It all started back in June when I was informed that my name was “recommended” to a fellow California Floaters Society (CFS) boater. Apparently he got word that this guy was looking for rafters to join his permit after being referred by another CFS boater. So, I contacted the guy and he was indeed looking for rafters to join in on his small flotilla of inflatable kayaks (IKs) for a late July Middle Fork Salmon trip. Of course, Lacey and I were interested in joining him, but we are not “rafters” in the conventional sense. This is because we both run lightweight, small, solo cats and prefer to take as little gear (i.e., weight) as possible. Since he was used to running overnights in an IK or canoe, he was fine with this and we became the first rafters to sign on.
Through a series of postings to the CFS list server looking for more boaters, some other friends ended up on the trip as well. The final group consisted of 5 IKs, three cats, and two rafts. A good group with a good mix of mature ages and river experience.
Lacey volunteered to put the food together for the group which was much appreciated by all. Since this was going to be a low-water trip (expected around 2 feet on the gage) where light boats would be advantageous, she developed a menu that was nutritious, good tasting, and easy to prepare that was lightweight and didn’t require refrigeration. Being used to simple freeze-dried packets and oatmeal, our trip leader liked the menu and his wife was glad someone else was putting it together. Going light like this takes a lot of planning, energy, and time to get everything together, but Lacey was experienced with this type of trip, having led many commercial backpacking and rafting trips. Imagine, 8 days on the river with no big, heavy coolers (NO ICE) and a kitchen that fit in a single drybox (including the propane tank and stove). Awesome!
We met the day before launch in Stanley to get to know everyone and transfer gear to a minimum number of vehicles for the trip to the put-in. As we were about to head for the put-in at Boundary Creek, we were informed that the road was likely to be closed until after 5:00 as the Forest Service was bringing in a new double wide trailer for staff housing. We headed for the put-in anyway, hoping for the best and it was a good thing we did. We caught up with the trucking crew at the junction heading down to the river and a sympathetic ranger let us pass by the trailer and head for the put-in. Any later and we would have been stuck there until after 5:00 (like the rest of the groups headed in). This left us alone at the launch for a few hours!
At the put-in, Lacey helped divide up the food between boats. One raft carried the entire kitchen and everyone carried at least one small/medium dry bag of food. It was pretty easy because every meal was pre-packaged separately so that they could be divided up equitably. A master list of who had what meal helped keep track of where each day’s food was. Lacey also provided a complete menu and preparation instructions for each meal. So easy, even a caveman could do it. The IKs were awesome, each carrying their own personal gear behind them in a large dry bag and a small/medium bag of food up front. The rafts and cats, of course, carried a bit more weight. Lacey and I had some fresh food in small soft coolers on our cats too. These containers were handy for the beer pick up at Flying B.
While the last of the food was being divided up, the permit holder(s) and I went in to get our camps assigned. With a little “stretching of the truth” we managed to get Sunflower as our hot springs camp. This is a great camp for a small group with wonderful hot spring pools and a hot shower at riverside. Just fabulous, but generally assigned to smaller (<8 people) groups. The rest of the camps were also good ones and well spaced, with only one long day on the river. Everyone got their boats ready and down to the water and then we camped for the night.
Put-in the next morning was kind of a zoo, with all the parties launching that day spread out below the launch ramp. We took off late, one of the last groups to launch, but only had 8 miles to go the first day. The gage at the Middle Fork Lodge (34 miles downstream) was at 2.15 feet (980 cfs). We had considerably less water at the put-in.
The first real rapid, Sulfur Slide was just a bit boney and everyone in our group did fine . We passed another rafter that was examining his Cataract magnum blade that was snapped off about 6 inches below the shaft, ouch! The upper river at this low flow was mostly Class I+ to II rock gardens with adequate flow to keep moving right along. The move left at Velvet Falls was easy and largely unnecessary; the main falls could have been run with little problem at the low flows.
Most of the rapids were pretty uneventful, even with 5 IKs in the group. The new Lake Creek rapid was a piece of cake. We did scout Pistol and then I proceeded to show everyone where the rock in the center lurked. Just slid across to a place I didn’t want to be… Yes, the tempered aircraft-grade aluminum used in those bomber NRS frames will bend if you hit it hard enough (I did).
Tappen Falls was no problem (except for that second hole?) and the new Tappen (2.5 or 3?) was fine too. One of the IKs did take the “cat-boat” line right down the gut at Cliffside. Made that big wave look easy. The rest of the “biggies” like Redside, Weber, Rubber, Devil’s Teeth, and House Rocks were fun, but no problem, especially for the larger boats, mostly Class III or less. On the Main Salmon, Cramer Rapid has calmed down a bit from previous years. Now it was just a nice tongue with a couple good sized waves; either side of the tongue would be kind of nasty though.
Camping was great, we ended up with the following camps: Elkhorn, Big Snag, Sunflower, Cave, Funston, Fly, and Ouzel. All very nice for our small group. We checked out almost all of the hot springs on the way down. One of our group was eaten alive by strawberry mites at Whitey Cox. Nobody told us they bite! When we got down to Cave camp, the River Rangers suggested that Hospital Bar was open and we could camp there, it being just downstream of Cave, larger, and with the hot spring. We jumped at the chance and enjoyed one of the best hot spring camps on the river. In the morning the bighorn sheep visited the hot springs and camp, making for great photos of the local wildlife.
Weather on the trip was pretty good, a little cool the first day, but warming as we moved down river. A bit of sprinkling from afternoon thunderstorms some days and quite a bit of rain on the last day. The rain stopped as we hit the take-out, allowing us to pack up without getting wet. The trip out to North Fork was sloppy, covering the trailer with mud. We all met up again in Stanley to swap gear and have a big dinner. Thanks again to everyone for letting us join in on a great trip.
For a slideshow of a couple of Middle Fork Trips, see our Photo Page
But wait, the saga doesn’t stop there. The rain had brought the Selway River back up over 1 foot on the gage, so Lacey and I headed off to run a 5 day trip there. Yet another Trip Report…