Thursday, June 10, 2010

Trip Report: June 4, 2010

Remember this: Never make absolute mid-winter statements about spring run-off on the Middle Fork of the Salmon.

During what seemed like less than average January and February snow-fall plenty of Middle Fork boaters offered up dismal predictions, projections, and guesses about the spring run-off.

After 33 years of running trips on the Middle Fork we knew better than to make such broad stroked white-water predictions. All along we knew that June would offer up some fast, fun, splashy white-water, but even we didn't expect the Middle Fork to break a daily record high.

The official water level reading just before launch on June 4, 2010.

An especially wet, cool, late spring extended our central Idaho snow-pack. All that ground moisture combined with a week of warming temperatures and a dose of rain and we saw the Middle Fork rise from under 5.00' on June 2nd to 8.67' on June 5th (about 5,000 cfs to over 16,000 cfs) at the Middle Fork Lodge!

Rocky Mountain River Tours boats rigged and ready for action at the Boundary Creek Launch site with the gauge reading over 6.00' at the Middle Fork Lodge.

With that much water, the Middle Fork is an exciting shot-gun barrel ride right out of the gates of the Boundary Creek launch site. The waves and rapids meld together in succession. First Bend Rapid, Tee-Pee Hole, Murph's Hole, Sulphur Slide, Ram's Horn, Hell's Half Mile. It's a blur all the way to Velvet Falls where it's all forward towards the big boil, run from the meatiest part of the hole, and then square up to take a bite out of the "softer" corner.

Day-1 paddle crew dialed in and queued up for Velvet Falls.

Birddog took one for the team as the only swimmer when he dove to the high side of the paddle boat and launched into the water. A tight hand hold on the boat's chicken line made for a brief baptism and Birddog was back in the boat barking out commands as the boat exited the rapid.

Lake Creek, Pistol Creek and all the other upper-end rapids provided plenty of excitement for the crew on their way to the first night's camp at Pungo Creek.

After an exciting day on the upper-end Big Jim, Todd Jackson, Jon Green and Birddog tied the boats tight for the night and everyone slept soundly to the roar of a river on the rise.

Two views of what 8.00' of water looks like at Pungo Camp.

Ever wonder how you spell "Juan Verde" in Chinese characters? There you have it.

As the Middle Fork crested over 16,000 cfs at the Middle Fork Lodge 60, 70, and 80 foot Ponderosa Pines and Doug Firs made like salmon smolt and flushed to the Lower Snake lakes.
The following morning as lumber that would have made our logging fore-fathers drool raced towards the Main Salmon and Lower Snake, we made the easy decision to have a late breakfast, make a sack lunch, and turn day-2 into a hiking/layover day.

Broken blue skies, and low hanging pink clouds greeted early risers on day-2.

We crossed Pungo Creek, passed the sheepeater pit houses, and started climbing.

Melanie staking her claim to central Idaho and taking in the views of the Middle Fork from 2,000 feet up. Way to charge it all four days, girl!

After 2,000 vertical feet (good work team - thanks for pushing Jon and Birddog higher) we arrived at a rocky knob that offered amazing upstream and downstream views of snow-capped Little Soldier Lookout (2686 m/ 8813 feet), Scare-face Mountain, Big Baldy Lookout (2958/9705), Artillary Dome (2840/9318), and Indian Creek Guard Station. David even had a birthday Elk-spotting-present - at least according to him. No one else actually saw the beast whose rack and size seemed to grow with each re-telling of the encounter.

Everyone except Jon and Birddog commented how placid and calm the Middle Fork looked from the bird's eye view.

Posers. Thanks for helping create a "layered" image with Birddog. Left to right: Melanie, Ken, Parthiv, Dia, and Dave with views of Indian Creek Airstrip and Artillary Dome.

If you have Google Earth you can download a .kmz file of our hike and open it in GE.

All smiles: Tao Ling-Jackson, Todd, Big Jim, Amber, Jon, Win. Win, we look forward to meeting your son and fishing with the both of you on the July 9th trip.

Jackson's wife Tao Ling leads Melanie and Amber through some afternoon Yoga moves.

Big Jim dialing in Dave's dutch-oven baked yogurt chocolate birthday cake, and Dave making a birthday wish, "Please believe me when I tell you that I actually did see an Elk today - and it's antlers were this big."

By the morning of day-3 all the BIG logs had either flushed out of Idaho and into Washington or they had hung up on the biggest boulders as the water started to drop. It felt good to pull on dry paddling gear, secure gear on the boats, and head downstream once again.

We made good time through the middle section of the river, got crushed in Cub Creek rapid, had a hootin' hollering good time running the HUGE wave in the "new" Cove Creek/ Tappan III Rapid, and stopped for lunch at Johnny Walker camp to collect fire wood, fuel up on Poverty Flat Potato Salad, and meet up with a two boat Idaho River Journeys trip for the lower canyon.

The last night on the river included a hike through the lush spring growth at Upper Grassy Camp, butterfly cut filet mignon (of course!), and a late night wind burst that compelled a shirtless Birddog, a unitard clad Big Jim, and IRJ guide Jo to engage in a quick but fitful 3 on 1 wrestling match with the Addie Wing.

Parthiv at Grassy I: "That steak was gooood."

The last day on the river was a big one as we headed into the Impassable Canyon with over 20,000 cfs at the mouth (7.00' at Middle Fork Lodge).

Fast. Fast. Fast.

Good lines, a tight boating order, and a heads-up paddle crew saw us to the confluence take out with upright boats, smiles, and wet-hugs for Dave. Of course Dave had lunch waiting for us (Sheila added a tasty and attractive Orzo Salad to the take-out lunch menu this year), we de-rigged the boats, and just as we started rolling boats and loading gear in the trailer a private party's empty but upright boat ghost boated it emerged from the Middle Fork. Ten minutes later the rest of the party arrived - everyone was OK, and the private boaters were planning to turn the corner and run the Main Salmon as well, "we'll catch up to it sometime" the trip leader shrugged.

The Rocky Crew shrugged our collective shoulders as well, but more in the "It's good everyone is OK, but lucky us - we get to head back to Boundary Creek in a few days with all our boats."

What a start to the season. Super, super fun. Thanks everyone.

Victor, Amber, Parthiv, Jon, Ken, Big Jim, Todd Jackson, Tao Ling-Jackson, David, Dia, Melanie, Olga, Win, and Birddog.

More Pictures from the trip.

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