Meltdown on the Middlefork
by Christina King
Our trip really began last February 2000 when we found out we got a June 19, 2000 Middlefork of the Salmon River permit. We gathered rafting friends and organized this trip with the promise of reasonable water levels. What we didnt anticipate is a low water year. Fortunately we had adequate flow to run the river. After driving from Woodland Park, Colorado via Green River, Utah to Stanley, Idaho, we picked up Chris and Dana our New Hampshire friends (formerly from Colorado). They had flown to Boise, jumped on a puddle jumper (or should I say Sawtooth Mountain hopper) and landed in Stanley. After checking in with BZ at River Rat Express (our vehicle shuttle company) we drove into the Boundary Creek (Middlefork) put-in to begin our weeklong river journey down the Middlefork of the Salmon River. The rest of the Colorado contingent arrived during the afternoon and evening hours of Sunday. Chris Canady, Dana Eriksen, Ralph Hoffman, Mel Lips, Rich Barrington, Brian Mullin, Jack and Wendy Schneider and the lone holdout from Nebraska (Brett Utech) rounded our group out to 11 people. Pete and I were the trip organizers and couldnt wait to get on the river. During the night we had a rainstorm but by morning it was clear and warm again. This warm weather and quick melting of the snowpack has been unusual in our experiences and begins our Meltdown on the Middlefork river trip.
Launch at Boundary Creek
Camped at Fire Island
Monday, June 19, 2000 (Flow 3.47 feet)
Everyone rigs their boat on the top of the ramp and sends it down the steep ramp fully loaded, directly into the river. Quite a sight to see. The ranger gave us a pre-launch talk about river etiquette and regulations but first our group was treated to a talk by Vincent a Shoshone/Bannock Native American. Vincent explains and shows us how the Native Americans used paint for pictographs and why they respected the river, earth, animals and plants. Vincent explains that the Native Americans used the river corridor and side canyons as a travel corridor and communication network. Vincent is an excellent new addition to the ranger orientation program. We noticed he was building a teepee made of deer/elk hides in his camp.
We stopped at Trail Flat and Sheepeater hotsprings after running Sulfur Slide, The Chutes, Ramshorn, Velvet Falls and Powerhouse rapids. Everyone had great runs in Velvet Falls. Velvet has a blind corner drop that needs to be carefully run or otherwise it can dump your raft into one huge scary hole. First time boaters can have a tough time running Velvet but our rookies did great. Murphys Hole is gone at this water level but at high water it is difficult to avoid. Powerhouse was a series of holes and maneuvering around rocks and bends in the river. The weather was unbelievably warm and sunny during the day. We camped at Fire Island and enjoyed the Mule deer that wandered around camp all afternoon and evening. No moose in camp like last year.
Chris found some elk bones and moss and made a ghostly-looking head perched above our firepan. After dinner we began the process of eating our daily ration of Peppermint Pattys. We bought a Sams Club container of 240 mints. According to calculations, each of us has to eat 6 mints per evening until the trip is over. Mmmm The evening temperature dropped quickly.
Tuesday, June 20
We sleep late (turns out we do this every morning) and let the day warm up before launching. Some people went for a 2nd soak in Sheepeater hotsprings. We didnt leave camp until noon. Passed a group that had some trouble up near Velvet. They had ripped their boat floor and were working on repairing it when we talked to them.
We stopped at Dolly Lake (Dolly Lake is named for Dolly Varden trout that like to swim in this pooled up quiet section of river) for Brian to launch his kayak off of the cliff to the river below. Jack and Brett jumped off the cliff. Artillery rapids has fun waves and requires a lot of rowing (as did the first day). We run Pistol Creek rapid and pull out in the beautiful campsite below. The chipmunks are incredibly bold and steal whatever food they can get their paws on. After dinner we were all sitting around camp and Mel noticed what looked like a bear coming from the bushes. All of us got up and started backing away, until someone said its not a bear, its just Chris coming back from the groover. Chris gave us a strange look and asked, "Whats up"? We told him that he was lucky it wasnt bear hunting season and he had better leave that dark fleece jacket at home next time. We had a good laugh at spooking ourselves.
Wed, June 21 (Flow 3.18 feet)
We only have two rapids today, Marble Creek and Upper Jackass. I kind of got sucked back in Marble Creek but popped back out after a second. We stopped at one of our favorite hotsprings called Sunflower.
The day is so warm that we cant even get in the hot pools at Sunflower. We have to soak in the wimpy medium-hot pools instead. While soaking and standing under the hot waterfall at Sunflower we noticed some people attempting to swim across the river without lifejackets. We were told that they were "professional river guides and knew what they were doing". Right Needless to say they didnt make it and asked us to float down river and rescue one of their swimmers. We proposed that the swimmer hike back up to us (so we could soak in the hotsprings) and we would give them a ride across river. Turns out they were a bunch of young river guides from California on a private river trip who just didnt know any better. The inflatable kayak (ducky) made its first appearance today and did fine. We are still working on those pesky mints but consumption (average 6/day) has decreased dramatically.
Thursday, June 22
Our first stop of the day is at Cameron Creek pictographs. These Native American drawings are at the top of a bluff along a cliff and depict buffalo and elk. Most of the pictographs are in red ocher paint. Vincent showed us white and yellow paint colors but we dont see any drawings using these colors. Maybe those colors dont last as long. We stopped for lunch and warm our feet in the tepid Whitey Cox hotsprings. Brett and Brian try to scare Dana and I out of the hotsprings by claiming that there are biting red bugs in the water. We ignore them as they run panicked down the trail to rinse off in the cold river. Brian impressed us by putting his camera in a bed of poison ivy. We werent bitten.
We pull in to camp at Big Loon with one of the best hotsprings on the river about 10 minutes up the trail along Big Loon Creek. We cross the private Simplot Ranch (Potato King in Idaho) and visit with the caretaker. (Old Mr. Simplot [not the caretaker] is in his 90s and still comes out hunting and fishing once a year). The caretaker gets flown out of the ranch twice a year. What a job in a beautiful setting! In the meantime, he irrigates the fields and takes care of the ranch, horses, mules, and hunting hounds.
Friday, June 23 (Flow 3.08 feet)
The river is decreasing in flow on a daily basis. The Middlefork is a river controlled by snowmelt only. No dams and reservoirs upstream. In fact we run the entire river start to finish on our trip (99 miles). We have a big day planned (21 miles) today. Up to this point we have been lolly gagging our way down river with relatively short days. We continue this trend and dont make it out of camp before 11:30 am. I love vacation. We are lucky in that we are far enough north that it doesnt get dark until 10 PM. So we can afford to enjoy late starts in the morning. Our last hotsprings on the river is Hospital Bar.
We run Tappen Falls with a sweep boat right in front of us. Sweepboats are the biggest boats on the river (22 feet) and use sweep oars at the bow and stern. Very interesting and historical.
We were very impressed by Mels ducky run of the deep hole at Tappen Falls. I saw half of his ducky out of the water!
Brett made it through the Tappen Falls fine. Apparently a group ahead of us had problems and surfed in the hole for quite a while. They lost a tarp, table and other misc. items. (More about the tarp later).
We stopped at the Flying B dude ranch for beer, soda and ice re-supplying. The unusually hot weather has everyone drinking a lot. The Flying B charges $95/person per night for a room plus 3 meals. Not a bad deal. The only way in is by small plane or river. Haystack rapid is just downstream and its where I had flipped last year (poor judgement). All I can think of is getting safely downstream of this rapid. Midway through the rapid I spot what looks like a blue tarp hung up on a large midstream boulder. I thought to myself "that tarp sure did get downriver quick". Afterwards Pete asked me if I saw the submerged and pinned raft with frame at the same spot. There could have been a bear dancing the hula on the shore and I wouldnt have noticed. That is how focused on the run I was. Jack Creek rapids below Haystack were fun roller coaster waves for a long time. We pulled into Driftwood to camp for the night among huge ponderosa pines and sandy tent site.
Saturday, June 24
Today is jam-packed with lots of stops and sights to see.
Redside, Weber and Lower Cliffside rapids were straightforward and easy to run. As always we hugged the left side at Cliffside. A commercial outfitter, Aggipah, said that the raft in Haystack wasnt there a week ago, so its a fairly recent accident. The submerged raft frame appeared broken and pointing upstream hope it wont be a hazard at lower water levels. Aggipah thinks it will be a "scratchy" summer for their aluminum driftboat (dories) due to low water conditions so early in the season. We camped at Otter Bar and saw an otter making his evening patrol. Also saw bighorn sheep and grouse. Tonight was hamburger night with Brian winning the "most eaten" award (3). Eleven of us ate 36 hamburgers. You do the math. I think Brian ate more than his official 3 burgers. The trip joke has been that we eat and sleep so much its like being on a cruise. All we need to have is a midnight buffet and we are on the "King Cruise Lines" tour. Our camp has a wonderful sand beach and we start up a NFL football game with the handy Nerf football. Receivers can make diving catches into the river because of the deep calm pool at the edge of our sandy beach. We have approximately 100 mints left. No one will eat anymore. Guess its a peppermint patty mutiny. The mints will make an appearance on our next river trip.
Takeout at Cache Bar
Sunday, June 25 (Flow 2.93 feet)
The ducky was deflated. I think Mel and Rich were too tired to run it. Also Mel hasnt used the groover in 3 days and his stomach is growing by the day (could be a mint problem). He didnt want any accidents. I think he is just burning off the food but he is so slim I really have noticed that his stomach is getting bigger. No reason to take chances. In case you dont know what a groover is; its a toilet for solid human waste. Years ago; we used to use a rocket box that left grooves on your butt. We now have toilet seats but still like calling it a groover.
Rubber, Hancock, Devils Tooth and House Rock rapids finish off our last day on the Middlefork. Dana stops to take pictures of all of us at Rubber Rapid. We float the final miles to Cache Bar, which is actually on the Main Salmon River. We have rafted the entire 99 miles of the Middlefork and our trip has come to a close. Good food, good friends, lots of laughs, leftover mints and plenty of warm sunshine melting the snow to make our river trip a fun time had be all. We couldnt ask for a better trip.