River Time

Even with this hot smokey summer, we managed to get out and enjoy adventures. Scoring a permit on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River becomes exponentially more difficult every year since the advent of the world wide web. Everybody and his brother puts in for permits for a river they’ve never been on without the equipment or skill to accomplish this endeavor. This leaves the local river rats to scramble for cancellations. And that is how we managed to float a section of the Salmon River that we had never been on.

The put in for the Middle Fork is Boundary Creek, which you drive to via Stanley, Idaho. BUT, when it is a hot dry August the water level is too low to float a loaded boat that far up river. Late season floats must start at Indian Creek put in, only accessible by plane. We reserved our plane as quickly as we put together our group.

Two catarafts, one raft, five people, two dogs. We disassembled the rafts at home. Normally you would take your assembled raft on a trailer to the put in. When you buy a raft, you assemble your raft, you never disassemble it; unless you are flying in. The frames come off the rafts. The rafts deflated, rolled up and wrapped in a tarp. The frames broken down and labeled and duct taped together, coolers full of food and drinks, dry bags full of tents, sleeping bags, clothes, arts and crafts, games, books. Oh, and oars; nine foot long oars, four per boat, two of which are spares. Don’t want to be up a creek without a paddle. Low water has been known to break an oar or two.

We hit the road at 6:00 a.m., pulling trailers for the take out (no need to disassemble for the takeout as it is an easy drive home, practically in our back yard in Montana measurements). We arrived at the Salmon, Idaho airport with time to spare to walk the dogs and unload the trucks. Flying in river floaters is the main income for this airport; which was nice as they were all on river time.

What is River Time?

It’s no time; as in who cares what time it is; as in “I’m hungry, must be time to eat” or “I”m tired, must be time to sleep” or “I’m hot, must be time to take a polar plunge.”

What is a polar plunge?

Well it doesn’t matter that it is nearly 100 degrees, the water temperature is still melted mountain snow, getting in is always a polar plunge leading to loud whoops and prominent nipples.

There was other gear on the runway waiting to be taken in, just gear, no people. All of our gear was weighed before being loaded onto the plane, then we helped load the other gear onto the planes as well. The pilot had also recorded our weights. “Dogs in the back seat” he said. We loaded them as if they were children. “Lisa next, then Heidi and Brett and finally, Scott and Shannon. Two planes. We put on ear protection and our seat belts. The dogs were unsure, but both yellow labs, Molly and Zoey, knew that they trusted their mom and dad without a doubt. Although, Zoey did spent most of the flight with her head in the floor. Molly watched out the window in awe.

A thirty five minute flight, then we landed on a dirt runway, on a large flat field just above the river. There were piles of gear everywhere. Cases of water, beer, wine. Apparently some people still start at Boundry Creek and then have their heavy stuff flown in to pick up at Indian Creek. We unloaded the planes and started the task of putting the rafts back together. Hauling all of the gear down to the river. This was an arduous task, we were ready to break into the hot cases of beer. Luckily, we had reserved our first night’s camp three miles downstream. Which was damn good since we got on the river at 3:30 and the going was slow. The river was still low at this point and there was a lot of low water river dancing in the boats trying to get them unstuck without getting out.

What is “low water river dancing”?

This is jumping up and down on the boat as you try to get the water rerouted to give you an extra lift up and over the shallow area and then to do a pelvic thrust against the front tubes of the raft as if you are having sexual relations with your raft to nudge the raft in your intended forward motion. Getting in and out of the boat is easier said than done. Once you get out and literally drag your boat through the shallow section, the boat starts moving on it’s own once you have drug it to the deeper section, now you are deeper too and must jump on this loaded moving non piloted raft (and don’t forget the dog).

We saw eagles, osprey, mergansers, chuckers, big horn sheep, a family of river otters, two different bears and one rattle snake who rattled a friendly howdy to us on our morning walk on the trail. We had wonderful camps, great food, passed commercial groups of thirty people (that’s a lot of shit to haul out; refer to post “Last Call for the Grover” for more explanation). But the memorable part of this six day adventure for me was being precariously stuck on Tappin Falls.

As the middle boat in the pack, we watched as boat number one loudly dropped out of sight over the maybe six foot drop known as Tappin Falls. Loudly as in scraping over numerous rocks. We took on the falls a little more to the right to avoid the rocks. There was no avoiding the rocks no matter what route you took. It was already a narrow slot with few options to begin with. As we began to drop over the falling water we came to a complete stop. Picture this; because unfortunately no one took pictures, our 13 foot raft has started to go over the falls, so the front, where me and Molly sit are in a still frame of action. The back of the raft, where our oarsman who will remain anonymous is still in the yet to crest the falls spot. I am practically on the same plane as the falls and have no ability to do the low water river dance. I’m looking for a safe place to jump in case the raft starts to flip. The un-named oarsman is able to slow water river dance with no results, he or she, tries using the oars for leverage against the numerous rocks (we have spares) and finally gets out of the boat and onto a rock. Are you still picturing? As the oarsman stands on the wet, slippery rock at the top of Tappin Falls he is able to pelvic thrust the raft inch by inch off the rock. Remember how I said it is difficult to get back in the raft. It would be impossible in this particular situation. Ah! But also remember there is another boat behind us. Shannon has floated to shore, tied up his raft and walked to the falls. The oarsman who shall not be named, was able to climb back into the boat. At this time the front of the boat is further down the falls and the water is flowing over the front tube at such a velocity this self bailing raft is filling up with water. Shannon holds on to the perimeter line while the other person climbs back in. Shannon lets go and off we go like a stainless steel pinball ball plungered down the shooter alley we shot through Tappin Falls, bouncing off rocks as big as houses, spinning our way through and finally gaining control of the boat as we eddy out with boat number one for a breather. Whew, what a ride. And Molly trusted her mom and dad the whole time, without a doubt.

More great adventures as well as book recommendations can be found at Wild About Books.

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