Monday, August 30, 2010

July 24-29, 2010 Middle Fork of the Salmon Trip Report

Middle Fork of the Salmon Trip Report by Michael O'Malley

All photographs courtesy of Tysun McMullan. Check them all out at

The weather was hot and sunny when we boarded the rafts at Boundary Creek on July 24th. The gauge read 2.3 feet so the day promised to be exciting and technical, with lots of rocks to dodge. Will shoved off early in the big sweep boat, with his mom, Mary, jumping in as swamper to assist with camp set-up.

Trip leader Jo and Scooter and Dustin took the oars, while John and Michael manned the two paddle boats. Things started with a bang, as Gary K. earned the coveted “first guest to swim” honor earlier than any previous Idaho River Journeys trip on record. Gary whiffed on his second paddle stroke and dunked before the raft negotiated First Bend Rapid.

With bouncy runs in Sulphur Slide, Ramshorn, Velvet Falls, the Chutes, and Powerhouse behind us, the group pulled into John’s Camp at mile 15.2…a solid day’s work. Under head chef Scooter’s ministrations, the grilled chicken dinner was appreciated with gusto.

The group was up early and ready to go the next morning, impressing the guides throughout the trip with their timely packing and “we’re all in this together” attitude. Not to be outdone, guide John reciprocated Gary K’s aquatic acrobatics with a swim of his own in Pistol Creek Rapid. The guideless boat did a yeoman’s job navigating the hairpin turn while John sluiced his way safely to the pool below —without losing his stylish fedora.

Once past Pistol, we did a quick repair job on one oar boat and prepped the five inflatable kayaks, aka “duckies,” for the rest of the trip. Almost all the guests at one time or another paddled a ducky, experiencing the Middle Fork at its most exciting.

Our night two camp was Marble Creek Right, a multi-storied river-right lay-out (mile 31.7) below the big wave of Marble Creek Rapid. Under Michael’s watchful eye, Kelsey, Carly and Case lead a contingent of guests in a fun adventure swim through the rapid into the big eddy at camp. John from Logan showed excellent relief pitcher form, hitting several swimmers with an assisting throw bag toss. Photographer Tysun ( captured one of Kelsey’s swims, which we hope will be on YouTube soon. Dinner was a superb seared Ahi with a ginger marinade.

On day three, we pushed on to Shelf Camp (mile 48.1). David elected to take the swamper role, which Jo greatly appreciated.

The day started with a quick hot shower in Sunflower Hot Springs, an exciting run in Jackass Rapids, and a stop to pay our respects at the grave of miner Whitey Cox. Annette and Barb exited at Pine Creek Flat to hike five miles to camp, overcoming non-venomous snakes, a trail washout, and flustered grouse on the way.

Once at camp, half the group hiked a mile and a half to Loon Creek Hot Springs. John-Tim and Rich luxuriated in the 102 degree pool, while Erin, Kathy, Carole and others attended to bail bucket showers and shampoos. Our intrepid hikers – Annette and Barb – were the last to soak, notching an 8-mile day on the trails.

After a tasty pork chop feast, the group retired to their tents. A storm front moved through, causing some midnight scrambling with tent fly set-up. By morning, the rain had passed through, and most had spent the night in relative coziness.

The rain cooled the canyon, and we embarked under pleasant though overcast skies. At Loon Creek, we picked up new guests Mike and Kathy, and said good bye to Mary, who flew back to Salmon.

The pace of the water on day four picked up, with big drops at Tappan Falls, Cove Creek, Haystack, and the Jack Creek series. Gary T. and the other fishermen demonstrated their skills, hooking (and releasing) trout after trout throughout the day. The kayakers, anchored by Bill, Kevin, Steve and David, demonstrated the “I’d rather be lucky than good” principle and put together some astonishing and generally upright runs.

John and Lauren (swamper on day four and five) had our night four camp, Grassy Flat (mile 73.0), in good shape with tents a-drying. The camp was a big open meadow on river left with a 180-degree view of a big bend in the Impassible Canyon. After a well-received antipasto intro, the lasagna was devoured in short order. Suzanne announced she was ready for a real shower and clean sheets. (We’ll try to cross-sell her on a three-day Rogue River lodge trip.) The big, just-past-full moon lit up the area like a stadium throughout the night, but after a 25-mile day, everyone slept soundly.

Day five highlights included a stop at Rattlesnake Cave to view Sheepeater Indian pictographs, and a hike to the bridge at Waterfall Creek. After a visit to the sublime Veil Falls, a brief thunderstorm caught us, but the rain was warm and the light in the canyon dramatic. Tysun was a man possessed, bagging a significant number of the 6,000+ photos he took during the trip. At lunch, Dustin gave an interesting talk about the life of a Wilson Creek salmon, complete with an interactive beach sand map.

With the recent rains swelling the lower canyon water levels, we hit big drops at Porcupine, Redside, and Weber. Herb had the trip’s most exciting ride – in Cliffside – but Jo’s intrepid nearly-all-ladies paddle crew effected a quick rescue when he took a swim. Herb retired from the kayaks with honor and regaled us all at camp with stories of his cool, calm bravado.

We finished the day at Stoddard Camp (mile 90.0) and part of the group joined Will for a short hike to intriguing pictographs and a cold water spa treatment in the creek. Dinner was a steak and Caesar salad repast with wine tasting. After delicious brownies, the group shared high points of the trip. The guides noted how the group truly embraced what the river offered, and thanked the guests for joining us.

Day six started early, and the big drops continued with Rubber, Hancock, and Devil’s Tooth rapids. After a brief stop as another group de-wrapped a sweep boat at House Rocks, we forged through Jump-Off and Goat Creek, reaching the confluence of the Main Salmon well before noon.

Mary was waiting for us at Cache Bar with a delicious deli sandwich lunch, and the group said farewell to the Middle Fork.

Other highlights: Carrot cake, blueberry pancakes, bacon, the smell of early morning coffee, the psst of the can of nuts announcing the start of lunch, cool snakes on the trail, meeting a real cowboy and his dog, having all our fishing licenses in order when Fish & Game visited Shelf Camp, seeing a bevy of otter, a bald eagle fly-by, a bear and big horn sheep on the side of the road as the bus headed to Salmon.

This diverse group really melded. As Will said, “If you walked into camp on night five, you wouldn’t know who came with whom. Everyone got along as friends.”


Check out all of Tysun's photos at