Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Running the Middle Fork Salmon - 2 years hence

Two years ago I wrote in these pages about a great trip that we did floating the Middle Fork of the Salmon in September at low water.  When you have a great trip it's always tempting to go back to sorta re-create it, but the danger always exists that it won't live up to that first, sorta magical time (I remember after going back to ski in British Columbia a couple of times and saying "the snow is always good there!"  I eventually realized that....it's not).  But assuming that it could be just as good but it also could just as easily pour rain the whole time or somesuch is a good way to manage your expectations and ensure always having a great time.

Once again we had a small crew in small crafts:  4 Jack's Plastic packrafts - including a custom "triple nipple" - and two whitewater boats made for a nimble party that had no worries about major stickages on rocks at the low level.  It was just under 1.6 feet, for you Middle Fork gauge geeks; that's about as low as it gets, and actually with the small draft of rafts with lower air pressure in the tubes, rafts can indeed make it down the river if there aren't many passengers and people generally goes backpack-style in lieu of the typical blender, bar, innumerable cases of beer, huge kitchen boxes, etc that are normally associated with float-n-bloat river trips.

I was of course very keen again to further explore the unlimited trail running potential along the river.  The River Trail parallels the river for 80 miles and is a great, rolling, mildly-technical trail, all of the major tributaries have good trails going up them for many, many miles, and given the relatively arid nature of the area and the fact that pretty much 100% of that region has burned, virtually every one of the 100 camps along the 100 mile stretch offers the opportunity to go straight up the steep hillsides that rise 3-5000 feet above the river.  And there are so many deer and elk in that area that many of the sub-ridges have nice undulating ungulate trails on them that are quite runnable.

Brother Paul was the one who had the foresight last October 1 and called in on that day to get the post-lottery season permit, Janette was back again to face some of the demons that lurked in a couple of rapids, and we added some of our Northwest connection with Benj  - fortunately recovered from the devastating broken leg exiting out of Mill D 1.5 years ago (a broken leg less than a mile from the road in Mill D??!!?  Benj proved it can happen!) when he was in town for the Outdoor show, and he brought along Lama (or is that Llama?  The spelling sorta depends on when he had his last shower) freshly healed from a "broken face" (apparently an apt description for what he did when he made an ill-advised dive off his mountain bike in late June) and the relatively as-yet-unscathed Gib, both of whom were determined to use their fly rods to slay the hogs that undoubtedly were lurking in the deep pools between rapids.

A couple of notes about the photos below:  I realized that the final chapter of my camera's journey had occurred:  at the put in I discovered that the trigger no longer worked.  So it goes; it's been a trusty steed, and like Pheidippides, it traveled far on it's final journey, then dropped dead.  So most of the photos below are not mine, and in particular, Benj is a remarkably good, semi-pro photographer, so the pics that look quite amazing are all his.

the Cast Of Characters:

Our fearful leader, giving us the daily "Hear Ye, Hear Ye" of The Plan
Every Captain should have a huggable First Officer

River God Lama
Benj, in front of the camera for once
the ever-laughing Gib, ready for action
King Dork, on the scout at Pistol Creek rapid
I liked this sign at the put in.  Gives me fodder for when I see people tossing orange peels, validates my hatred of plastic bottles.  I wish they had one for mylar balloons!
On to the river! The first few miles are pretty busy, but it mellows out and is no harder than class 3, so everybody's happy.
Pistol Creek is the 2nd rapid of note (after Velvet, which we didn't get pictures of), and at higher water this hole can get quite mean, and even at low water it would probably be a little sticky if one just dundered over it. 
But mostly it's a lot of crystal clear flat water:

With awesome beach/ponderosa camps
that have sublime views
The fishing was good:

That is, if you're good.   I threw down for a fishing license, but once again....I failed in getting on the fishing stoke, despite the allure of seeing this:

But watching Gib do this:

Kinda made me do this:

So I therefore went and did this!  
As I remembered, the trails were amazing.  The River Trail always delivered:

 and I ran miles and miles up Marble Creek, there's a great trail climb above Camas Creek, and as I remembered, the steep climbs above the hills were great.  
Paul on a game trail high above the river. 
But you gotta be careful on that River Trail; it's got rocks in it, as brother Paul found out when he tripped on one about 12 steps into a run and dove into another:
he tried to pass it off as a bear attack, but I was the witness.  At least he had some much-needed Liquid Ego to drink (thanks Scotsman!)
I'm really convinced that this is a sleeper vacation for the trail running crowd.  The mere word "boats" typically makes runners break out in hives, but a river trip any time of year down the Middle Fork puts you into more incredible trail run opportunities in a condensed area than anywhere I have been.  

We got into a bit more whitewater.  These are a few photos from Tappen Falls, one of the more dramatic drops on the run.  Close up:
Janette laughing at the demons

Gib preparing to throw his paddle

Lama cool under pressure

Goin' a little deeper without the floation of Jack's Plastics.  
And from a bit farther away, for perspective:

A cool side attraction is Veil falls/cave:
why do they call it Veil?
and of course the nightly camps were just a huge party around the fire:
The poison ivy was in full bloom:
it was easy to spot this time of year!
And the trees - that were left after the fires - were super colorful as well:
I think that a lot of folks call in for those permits almost a year in advance, and then they bail on them, because we hardly saw anyone on the river, despite there being an allocation of something like 6 launches per day.  It's a pretty special time to be down there.  

thanks again to brother Paul for the foresight to get the permit and for being a good leader

And to the rest of the crew for many laughs and a great trip!  

No comments:

Post a Comment