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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.