Thursday, July 20, 2017

Try floating the Lower Salmon River, a perfect trip for kids, SUPs and everyone!

Plan on lots of beach time on the Lower Salmon 
My son Drew loves camping on the Salmon River in the summer. Huck likes it too! 
Hi all,

Every year, we private boaters put in applications to get a permit to run the Middle Fork of the Salmon or the Main Salmon River, maybe even Hells Canyon or the Selway, but this year, my friends and I came up empty.

Last year, I was invited on two Middle Fork trips in July, so I wasn't really looking to do a Middle Fork trip this year. I was quite satisfied to go on a Lower Salmon River with a number of good friends from Boise, some new friends from Coeur d'Alene and new friends from California.

The Lower Salmon is a great option when you come up empty on the permits. There is only a self-issue permit required from the BLM, so really all you need to do is plan a trip with friends who have their own boats (or go with an outfitter). The Lower Salmon features many of the same amenities that you'd experience on the Main Salmon, River of No Return -- beautiful huge white sandy beaches, fun rapids, peace and quiet, and then great Dutch oven meals and desserts, bocce ball, volleyball or just sitting in the shade and reading a book.

When our kids were little, they actually liked the Lower Salmon more than the Main Salmon because of the beaches. They played in the sand for hours by the river's edge, making elaborate sand castles or whatever, and they'd take turns burying each other in the sand above the river.

Whitehouse Bar ... one of the most popular camps on the Lower Salmon. 
This year, we launched on the Lower Salmon at Hammer Creek near Whitebird on July 10th, a Monday. I must say, I love how much easier the logistics are in doing the Lower Salmon. You can leave Boise early in the morning, and put on the river the same day. To reach the Main Salmon at Corn Creek, it's a huge all-day drive to sleep at the put-in the night before. We left Boise at 7 a.m., and I was blowing up my boat at 10:30 a.m. at the Hammer Creek boat launch, and I couldn't believe it, there was no one there! 

Apparently people were worried about Slide Rapids, which is a very dangerous and formidable rapids above 20,000 cubic feet per second flow. (It gets bigger with flow). The day we launched, it was about 17,500 cfs and dropping. The summer season had begun, and we were on the leading edge! That meant we got to snag all of our favorite campsites along the way -- really premium camp sites with big beaches and perfect swimming holes. With temperatures in the 90s and warming to 100 by the end of the trip, we swam a lot. Maybe 50 cold-plunges a day ... I don't know I lost track.

Thick pork chops for dinner from Jeff Hennessy
We had four rafts in our group, two people paddling inflatable kayaks, and two people paddling Stand Up Paddle Boards. At 17,000 cfs, the rapids and the swirly nature of the rapids below the main drops made it impossible for the guys paddling SUPs to make it through without falling at the end, but who cares? They get a nice cool-off swim, climb back on their boards and keep paddling.

The higher flow also meant that we were on the river for a few hours each day, and we'd be at our next campsite by noon, creating the feeling like it's almost a layover day with all afternoon to do whatever you want. It was so cool to have the whole canyon to ourselves! Definitely not the typical experience in July, when it is usually quite popular, and it's best to get on the water early to snag your favorite campsite.

We scouted Snow Hole Rapids, but it wasn't that big of a deal at the higher flow ... the rocks were all submerged underwater and the middle chute was the place to go. The SUPs took a pass on that rapids, but one of our crew members, Kirk Keogh had quite a rodeo in the IK in Snow Hole ... you could see his feet kick up as he hit the hole, but he continued to ride the hole in his boat until it finally capsized and spit him out. That was the high point of Kirk's trip, doing such a great job of riding the hole.

Jeff, Dave and Butch ... the kitchen crew for Night #2 
On our last day, we ran Slide, in Blue Canyon, the last of four distinct canyons, and it was still a factor. We rowed up to it, and we could see a series of standing waves. The first one wasn't that big, but the second one had a big collapsing crown, and you had to hit it perfectly square with as much momentum as possible. Our first boat through made it fine, and I ran second, and it felt like we were climbing a skyscraper on that second wave, it swallowed the full length of our 16-foot boat, and we hovered on the precipice for a split-second as I pushing on the oars as hard as I could. We popped over the top finally and made it through for a thrilling ride. A solo boat party was watching us in the eddy, but unfortunately, they didn't get any pictures.

Below Slide, you run a few rapids and you arrive at the confluence with the Snake River in Hells Canyon. We often will meet a jet boat at the confluence to take us back to Pittsburg Landing. But this year, we went about 3 miles downriver and camped in Hells Canyon for our last night, giving us plenty of time to de-rig our boats at our leisure until the jet boat came to pick us up the next morning. The jet boat shuttle saves time, but it is kind of expensive ... I think it was about $1350 for our group. We feel it's worth it to reduce the drive time home. But you can float down to Heller Bar and then you'll be driving home from Lewiston. Either way works!

Anyway, consider a Lower Salmon trip sometime to enjoy a week of river bliss. Once you do that, you'll keep coming back again and again.
- SS

Thursday, July 6, 2017

OMG it's hot!!! My Top 10 picks for cool, refreshing paddling adventures in SW Idaho

SUP'ing below Kelly's Whitewater Park in Cascade (photo by Gary Ertter)
It's not everyday you can paddle underneath 212-foot Shoshone Falls!
(photo courtesy VisitIdaho) 

Hi all,

I hope everyone had a great 4th of July holiday, and you're finding ways to beat the heat! It seemed like summer was just barely coming into the picture, and then suddenly it's hitting triple digits in the Treasure Valley. 

Time to cool off!!!! With the Boise River still closed, and Quinn's Pond overwhelmed with hundreds of people who want to SUP, swim, kayak or whatever, you might be wondering about some alternative places to go for a paddling adventure. 

Join the nation's fastest-growing water sport - Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP) - or grab your kayak, inflatable kayak, pack raft or canoe and head for these first-rate paddling destinations ... My list comes from my guide, Paddling the Payette - A Guide to 24 paddling trips in the Payette River Basin, and other sources ...  I have laminated Payette River maps available online for each paddling trip on my web site if you need one. They cost $2.95 each.   

My Top 10 picks: 

1. Paddle the Mid-Snake to Shoshone Falls -- The trip starts from Centennial Park in Twin Falls and goes upriver to a portage around Pillar Falls and then to Shoshone Falls. Allow 5-6 hours for the journey. Many of you went down to see Shoshone Falls flowing in all of its glory this spring. It's one of the most unique paddling trips in Idaho to paddle under the Perrine Bridge, where you might see base jumpers launching into the canyon, and paddle upstream on the Snake to a point just below Shoshone Falls. There is very little river flow and current in this reach in mid-summer, allowing you to travel upstream. See my blog post for Southern Idaho tourism for more information.  

2. Visit Thousand Springs State Park and paddle around Ritter Island - This is another sweet destination along the Thousand Springs Scenic Byway, east of Hagerman. Put your craft in below Minnie Miller Springs, paddle out to the Snake River, cruise around Ritter Island, and then cut back into the pure spring channel to do it again, clockwise. The pure spring water in Thousand Springs is gin-clear, something to behold. And it's in the mid-50s ... refreshing! See my blog post for Southern Idaho Tourism for details.

3. Main Payette River - Beehive Bend to Horseshoe Bend - This is the stretch where Cascade Raft takes their beginning kayakers to learn about river dynamics. It's mostly a flatwater run, with current, and one small rapids. Park at Beehive Bend, and shuttle a vehicle to the dirt pullout next to ID 55 on the north side of Horseshoe Bend. 5-mile trip. Be sure to wear a life jacket! 

4. Payette River - Montour section - This is a 3.5-mile flatwater water reach that is really wide and braided. You can easily do a bike shuttle for this one (leave your bike at the top of Black Canyon Reservoir, the takeout). The put-in is next to the Montour Wildlife Management Area, managed by Idaho Fish and Game. Take the highway west of Horseshoe Bend and follow signs to the Montour WMA. The put-in is next to the Payette River bridge. 

SUP'ing on Lake Cascade 
5. Middle Fork Payette River - Tie Creek section - This is a fun trip, north of Crouch. Starting from Tie Creek Campground, it's about 9 miles of floating back to Crouch (leave a shuttle rig there). The water is still running at about 500 cfs, so that's a decent flow. It will likely be too low to float in a few weeks. The float is an interesting tour of the cabins and people along the Middle Fork. Allow a couple of hours for the trip. 

6. Cascade to Cabarton on the North Fork Payette River - This is a favorite float trip for canoeists who would rather not run any significant rapids. It's table-top slow-moving flatwater with current for 9 miles. The BOR has the river roped back to only 900 cfs as of today, but I'm sure it'll go back up any day ... 1,500 to 2,000 cfs is typical for summer time flows, and Lake Cascade is plum full of water! Put in your craft next to the ID 55 bridge coming into Cascade from the south. Shuttle a vehicle to the Cabarton Bridge boat launch site. Allow several hours for that trip. The river meanders through the valley, with great views of West Mountain, open space and cattle pastures. 

7. Kelly's Whitewater Park - Kelly's is a great place for more accomplished SUP'ers and folks who want to become proficient in SUP'ing whitewater rapids and rivers. Kelly's offers whitewater SUP classes, too. If you're on a kayak, no big deal! You can float the 2 mile stretch from one end of town to the other in Cascade, or just paddle around the different rapid features and play waves at Kelly's. 

8. Upper arms of Lake Cascade - The main reservoir is huge and can get very choppy in the wind. But the upper arms of the lake are great for kayaking, canoeing and SUP'ing. You can go from Smiley Bridge down to Tamarack Falls on the North Fork arm, or paddle from Tamarack Falls over to Tamarack or Gold Fork on the upper reservoir. The Boulder Creek arm is a sweet place to go as well or start from the Donnelly beach on Dawn Drive. 

North Fork Meanders 
9. McCall to Hartsell Bridge - North Fork Payette River - This is a sweet float that hardly anyone ever does, but it is getting more popular over time. Put-in at Sheep Bridge in McCall across from the Smokejumper's Base and float down to the Hat Ranch on a slow, meandering river that's refreshingly cold and clear. It's about 8 miles total. The river winds around in the meadows south of McCall, so allow for plenty of time to do the float. Leave a vehicle at Hartsell Bridge at the takeout. 

10. North Fork Meanders - North Beach, McCall - This is a super-cool location and a favorite with McCall locals. The put-in is at North Beach, on Warren Wagon Road north of McCall. And you can go out and back in the Meanders for several miles in a beautiful forested setting. There are some resident moose, so please give them plenty of space if you see them. Rentals are available at North Beach. 

If you need to rent SUPs or kayaks, the following businesses can take care of you: 
The Idaho Whitewater Association will host "Safety Saturday" on July 15th in Banks on the Main Payette River. This is a free safety clinic where you can learn or hone your whitewater rescue skills. 

Stay cool out there Amigos!
- SS