

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Middle Fork Salmon River, Friday

Friday, July 20, 2018

What fun it was to paddle kayaks in the morning with Llydia and Sarah. Although most of the rapids weren’t bad, we had a couple of challenging ones. They both hit a rock in one and I think came out of the boats. By the time I got past and looked back, they were in the boats laughing and having fun. We kept hearing about “The Wall”, so none of us paddled after this, although Ron said it was all fine. He has paddled the entire 102 miles in a kayak.

We visited a huge Native American cave with pictographs. Steve quipped, “The Smiths have an overhang honey. Why can’t we?”

That evening there was a cake-eating contest, which Bob won. I didn’t see much cake under the whipped cream, but he did have extra strawberries.

Mountain Challenge #2:

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After we setup camp, I was into my second glass of wine when Steven ran down the side of a raft, dove in the river, swam across the river like an Olympian and ran up the mountain, finally standing on top of a granite rock, arms in the air. I am guessing there was some record-keeping for fastest times because soon enough Steve jumped in and hustled up the mountain and climbed on the rock, arms in the air. I wasn’t keeping time, but I think Steven won. Then Tristan dove in the water and hustled up the mountain, and there were three standing on the rock. When no one else followed, they came back down. I stopped drinking and toyed with the idea. I could swim across the river, though the current is fast. The first part is very steep, but after that it looked like it leveled off for the second third. The last part was steep again. By then everyone was back down, and Steve asked the girls if anyone wanted to go. There were no takers, and the regular conversations went on. Then those two darned girls, Llydia and Sarah, raised their hands and said they would go. “Put on a life jacket and some good shoes”, Steve said, and they ran off. Couldn’t believe it. I picked up the camera and followed them to the river when Bob and Maureen walked past me. “Hell, if they’re going, I’m going” I said, scurrying back to put my camera down. It was a harder swim than I thought. Bob reached out a hand, but I declined. The “trail” up was loose gravel and sand with little to hold onto but grass. Gasping hard, I tried to keep up with Maureen when we got to the top of the first third. It didn’t level off. Steve yelled down from somewhere above to take our time. By now he was ⅔ the way up with the girls right behind him. The last third was very steep and slippery. I was pretty sure we didn’t have a shot at the record! We made it though, still gasping for air as we climbed the rock. Steve was talking and telling stories, knowing we needed time to recuperate. Meanwhile Llydia was climbing around on a ledge on the other side of the rock. I didn’t know if I was going to have a heart attack from breathing so hard or watching Llydia so carelessly climbing around. Finally I couldn’t contain myself. “Llydia, get back over here!”

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OK, going down should be easy. Maybe if you are Steven, who ran the 90-some miles up this canyon, or Steve who has spent a lifetime guiding hunting and fishing in these mountains. Totally unaffected, he climbed this mountain twice today. As we trudged down, Steve and the girls walked over to a vertical cliff overlooking camp. Making our way almost to the bottom, Bob’s knee buckled on him and he went head-over-heels down the trail! He was behind a tree, so Maureen and I couldn’t see it, but those in camp thought he was going to die. Thinking I was safely down, I took a slide on the loose gravel with my arm catching a sharp rock. I hit it hard enough, I thought it might have broken, but it was fine – just some good cuts that Steve would later say looked like a bear bite. We walked along a ledge on the river bottom to get upstream before swimming across. Bob and Maureen are expert swimmers, so I followed Maureen. Unfortunately we were swimming downstream. By the time I looked up, I was at the end of the boats, but got safely to shore still panting hard.

After some rest and water, Steve, who looked like he hadn’t done anything all day, said “Get yourself a drink. It’s margarita night.” Then we heard the others talking about Bob’s fall and how scared they were. Steve asked the girls if they could demonstrate a cartwheel to see if that’s what it looked like, but no, that wasn’t it. Then he asked Bob to do one, and everyone agreed that was it. From then on, he was known as “Cartwheel Bob”. I was hoping for “Bearbite Greg”, but it didn’t happen.

As I got ready for bed, I handed out dental floss. We had been discussing the need to floss and that you only have to floss the ones you want to keep.

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Middle Fork Salmon River, Thursday

Thursday, July 19, 2018

How can you go wrong starting your day with eggs Benedict? It was another perfect day to be on the river. It was Ty’s first day taking the “Sweep Boat” down. This is a huge job. All the gear is in that boat, and it must weigh thousands of pounds. It’s called a sweep boat because of the two paddles front and aft that sweep back and forth. AJ said in some ways it is easier to control, but here’s a man with years of experience on the Salmon, Colorado and recently the Red Nile in Africa. A book could be written on the stories he told me on this day. AJ is the one guy I would trust to take me down the Colorado. I think he has made 22 trips down it and may be on it after this week.

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The sweep boat goes down first and sets up camp. How Steven got that boat down the small river we started with on the first day, I’ll never know. It would be fun to ride it that day. It is bound to get stuck on rocks, but how would you get it off?

Middle Fork of the Salmon River with Steve Zettel

Monday, July 16, 2018

Monday July 16, 2018

Visiting Ron Lowry last summer in Boise, he said, “You MUST float the Middle Fork with us next summer.” I had seen his pictures from previous years, and he has been going for 14 years, so it must be good. He goes with Steve Zettel and Idaho Wilderness Co. (www.floatidaho.com). He has been hunting with Steve since Steve was in his 20’s, and he is now 56. Ron has the highest respect for him, along with many stories of their adventures. The trip is down “The River of no Return” through the Frank Church Wilderness Area where there are no roads. You can walk through it, ride a horse, or float through it. Hmmm, how bad would these rapids be? “The River of no Return”! Am I crazy? Well, he has been doing this for 14 years, and he is a year older than me. OK, I’m in. 

Ron picked me up at the airport after a long day of flying. A glass of wine at “The Ram” helped, along with nice conversation with his friends Dennis and Theresa. When we got to his house, he gave me a book, “Anything Worth Doing” by Jo Deurbrouck recounting the incredible stories of Idaho river guides Jon Barker and Clancy Reece. I read a few pages before falling asleep, but quickly picked it back up in the morning. What a story!

I repacked my stuff into two waterproof bags Ron gave me to use. Then we set out for Stanley, Idaho. Along the way, we met Bob and Maureen Marks, Mike (Mad Dog) and Sharron Tennent and Brian Auge. They took us through Sun Valley since I had never seen it. Along the 2.5 hour drive, Ron told hunting and fishing stories. Most of the hunting stories were with Steve Zettel, while most of the fishing stories were with his great friend, Mad Dog. We stopped for lunch in the busy town of Sun Valley where a rain storm came through while we were eating. 

Back on the road, we headed for Stanley, about an hour away. As we came over a big mountain, Ron pulled over to an overlook of the Sawtooth Valley. It is the origin of the great Salmon River at 9,200 ft. elevation. It is one of the only free-flowing rivers in the Continental United States, traveling 425 miles to meet the Snake River, then joining the Columbia. This is one of the prettiest overlooks I have seen, right up there with the Peace River Valley in British Columbia, which is soon to be lost to a new dam. 

Sawtooth Valley

It was a beautiful drive to Stanley where we checked into the Mountain Village Resort. Still having a few hours before orientation, we drove up to Redfish Lake. Once known to be teeming with sockeye salmon, now teeming with tourists. Some salmon still make it, which is amazing. They have to get around 14 dams on the Columbia River. There are an astounding 60 dams on the Columbia River watershed! That is what makes the Salmon River so special, as it is still free-flowing. 

Redfish Lake

At 8:00 we went down for orientation in front of the river. It’s a beautiful, big creek at this point. Steve introduced himself, along with Jessica and his son. He told us how to arrange our gear into a big waterproof bag and a day bag. We would leave at 7:30 by bus in the morning and plan to be on the river by 10:00. We would have another orientation at the put-in. 

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The first rapid

As it turned out, we were on the river at 10:00. 20 seconds later Ron was sitting in the water beside the first rapid. My first thought was, “Man that must be a good fishing spot if Ron got out there!” Turns out he got popped out of the raft. He was tangled up in his fishing line and his rod was 40 yards downstream. It was a struggle to get him back in the boat, but our guide, Tanner, held the raft in position in a strong current. We managed to pull in the fishing line and finally the rod as we went through the rapid. Hmmm, “The River of no Return”! A few drinks into the evening Ron would have a new name: “20 Second Ron.”

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We only had 10 miles to go to the campground, so we stopped for lunch at a nice, big pool. I was surprised to see almost everyone fishing, and most were catching. There are lots of salmon smolts in the river that were hungry. Mostly, people were catching cutthroat trout, although there are rainbow and bull trout. Within 30 minutes a great lunch was produced, after which we headed downriver, making camp by 4:00. Tents were all set up, the “kitchen” was set up and chairs arranged. Finding our drybags, we set up our tents, rolled out sleeping bags and our group of 8 sat around for cocktails, and the stories flowed. By 8:30 I was tired and went to bed.