From both Mary and me, many thanks again to Bob Sarratt, who put this trip together for everyone, and the fine folks and staff at Mountain Travel Sobek for making our trip down the Middle Fork Salmon River another EPIC outdoor river adventure. The following blog update was prepared and written by Mary and was taken from her notes that she kept on our trip. You will notice that we didn’t stop on the river to take photos running the many whitewater rapids along the way. However, I did have a helmet cam through a number of the fun whitewater sections. Below is a video that I put together that illustrates some of what it’s like to kayak down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.
Best viewed if you change the YouTube setting to 720p or 1080p HD quality. Enjoy!
Day 1 – Road Trip – Sunday, June 18, 2017
Our journey began on a cloudy Sunday morning, leaving Georgia driving past the familiar rapids of the Ocoee River and anticipating the unknown whitewater of the Middle Fork of the Salmon. After stopping at the Sarratt’s house in Nashville to pick up kayaks and gear for Bob, Dave, Andrew, Paul, and Jimmy, David and I continued on to Mt. Vernon, IL for the night.
Day 2 – Road Trip
We spent a long day in the driving across the wide open spaces of Nebraska on and ended our day in Kearney, NE near the Wyoming border.
Day 3 – Road Trip
Most of our third day was spent driving across southern Wyoming. We decided to look for a place to camp and after driving down the Flaming Gorge Scenic Byway and dodging many free ranging cows crossing the road, we found a tiny Forest Service campground on a hill overlooking the Green River Basin. We were quickly greeted by the campground manager, a friendly and quite talkative guy, who had spent his summers there for several years. After setting up camp, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset and a nice cool night.
Day 4 – Road Trip
Waking up to a gorgeous sunlit view of the gorge, we left the Green River area and continued our drive across Wyoming and into Idaho. About halfway across Idaho, we turned north on Highway 93/75 and stopped for the night in the small town of Hailey.
Day 5 – Road Trip
We were so glad that we stopped in Hailey and didn’t drive on to Stanley the night before because our morning drive took us through the beautiful Sawtooth National Forest on one side and the Salmon-Challis National Forest on the other. We also passed through Ketchum and the Sun Valley Ski Area. After Sun Valley, we drove over a breathtaking pass where we got our first view of the Salmon River and the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area. We were beyond excited knowing that we were going to spend a week in this magnificent place. After arriving in Stanley and checking in to the Mountain Village Resort,
we spent the afternoon enjoying being out of the car- exploring the tiny town, visiting a few shops, enjoying a cold beverage or two on a bar deck viewing the Sawtooth Mountains. Bob, Sandra, Joe, Stan, Paul, Jimmy, Dave, and Jen arrived from the Boise airport just in time for our trip briefing on porch of the River 1 Store overlooking the Salmon River. Taylor from Mountain Travel Sobek (who Bob and several of the guys knew from their Alta ski trips) gave us an idea of what to expect and passed out dry bags for our gear. We also met Greg and his granddaughter, Jill, from Colorado. The others settled in the motel & we met for a late dinner in town at Sawtooth Luce’s, an old log cabin with terrific atmosphere and delicious food. Later, Bob and Joe headed to Ketchum to pick up Andrew and Greg, whose flight had been delayed, and the rest of the group turned in to prepare for an early day on Friday.
Day 1 – Middle Fork of Salmon River Trip – Friday, June 23, 2017
Most of our group met for breakfast at the Mountain Village restaurant and then we all met Taylor in front of the motel office with our dry bags packed and ready to begin our river adventure. Our bus driver, Jessie, and Taylor took us on a two hour ride first heading north up the highway and then winding through several long forest service roads to the launch site at Boundary Creek.
After meeting Sage our Sobek trip leader, having a quick safety briefing, and watching the rafts slide down the wooden tracks to the river, we put on wetsuits, dry tops, and splash gear and began our Middle Fork trip in the late morning.
The river was running fast, about 9 mph and 6.5 cfs (cubic feet per second), due to this area of Idaho getting an abundance (40 inches more than usual) of snowfall last winter. Our trip ensemble included 6 kayaks, 1 blue raft for paddlers, 5 yellow supply rafts, 6 guides (Sage, Taylor, Joseph, Robbie, Carl, Pat), George- the Sobek food packer taking his first river trip, and 14 trip participants – Bob, Sandra, Dave, Jen, Paul, Jimmy, Stan, Joe, Andrew, Greg, Grandpa Greg, Jill, David and me. Some of the group kayaked, some rode on the yellow rafts and others paddled in the blue paddle raft guided by Sage. We were surprised to find out that we were one of the few trips launching from Boundary Creek. The other raft companies opted to fly in and launch 25 miles further downstream due to the high water. Ours was Sobek’s third trip of the year and the first trip this year to run the entire 100 miles. Soon after departing, we encountered Sulfur Slide, Velvet Falls, and several other big
rapids. Though not as technical as they may have been in lower water, the waves were tall, the holes were huge, and the water was fast moving and COLD! No one complained about wearing wetsuits! We stopped for a picnic at one of the few reachable eddies and enjoyed chips, cookies, nuts, and fruit while the guides prepared an amazing spread of homemade bread, sandwich meats, cheese, pickles, avocados and various condiments.
After eating, we loaded up and continued through The Chutes and Powerhouse Rapids to Sheepeater Camp and Hot Springs at Mile 13.1 for our first night on the river. After arriving and unloading, our guides set up our roomy dome tents while we unpacked and set up cots. We each were provided a comfortable wide cot and a cushy sleeping pad as well as a warm sleeping bag. The guides set up folding chairs and tables complete with cheery red pepper tablecloths. We changed into dry clothes, visited the hot springs behind our camp, learned proper “groover” * and hand washing etiquette, relaxed and played cards. Soon the drink cooler appeared along with appetizers of cheese, crackers, and nuts. Not long after, we were treated to a dinner of grilled salmon, spinach salad, couscous, and asparagus. The best was dessert baked in the Dutch oven, my personal favorite, carrot cake! After dinner Jimmy was introduced to the art of river adventure storytelling due to the fact that he became our first group member to join the “Middle Fork Swimmers Club”. He did an awesome job relaying his whitewater experience! Our first day ended with a beautiful sunset, a warm campfire and many early bedtimes.
*The groover gets its name from the rectangle shaped military ammo cans that were used for portable toilets in the early days of river trips. After a trip to sit on the “can”, significant “grooves” were often left on the back side of the user’s legs. “Groover” jokes and stories became part of the daily entertainment throughout the trip.
Day 2 – Middle Fork Trip
Waking up in the green meadow beside the rapidly flowing Salmon River was pretty incredible, but adding just brewed Starbucks coffee, French toast with fresh strawberries and maple syrup made a great beginning to our second day. Some of the group enjoyed an early morning soak in the Sheepeater Hot Springs, but many just sat around the table laughing and enjoying breakfast and the warm morning sunshine. After packing up camp, we loaded up and headed through Artillery and Lake Creek Rapids and then stopped to scout Pistol Creek Rapid. The canyon narrows at this spot and the waves can be dicey in high water. Each time we stopped on the river bank, there were large groups of butterflies gathered on the sandy beaches. We later heard that they are very attracted to the scat of geese that is found on the sandy shores and also according to scientists “it’s not uncommon in certain areas to see a whole mess of butterflies sitting on the ground, sucking up mud. This practice is known as “mud-puddling” or simply “puddling,” and scientists believe certain butterfly species do it to round out their salt, nitrogen, protein, and amino acid intake”. (Just couldn’t resist adding a little science in!) After scouting, a decision was made to go ahead and run Pistol Creek carefully avoiding the giant hole. We continued on past Indian Creek Ranger Station and launch site and watched a private group sliding their raft down the wooden planks into the river. Later, we enjoyed a great lunch of chicken tacos and then took a short hike to the foundation of a home of former quartz miners. We continued hiking up the hill to view their old quartz mine and on around the surrounding area near the river to see leftover deposits of quartz and also the former dugouts of the Sheepeater Indians who made their home in the canyon years ago. Everywhere we walked, we were surrounded by giant Ponderosa Pines and firs. Short history fact- the Native Americans used pine resin for medicinal purposes such as mixing it with water to make a tea for curing stomach ulcers and arthritis, applying to cuts to stem blood flow, using it like glue to waterproof and repair items, and also as a fire starter.
We returned to the river, passed by Indian Creek and set up camp at Marble Creek around Mile 32. After getting settled, Bob and I noticed a corn snake slithering right through the middle of our tent area. We didn’t share our discovery until a few days later as some campers may not have slept well that night knowing the close proximity of any kind of snake! After enjoying delicious dinner of spinach lasagna and salad, Bob, David, Jimmy and Dave could not resist the challenge of climbing up the high hill above camp. About 20 minutes after they began as we watched them separate and choose various routes on their steep climb up, we noticed a small shirtless figure to their left. Grandpa Greg had taken off up the hill and appeared to be quickly gaining on them. He beat them all to the top where they enjoyed some amazing views and displayed a quintuple “full moon”, which we at camp fortunately were too far away to appreciate.
They all returned safely, tired, sweaty and full of “manly” vigor! During their hike, Jill and I took a wildflower walk and discovered a beautiful white flower which the guides told us was the state flower of Idaho, the Syringa. She shared her flower pictures with everyone and the Syringa became our favorite flower to look for the rest of the trip. Night two ended with another campfire and a sky full of twinkling stars.
Day 3 – Middle Fork River Trip
Made to order omelets and sausage were on the breakfast menu for our third day. We spent just a short time traveling on the river before we stopped at a series of hot spring pools on the riverbank.
There were 3 pools up on the hill with a log placed in just the right position to create a hot spring shower that poured into the river. It was such a fun place to stop and relax! We then went on through Jackass Rapid and also stopped to see pictographs created on the canyon walls most likely by the Nez Pierce or Sheepeater Indians.
It was a busy rescue day as Andrew, Dave, and Paul were tossed around in their kayaks by some rogue waves and eddies. All three if them took a swim within a short time frame. In the late afternoon, we stopped for camp at White Creek around Mile 47. This was a narrow camp where all of our tents were very close to each other, the riverbank, the dining area, and the kitchen. Some people played the outdoor game of “Koob” (a game of wooden block throwing), while others were just content to enjoy the most amazing guacamole, salsa, chips, and margueritas.
Why is it that food always tastes better in the outdoors? To complete the night’s meal, we enjoyed tacos and brownies. Due to the 3 newly initiated members of the “Middle Fork Swimmers Club”, we were treated to unique and creative stories of river excitement all beginning with “And there I was…” sprinkled with a bit of truth and a great deal of exaggeration!
Joseph, our senior trip guide shared an interesting story of a couple of infamous kayakers running some rather impossible rapids. A few people missed the end of the story likely due to a bit of beverage consumption more than Joseph’s soothing voice.
Day 4 – Middle Fork River Trip
Breakfast today began with the usual Starbucks coffee and fresh cut fruit and ended with large buttery croissants filled with Canadian bacon and cheese. Delicious as usual! Our river adventures started with Tappan Falls and a visit to Daisy Tappan’s cabin. She and her family lived there for most of the 19th century. It is open for visitors and still used as a hunting camp. She was quite a remarkable and independent woman for her time. The homesite is beautiful with her horse pasture and fruit orchard still close by. Someone even discovered the evidence of some prankster deer hunters in a pine beside the river.
We lunched under the shade of a large stand of Ponderosa pines after taking a short walk to see the home of a hermit who spent his years living in a very small cave on the riverbank.
In the afternoon, we visited Flying B Ranch which is about 90 miles from the nearest road and only accessible by river or air travel. We took a short walk past the green irrigated fields, through the horseshoe turntable gate to visit their tiny store before resting and eating ice cream treats in the lush grassy front yard. The owner had just repainted the outhouse complete with a river and canyon theme and patriotic decorations. It sort of did make using a pit toilet just a tiny bit nicer. We hit the river again to enjoy Haystack, Earthquake Rock, and Jack Creek Rapids before stopping close to Mile 74 at Wilson Creek Camp. Wilson Creek had only a small beach area and our tents had to be placed a short walk down a path through the bushes to a larger grassy area. The tents were erected just before the first rainstorm hit us. The skies cleared and several people enjoyed some good fly fishing spots before a dinner of huge grilled pork chops, rice, cornbread and pineapple upside down cake.
After dinner, the skies grew dark again and before we could secure the big green tarp, we were hit with quite a downpour. Holding the tarp over our heads and enjoying some red hot flavored libations kept most everyone content singing and laughing through the deluge. Sage shared with us the story of a former Salmon River resident, George Norton- “a man of nerve”, who survived some pretty crazy situations. The rain continued off and on through the night, but we slept warm and dry in our tents.
Day 5 – Middle Fork River Trip
After breakfast of eggs made to order, bacon, hash brown, and toast, Sage announced to us that today was “Waterfall Day”. While the guides were loading the rafts, the rest of us began our day as we had the past few days with “Stretching with Jill”. Jill would check with Andrew, the stretching leader, and round up the rest of the group in a circle for our morning stretching/yoga sessions. She would choose how we began and would outdo all of us with her 7 year old energy, flexibility and coordination. She loved this time of day and made it even more fun for us with her precious smile and enthusiasm. We loaded up on the boats and stopped fairly quickly for another view of the Native American pictographs low on a canyon wall. It was really interesting to see the people, animals and hunting scenes depicted and left on the walls from such a long time ago. We continued on down the Salmon through Waterfall Creek Rapid to Big Creek Bridge. We walked across the bridge from the west side of the river and saw one of the few trails that leads out of the canyon. We hiked up to a gorgeous waterfall that we had seen from the river below just before we passed under the bridge.
Later, we stopped for lunch at a spot with an great view of the tall canyon walls. We quickly cleaned up and headed back to the river before the rain hit again. We were cold and wet, and almost too tired to take a short hike uphill to one more narrow waterfall flowing down from some extremely high walls of rock. Legend is that an old river hermit lived there and did not like the being disturbed by people running the river. He was said to have yelled and thrown rocks down on visitors who came near his home. After our short hike, feeling a bit cold and very wet, we stopped for the day at Cradle Camp near Mile 88. To our surprise, some of our guides had gone ahead and set up our tents before we arrived. Changing into dry clothes, enjoying drinks, journal writing and card games under the big green tarp was a nice way to end the day. Taylor took orders and grilled delicious gigantic steaks for dinner.
Dessert was strawberry shortcake and s’mores around the fire, but not before the dress up clothes bag was brought out and costumes were selected. Greg’s jewel green negligee paired with his slinky leopard print robe was definitely the finest of all the outfits!
After much laughter and many photos, we were treated to trumpet and harmonica playing by Joseph and Bob. It was bittersweet moment enjoying the beautiful sunset and clear night skies, but also realizing that it was our last night on the river.
Day 6 – Middle Fork River Trip – Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Our last day began with cereals, yogurt, granola, eggs, and toast while enjoying views of the morning sunshine on the canyon wall opposite our camp on the hill. Jen spotted some bighorn sheep high up and we took turns spotting them with the binoculars. After our final take down and load up, we proceeded through lots of fun waves with names like Rubber, Hancock, House of Rocks, Jump Off and Goat Creek Rapids. Just before we reached the confluence with the Main Salmon River, Joseph pulled out his trumpet and serenaded us with “Amazing Grace”. The notes of that familiar song echoing through the majestic canyon created a unique moment to pause and consider the amazing wilderness that we had been privileged to experience for the past five days.
Shortly after, the Middle Fork joined the main river and we exited at Cache Bar Ramp right around Mile 100. Loading the kayaks onto the rafts, shedding our river gear, and changing into dry clothes, we said goodbye to six of our fantastic guides and watched them float away. After a short wait and taking a few more photos, Sage directed us to our bus and we headed for the town of Salmon. We enjoyed a lunch stop for tacos, watermelon, and cookies provided by a small store en route and then went on to the Sobek warehouse where we returned the last of our gear, thanked and said goodbye to Sage, and reboarded the bus for the two hour drive back to Mountain Village Resort in Stanley. We arrived in the late afternoon, said our goodbyes to Jill and Grandpa Greg, who were hitting the road to Colorado Springs, cleaned up and met up for a final dinner at Sawtooth Luce’s.
Day 7- Stanley, Idaho
The next morning we enjoyed breakfast at Stanley’s rustic town cafe and shopped for t-shirts and souvenirs. Most of the gang returned to Boise for their flights home. David and I were fortunate to get to drive along the scenic highway paralleling the main Salmon River back to the town of Salmon to load the kayaks up for our trip to Wyoming for an additional week enjoying the Tetons and Yellowstone with some more friends and family. Our Middle Fork River adventure was officially over, but the stories and memories of it will last a lifetime.
Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park – June 30, through July 7, 2017
We met up with Mark, Jodi, and Taylor on Friday evening at the Kudar Motel in Jackson. The next day, Shuana, Greg, and Shelby, our friends from Mineral Bluff arrived. We spent the next 5 days showing them our favorite spots in Grand Teton National Park, and taking the boat ride across Jenny Lake and hiking to Hidden Falls, Inspiration Point, back around Jenny Lake, and to String and Leigh Lakes. Some of us went horseback riding in the rain near Teton Village and we all enjoyed dinner at the Mangy Moose. We had an exciting raft trip down the Snake River with Teton Whitewater becoming our guide’s first “dumptruck” raft of the season allowing David to practice his kayak rescue skills.
The 4th of July was a fun day. Taylor, David, and Greg chose the long hike to The Meadows in Garnet Canyon as well as a side trip to Surprise Lake. Shelby, Shuana, Jodi, Mark and Mary enjoyed a fun hike to Phelps Lake Overlook. That evening we all went to dinner at the Snake River Brewing Company, on to the Jackson Hole Rodeo, and ended the night watching fireworks over Snow King Mountain.
On July 5th, we headed up to Yellowstone stopping to visit West Thumb geyser basin. We went on from there to the Old Faithful area and Mystic Geyser Basin. Our day ended in West Yellowstone, Montana with a great production of “Singin’ in the Rain” at the Playmill Theatre. The next day brought views of elk resting along the Madison River, geyser basin exploring in Norris, and watching bison herds in Hayden Valley. We took many stops along the way to see the canyon and the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. The late afternoon was spent stopping by Tower Falls and in Mammoth watching several herds of elk grazing near the road. We spent the night in Gardiner, MT, enjoyed K-Bar pizza and sunset views of Electric Peak and the Yellowstone River. The next morning we headed south, waited in lots of road construction traffic and ended our trip with a “bear jam”.
It was great to see and be able to photo document a grizzly and her cub on the way out of the east entrance of Yellowstone heading home. Back in the days when we worked in the park, you always had to have photo documentation of your bear or bears sighting for it to actually count or for folks to believe you. Seeing bears and visiting Yellowstone never gets old and we always love sharing our favorite park with friends and family.
What a Trip! THE END!