Thursday, May 14, 2015

Capitalize on early snowmelt! Hit the rivers early, plan more trips in the mountains

Staircase isn't going to get huge this year, but the runoff is happening now! 
South Fork Boise is expected to turn on after Memorial Day weekend.
The Cabarton run won't have boatable flows until 2nd week of June ...  
Black Creek Rapids on the Salmon River. The Salmon is peaking early this year ... 
Hi all,

Unseasonably warm weather this spring is melting the mountain snowpack earlier than normal, which means that the higher-elevation backcountry trails will be opening up sooner than normal, and our whitewater rivers will peak sooner than normal ... in fact, some of them are peaking right now!

You've heard farmers talk about how everything is early this year -- early snowmelt, early planting, the onset of irrigation season, etc., etc. Everything is about a month ahead of normal. The same is true in the mountains. I was struck how quickly the snow was melting in the upper story of the mountains when I was up in Cascade and McCall last week. The snow level was about 7,000 feet.

Morels! Yum yum! 
And in case, you haven't heard, it's morel-picking season, too! All of the rain in the forecast in the coming weeks should prolong the morel season.

So this week's outdoor tip is a reminder that the early snowmelt offers an opportunity to squeeze in more camping, hiking, biking, backpacking, whitewater or flatwater boating trips than you might be able to do otherwise. Maximize on outdoor fun!

For river floaters, it's important to get out there and enjoy the rivers right now! Here are the latest conditions and forecasts:
  • Payette River - The South Fork is running about 2,000 cubic feet per second, with a 500 cfs bump from the Deadwood River. Good flows for the South Fork Canyon and Staircase section. The Middle Fork has already peaked, and it's at a great level right now for SUPs, IKs, small rafts, canoes and kayaks. Main Payette is 3,500 cfs at Banks, the equivalent of a typical summer flow. The North Fork Payette is running low right now, but it's expected to come up to 1,300 cfs or more by the mid-June. 
  • South Fork Boise River - The Bureau of Reclamation will ramp up the South Fork to 1,600-1,700 cfs after Memorial Day weekend.  
  • Salmon River - The Salmon is running about 25,000 cfs at Whitebird. It's probably not going to get much bigger unless it really rains hard in the next couple of weeks. The National Weather Service does predict an above-average chance of wet weather in the next 10-14 days. 
  • Middle Fork Salmon River - It's running at 4 feet at the moment, and expected to climb toward 5 feet next week, if they get more rain. The Middle Fork is expected to hit 2 feet on the gauge by mid-July. August trips will be rocky and low.  
  • Lochsa River - Recent wet weather brought the Lochsa up to 5+ feet on the gauge. Go get it while you can! There isn't much snow left in the Selway high country. 
See the USGS Idaho River Flows web site for all of the rivers statewide.  
Camping - Car-camping in the North Fork of the Boise River areas near Idaho City and in the Middle Fork of the Boise River areas is doable anytime. The Boise National Forest will be opening campgrounds in those areas next week prior to Memorial Day weekend. 

Car-camping in the Middle Fork Payette River area or in the Stolle Meadows area near Cascade is all free of snow and available for dispersed, self-support camping. Check with the Forest Service on full-service campgrounds. 

Most of the Lake Cascade State Park campgrounds are open now. Camping areas in Ponderosa State Park are still closed. Lower-elevation sites like Three Island Crossing and Bruneau Dunes State Park are great for spring camping, and day use sites like Eagle Island State Park and Thousand Springs are great places to visit, too!  

See the Idaho Statesman's roundup on campground openings, etc., from their camping guide published today. 

Nearby Forest Service trailheads - Lower-elevation trails are open now, such as Cottonwood Creek trail near Arrowrock Reservoir, Station Creek trail near Garden Valley, the One Spoon trail near Crouch, and the Eagle's Nest Trail near Cascade. Check with the local ranger district offices to check on trail conditions before you go.

In the Wood River Valley, the Croy Creek trails near Hailey are open, Greenhorn-Mahoney Loop is open, Adams Gulch trails are open, and higher-elevation trails are still closed. See the Blaine County Summer Trails Link for more information. Most trails in the Sawtooth Valley are still closed but there are a few exceptions near Redfish Lake.

In the McCall area, I've heard that the Bear Basin Trails, Payette Rim Trail and the Jug Mountain Trails are open. Trails in Ponderosa State Park are open as well. Higher-elevation trails are still closed by snow.

Looking ahead to June, you might want to plan some backpacking trips in the high country ... things should be melted out by then, and you can get a jump on your summer season!  

Have fun!
- SS 

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