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

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