Sunday, August 28, 2016

11 Years, Main Salmon Long Time No See!

The week prior to the day we left for our trip was spent preparing food and packing. Our food night was the night everyone arrived at the Corn Creek put-in, so we spent quite a bit of time figuring out the meal and how we would serve it. We were trying to provide a special meal but we needed to make sure it was easy and could be done without a great deal of equipment. Our answer was to put together a trunk of kitchen stuff that we would leave in the truck once we served the dinner and breakfast.

Our meals of choice were a dinner of smoked pulled pork sandwiches with our Mexican pasta salad, and then breakfast would consist of Marcy’s breakfast burritos and fruit. All meals were prepared ahead and frozen so we just had to heat and serve.

Moving down the Salmon.
We left Post Falls at 6:10 am and drove to Kellogg, ID where we picked up John Karpenko. John rode over and back with us but would row John Sutherland down the river. John broke his wrist falling off a ladder earlier in the month and his doctor told him he couldn’t row his boat. The drive took us east to Missoula, Montana where we pointed south and followed Highway 93 down through Lolo and Darby. Just past Hamilton, we could see the black mountains where a forest fire burned. There were still patches of smoke rising into the air; we hoped that we wouldn’t see anything like that as we moved on down the Salmon.

We left Montana and drove back into Idaho to North Fork. At this point we turned right, heading down the Salmon River through Shoup. The road was rough and slow going in places, but following the Salmon River gave us a lot to look at and helped build our excitement toward our trip.   Our drive ended at the Corn Creek launch site where our rafting adventure began.

The Main Salmon section requires a permit and you apply for the lottery in January.  You apply for a specific launch date and pay a fee and then wait. The number of applicants for river permits is mind boggling; if you get one you are very lucky. I have never gotten a permit and I have been applying for 15 years or more.

Loretta Sutherland was our permit holder, thus she was the esteemed trip leader (ETL). We felt privileged to be invited and had been looking forward to and planning for this trip since about March.
John K. and Jim C. get their morning coffee fix. 

Corn Creek was bustling with boaters getting their gear together and into the water. They have a launch lane reserved for boaters who trailer their boats and can back in, launch and get out of the way. We have become one of the launch-and-go folks, so it took us just a few minutes to get the cat (cataraft) off the trailer and moved up stream to an area just below our camp site.

John Karpenko took the boat to its overnight spot and I drove the truck up and parked it in the camp site. We met John Sutherland and Mark Lisk as they were loading up to drive back up the road to Salmon, Idaho. When John arrived and got out of his truck, he heard a hisssss from his truck tire. He had driven over a piece of metal and it had punctured his tire. He wanted to change the tire so the shuttle driver didn’t have to deal with it. So he and Mark were on their way into the nearest town to get it fixed. The shuttling of the rigs from Corn Creek involved heading back up through North Fork, then to Lolo, Montana where they then turned west and headed up over Lolo Pass following the Lochsa and Clearwater Rivers, then to I-95 where they headed south through Grangeville and Riggins, ending at Spring Bar. It’s a long shuttle and you want your shuttle driver to have everything needed, especially a spare tire.

Our campsite at Maxwell Bar.
We set up the kitchen after the boys left and started greeting everyone as they arrived for the start of our trip.

John and Loretta Sutherland had driven over to North Fork the previous day. Their trip was quite the adventure. They had hit rain and hail and then were smacked by high winds during the night. I guess they could probably write an entire blog post about the trip and their adventures. They were the first to arrive at Corn Creek.

Mark & Jerri Lisk pulled into the put-in site not long after the Sutherlands. They had come from Southeastern Oregon. I didn’t hear that they had any problems on their drive. Jim and Claire Clift were also on the ramp when we arrived. They were sorting gear and waiting for Mike Beckwith to bring their frame. Mike Wassmuth and Lori Mader had left Post Falls at about 8:00 AM, so they had made good time and arrived next. Mike and Caroline Beckwith finally showed up. The group was all accounted for though we were still waiting for John and Mark to return from Salmon with the repaired spare tire.

While the boys were on the road to Salmon, John K. had an assignment. John S. had backed up and smashed his right tail light on the trailer. John K. was asked to replace the old light setup with a new one John S. had bought before he left Salmon on their first visit there. John K. had to do a bit of a MacGyver, but after about an hour he fixed the trailer light.

We started serving dinner and within a few minutes, John and Mark arrived… and so did the bees. Caroline B. and Linda were the first two to get stung. We had thought this might be a possible problem so the group had brought five bee catchers. Throughout the rest of the trip, we would set up the kitchen, followed by the bee catchers. Almost everyone got stung once; I was lucky and avoided contact. The first meal went smoothly and everyone got their fill.

Night came and our river team members had claimed either a spot in the campground or near the water. Once the meal was cleaned up we all hit the sack. 

Morning came very quickly and Linda and I fixed breakfast as everyone shook the sleep from their eyes. We stuffed everything away and loaded our kitchen back into the truck. Our plan dealing with the meal gear and all worked out really nice for everyone and everything fit into the back seat of the truck. As Linda tucked and tidied our boat I moved the truck up onto the road to wait for the shuttle drivers to arrive.

As we packed, the Forest Service Ranger visited and checked our group for the mandatory equipment that we needed to take with us. He asked us a few questions and then had Loretta, our trip leader, accompany him to pick up the boat permit tags for our group.  They reconfirmed our assigned camp sites and then he gave us the go ahead. It was 11:30 AM and we were off!

The tree that fell in the woods.
Most everyone had a river map to follow where the camps and rapids are marked by miles and descriptions of the areas.  Corn Creek is 46.4 (though some maps start with Corn Creek as mile 0) river miles down from North Fork Town Site and so we mark our mileage from there. Our first camp was at Blackadar, located at mile 63.4. The beach was on river left and was a nice spacious sand bar with trees providing late afternoon shade. We hit the beach, set the kitchen site up and everyone found flat spots for their tents or cots.

The tree came very close to our cots!
“When a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, does it make a sound?”  Shit yes, it does! We had eaten dinner and everyone was milling around getting set for bed. We heard a single crack. No one could figure out what it was or where it came from. We all thought someone in the group had broken a branch, but no one had. The dusk slipped into dark and suddenly we heard a larger CRACK and a dead pine tree shuttered. The tree was just off the sand to the upper left of the beach and leaning toward the water. Everyone had just enough time to scatter, the tree let go with a huge crash and it hit the sand. (The tree was estimated to be about 110 feet tall.) A dust cloud rose from the sand and small broken shards of tree limbs rained out and down on us. When the dust cleared the top of the tree lay within mere inches from the kitchen table. The upper trunk sunk in the sand not far from our hor d’oeuvres roll-a-table and the entire mess smashed five yards from Linda and my cots! Confirming again that yes, it made a sound!
Scouting Black Creek rapid.

Needless to say, our group didn’t sleep as soundly as they might have, and for the rest of the trip, camp sites were picked with an eye on the dead trees that lined the sand beaches.

Another beautiful morning found us moving down the river to our camp site at Allison Ranch, mile 80 on the map. We ran several good rapids and stopped to scout the run at Black Creek rapid.  It is a relatively new rapid and very deserving of a scout.  We picked our line and studied the entry. To me scouting is an evil necessity. I hate the anticipation that it creates and would rather get it over with, but seeing and knowing is very much needed, and this was one of those cases.

Another group making their run through the rapid.
Back in the boats we lined up for the run. Mike Wassmuth was first since he is still guiding on that river and knows all the runs. Loretta was next. She was running Mike Beckwith’s small cat and was relatively new to rowing that river. Next, the Lisks went, followed then by Linda and me.  By the time I got into the slot and lined up to push into the line I was pumped up!  Everything went well until I made the push around a rock and then swing around to follow the flow past the wall. I pushed too hard and we hit the wall and bounced off it. Not as clean as I wanted, but heck we made it through top side up!  The rest of the group made it through and we were off down the river.

We stopped at Barth Hot Springs and took a bit of a dip in the hot pool. The climb up was steep but well worth it!

Barth Hot Springs
The beach at Allison Ranch beach was in the shade early and we all relaxed from the day’s push.  We were visited by deer on this evening. John Karpenko went for a little hike and when he returned was challenged by a little buck. It snorted and lowered its head, but then gave way to John who just walked on by. Each night we had wonderful meals, and each kitchen crew fed us way too much food. I’ll list the meals and camps at the end so that we can keep track for future trip planning. Right now all I can say is wow, every meal was a gourmet endeavor.

Groundhog, mile 89.4, was our next campsite. The group stopped at Yellow Pine Bar where we met Greg Metz and Sue Anderson, caretakers of the Yellow Pine Bar property. Mike brought them a bottle of wine and they showed us around the place. What a beautiful homestead! We loved the many little artistic touches they had added to the grounds. Greg and Sue were in an energy conservation mode as their diesel generator was not working and water was getting low. They seemed to be taking it in stride and were only mildly concerned at this time. We stayed about an hour and enjoyed the history and beauty of the place greatly.
Sue greets us at Yellow Pine Bar.

Next, we had to run Big Mallard Rapids (83.4), Elkhorn Rapids (86.7) and several more.  I had the same thing happen to me on Big Mallard as happened on Black Creek. The adrenaline of the run caused me to push too hard in a critical spot in the run and it sent me into the wall on the left. I scrapped along and the strap holding the spare oar broke causing the oar to dip into the water. When it came up the handle was broken and so we had to re-strap it to the boat hoping we didn’t need a spare the rest of the trip.

After getting past Big Mallard and Elkhorn we visited the Campbell’s Ferry Ranch and took a tour of the old homestead. It is now a conservation site and they are working to restore the property to its origins of the past. The history of the place is definitely something that needs to be preserved and we enjoyed the stop immensely.

The beach at Groundhog was long and steep with lots of room on the bench up at the top. Our kitchen was on the flat spot that was at the upriver end near the water.  Linda and I set up a tent at this beach, instead of using our cots. The nights were very cool and we wanted to try a tent to see if we slept warmer.  Our experiment was a success; we were quite a bit warmer and so used the tent the rest of the trip.

Walking back to our boats after our visit.
Maxwell Bar Campsite (119.2 miles) would be our camp for the next evening. After camp was set, we gathered at the water’s edge where Mike W. set up a Frisbee toss game and explained the rules. We had to toss the disk and knock a beer can off the top of a pole stuck in the sand. If you knocked it off by hitting the pole you got 1 point. 2 points were awarded if you hit the can, but if the other team’s player caught the can before it hit the water, then you got no points and the other team got 1. We had some great games and the action was fierce. Clouds covered the sun and the wind picked up so it became a bit chilly. We quit the water game and folks played a round of bocce ball.

Campbell’s Ferry Ranch
The final night’s camp was a really nice spot. It was off our maps and below the usual takeout ramps. They called it Howard’s Ranch. This beach was very nice, no bees or very few, nice views and the only drawback was that it was across the river from the road out to Riggins.

Beckwiths provided a great meal and everyone enjoyed a nice sunset. We all woke the next morning and began the final job of packing our boats. There was about three miles to the take-out and all went well. Our take-out was quick and we helped the others get their boats loaded for the trip home.

There were so many more experiences, but it’s difficult to write about all of them. I picked some of the ones that really resonated with me. I also tried to be specific about camps, mileage, etc in order to facilitate any possible upcoming trips. Any mistakes are my own and I apologize to the group in advance.

Our last trip on the Main Salmon was about 11 years ago. Everything has changed; new rapids, forest fire burns, beaches, etc. We all have changed. The folks on this trip are wonderful people. It was nice to get to know the Lisks, to laugh at Mark’s hilarious stories and see Jerri’s constant smile and positive attitude.  Getting to know Lori with Mike W. was a treat. She was such a fun addition to the group and it was nice to see Mike so happy when she was near. Mike W. is a constant friend and his guidance on this trip was so appreciated. I know Linda was more at ease knowing Mike was leading us through the whitewater. Thanks, Mike!

What can you say about the Beckwiths and Clifts? We enjoyed their river tails and re-establishing our friendships. It had been way too long since our last river together; we need to do more. We’ll definitely try to visit them on one of our travels.

John K. kept the coffee coming and kept John S. afloat. Both jobs well done! It was nice talking with him a bit more in the truck on our travels to and from.

John and Loretta did a fantastic job of putting the trip together. We were so thankful to be included and have the opportunity to get on this beautiful wild river. Loretta was the champion trip leader and not a bad boatwoman either!

Linda, Mike and Lori on the Frances Zaunmiller Pack Bridge.
Maybe we will be able to get on the water as a group again; I certainly hope so! Thanks to everyone. You made this trip a wonderful adventure! You all are invited to visit us in Mexico whenever the travel bug hits you. We’d love to see you.

Lori and Caroline enjoying camp.

Jerri looking contemplative...
We visited Buckskin Bills and had ice cream.

The beach at Five Mile Bar.
Beckwith looking for his next soap box.
Running the South Fork of the Salmon River.
Mike and Lori tackle the South Fork.
Sitting at the mouth of the South Fork of the Salmon River.
Frisbee fun and games.


Maxwell Bar looking down river.


Put-in Night – Bennetts – Smoked Pulled Pork with Mexican Pasta Salad
First Night – Wassmuth/Mader – Kung Pow Chicken, orange chicken, egg rolls and rice
Second Night – Sutherlunds – Salmon, rice, cole slaw
Third Night - Lisks – Barbecue Tri-tip, quinoa
Fourth Night – Karpenko – Elk pesto pasta, bread, salad
Fifth Night – Clifts – Fajitas and Tamales
Sixth Night – Beckwiths – Chicken PestoTortellini, 3-bean salad

Friday, August 05, 2016

River Trip

We had several date changes, along with a few cancelations, but all that did was make our lists more complete and our schedule better thought out. Linda and I left the house at about 7:00 AM driving down to the put- in for the Lower Salmon River run. We would be on for five days and we hated to leave Kobi, but he was in good hands with Steve and Jodi

When we arrived at Hammer Creek the place was a zoo! Boaters from all over the country were rigging their boats and launching. We were able to get on the ramp rather quickly due to the fact that we didn’t need to rig our boat, we just needed to back the trailer in and go. As we pulled away, we counted over 50 + boats on the river in varying stages of readiness.
Our five-day plan was to travel about 15 miles for the first four days and then do the last 12 miles on the final day. It was a beautiful, hot day and everything was going smoothly.   After a few miles of floating, Linda looked at the watch I gave her to keep on her day bag and noted the time. Wow, we were later than we wanted to be, it looked like we left the launch at about 2:00 PM. We pushed on and when the watch hit 5:00 PM, we decided to call it a day and make camp. We found a nice little beach on river left just before you entered a rapid called Demon’s Drop.

We set up camp quickly and took a swim. It was hot, but the water was perfect.  I prepared dinner and then Linda beat me in cribbage.  Linda looked at the watch and saw that it was about 9:00 PM. She looked at me and told me the time. Then she said something about the sun staying up longer on the river. After a bit, Linda said that something didn’t seem right and she walked to the boat and dug out her cell phone from the dry box. When she fired it up, she started laughing. The phone said it was two hours earlier than the day bag watch.  She looked at me and I immediately checked the watch. Sure enough, the watch had been bumped and the screen was set to world time. The world time just happened to be set for Central Daylight Time which meant it was two hours fast!

We had launched at our goal of 12:00 Noon, but we had thought it was 2:00 PM. This meant we got off the river two hours early, and this put us behind our intended travel mileage. Linda looked at me and I looked at the watch, shook it, and started to laugh. In the end, we had a great beach and all we had to do was make up the lost mileage by extending our days by about three miles.

Day two we left camp at about 9:20 AM and floated on down past Pine Bar and beyond, doing 18 miles.  We really started looking hard for beaches just after White House Bar and passed up two good ones that looked to be fine for us because we wanted to make our mileage goal.  We set up for the rapid called Half and Half and I told Linda that if we could spot a beach we needed to take it, because if we didn’t we were going to have to run Snow Hole rapid to find a place to camp. We made the rapid and spotted a super beach on river left where we pulled in. Beaches on the left bank tended to get more shade and this little spot was out of the sun, an ideal pick for this evening.

With the second day of whitewater under our belts, I was tired. All the prep work, the excitement of putting on the river, the two days of rowing rapids and of course, a night in a new bed, can make a person tired. This tired puppy was glad that he didn’t have to run Snow Hole with weak arms. A night’s rest was the best thing we could do.

Running rivers is a wonderful adventure anytime you can go. For most of our trips we are accompanied by great people with many years of river running experience.  Each person looks after the others and everyone is very aware of the dangers the river possesses. We love these trips with our friends, but we also love to do solo river adventures together. The Lower Salmon River is by far our favorite destination for these one boat experiences. 

Solo trips have great advantages, but we also know the risks we are taking by going alone. I myself have run the river more than 60 times and we know exactly what to expect in each rapid and any particular level. Saying that, we also amp up the concentration level when we are soloing the river. At each rapid, we talk through the entries, dangers, and moves needed to make it safely through. Nothing is taken lightly because it is just us and the river.

On the third morning, we had just over a mile to row approaching Snow Hole, one of the two infamous rapids on this stretch of water. My general rule for running Snow Hole when we are solo, is to find a group, let them go through first and then follow them shortly after. This gives us a bit of a safety net in that if something happens and we flip, then we would have help righting our boat. Today we were the first boat through and we were alone.

Linda sat in her spot on the front of the cat as I stroked us down towards the rapid. She was calming herself by singing. Linda is not a singer, but when she is nervous she can belt out “The Impossible Dream” as good as anyone. I calm myself by visualizing the rapid and running through the moves it takes for a safe run. Being alone ramps up the adrenaline level and by the time we rounded the corner to look into the rapid and spot the tooth rock, we were jazzed!

We rounded the corner and stroked toward the entry and as we got closer I noticed on the big rock on river left entering the chute, was a white boat gnarled and wrapped around the rock. Someone made a bad decision or something went wrong and they paid a big price. Those rocks are not forgiving. That side of the river should be avoided.  Our run goes nowhere near that area. Seeing the lost boat stuck on the rocks didn’t help our nerves as we approached our entry one bit.

I entered Snow Hole on the right and pointed our nose toward the right side rock wall. The tooth rock loomed below the water smashing around its base. I pulled two good strokes sliding the cat to the left just under the surface rocks located at the top of the run. With three more big sweeps of the oars, we were set up below all the top rocks and far enough left of the current smashing into the tooth, so I swung the nose downriver just in time for the cats right tube to lift off the cushion caused by the surge hitting the tooth and bouncing us down through the rest of the rapid.  We made it clean and both Linda and I let out some yips and some well-deserved high-fives.

After the excitement, we stroked on downriver around the oxbow to China Rapid, our next big test. We watched as the rugged scenery drifted by, noting the many birds along the way. Chukars were the most prevalent variety we noticed. There were so many; the most we have ever encountered.

China Rapid can be another boat flipper. There is a big rock at the bottom right that can cause major problems. If you go anywhere left, you are in a rock garden that takes a lot of precise maneuvering. The classic China run is to start at the top left center in the rapid. As you move past the top rocks, you pull hard left and keep your tube just off the bank. You have to pay attention to several boat-grabbing rocks on the left bank, but once you get by them, you point your nose down the left bank chute avoiding the big rock and the huge hole hidden behind it.  We made the right moves at the right time and threaded our way through the rapid unscathed.

Our next beach camp was just past Birch Creek on river right. It was a great spot; we loved the quiet and view it provided. Shade came early on the sand, so we ate dinner and watched deer walking to the water to drink.

We moved on the next morning, entering the Blue Canyon and drifting down. The morning was cool and the water seemed warmer than the air around us. That only lasted a little while; we were deep in the canyon walls.

I think we look just like this!
Approaching Checkerboard Rapid, we tightened up our life jackets. The rapid is one of our favorites because it has big waves and that reminds us of the Grand Canyon.

As we followed the entry line, both Linda and I started shouting and yelling "Whitewater!"  If you ever played pinball in bars, you would recognize the phrase. "Whitewater" is shouted every time you enter the triple balls part of the game and your point total grows rapidly.  We have always remembered that and a shout of "Whhhitewatterrrrr!" brings a lot of memories back. If I ever could buy a pinball machine for home fun, it would be Whitewater by Williams. Always remember to "Go with the flow!"

When we got to the bottom of Checkerboard we both started laughing, Linda turned and gave me a kiss, turned back and a tail-out wave smacked the tube drenching her with water. She screamed and I hollered one final "Whitewater" and we were off.

We floated through the last of the Lower Salmon and on down the Snake River. We picked a nice beach on river left just past Cottonwood Creek. The beach got early shade and we were able to have a nice afternoon and evening when jetboats were not passing (which was most of the time until dusk.)

We were up early and rowed the last 12 miles relatively quickly. Our truck arrived at Heller Bar at the exact same time we did. I got the truck and trailer, we loaded up and were off in less than 30 minutes. Our drive home was slow, there was a lot of road work. Just outside of Moscow, a chip truck hit a vehicle and we were stopped there for about an hour. Take away the road delays and our trip was just about perfect.