Trip Report: Main Salmon River - Oct 2018 - flow unknown
Main Salmon Fall Trip
Submitted by Christine Broniak and Asher Bohatkiewicz
On Friday, September 31, 2018, my fiancée Asher and I set out from our home in Portland, making our way to the takeout of the Main Salmon River (Carey Creek Boat Ramp) in central Idaho. Initially, I had some trepidation when I heard that it was called "The River of No Return;" I later learned that the phrase came from the fact that the wooden boats the pioneers brought down the river would be taken apart for their materials, which would be used in the pioneers' homesteads and, as such, not return.
We met the first group of our friends (Jen, Greg, and Dianne) at the boat ramp and left our vehicle, hopping into Dianne's car and beginning our long shuttle to the put in. The drive was well over eight hours, but between the excellent company and the beautiful view, it didn't feel so long. The drive took us along the gorgeous Lochsa River, and it became a game to try to identify key rapids at such low water, which proved much more difficult than expected. We arrived at the put in at the Corn Creek boat ramp well before dark, meeting the rest of our motley group of friends (Sara, Stacey, Brian, Jennifer, and Crista.) After rigging up our rafts, we set up camp and enjoyed a makeshift dinner and the company of our good friends.
Our first major group decision came about the morning of our launch: when to enjoy the hot springs that lay not far downstream from Corn Creek? After some debate, we decided to set up camp just upstream of the springs and visit in the morning of our second day. Our decision made, we set out for our first day on the water.
At the first camp of our trip, we were treated to delicious pulled chicken and salad that Crista had made.
On our second day, we encountered Black Creek Rapid the first thing in the morning. After a short scout, we decided to take the left line down a tongue that ended in some big lateral holes. It was the kind of rapid where you can feel the boat picking up speed, surging forward, as you drop into it; it was a moment to remember. Just a bit further downstream, we arrived at the hot springs. The masonry tub was at the top of a short climb up a hill; we carefully watched for poison ivy (which is ever present on the Main) as we made the climb. Accounts vary as to what this hot spring is called; the map called it "Masonry Hot Springs," but others called it "Barth Hot Springs." According to the map, "Barth Hot Springs" is actually a scalding-water-filled crack in the earth near the springs we soaked in. Regardless of its true name, however, the spring was divine. We lingered there for about an hour, soaking and laughing with one another, before we pulled the plug to empty it and set off once again.
We arrived at our camp directly above Big Mallard rapid and set up for our first layover day.
On our third day, our first layover day, the weather was magnificent, with full sun and balmy temperatures. We had a heated inner tube race, with unicorns and red and blue tubes vying for dominance. After my failed attempt to win the race and an inglorious swim, Brian threw me a rope so I didn't have to hike back upstream to camp. Asher, Greg, and I worked on our inflatable kayak technique in the small layover rapid, catching eddies, ferrying, and riding the waves. That night, before an enjoyable costume contest, I walked downstream to scout Big Mallard Rapid. I was wary because I was so far above it when scouting, which can make a rapid look much smaller than it is, but there was a straightforward line through. Despite some trepidation about this rapid, our group got through it with aplomb the next morning.
Elkhorn Rapid was a notable rapid as we adjusted lines on the fly, while another group of rafters and cat boaters had a swimmer. Shortly downstream from Elkhorn, Asher was knocked out of his inflatable kayak by a lateral wave. Jen and Greg swooped in and scooped up his floating paddle while he pulled himself back into his boat.
We had our second layover day at Swimming Hole camp at mile 61. This camp gave Stacey a good chance to use her electric yellow jacket zapper racket. We zapped many yellow jackets that day, each of us engaging in some well-earned revenge against those tiny black-and-yellow monsters. They were everywhere. Jennifer got stung several times. In fact, nearly everyone on this trip was stung at least once over the course of our adventure. To beat the heat and escape the insects, we swam and floated around in the gorgeous swimming hole (just upstream) for which this camp was named. On our short float back to camp, just as we began to pull out of sight of the swimming hole, we witnessed some goats warily making their way down to the water for their turn.
Our camp on the final day of our adventure was just a few miles upstream from Carey Creek. We visited with another group at a neighboring camp to enjoy their makeshift Paco Pad slip-n-slide before coming back to our own camp to paint our faces with paint Jen had brought. The sand at this camp was magnificent; it sparkled and shone bright in the sunlight due to the mica content of the rock. We enjoyed an incredible run through Vinegar Creek rapid; we picked up so much speed going into this steeper rapid that Crista and Asher were both able to punch straight through the big hole in the center in their inflatable kayaks. A short while after, we reached the packed takeout and waited for our turns to unload.
On the way back we visited the Painted Hills of Oregon and the world's largest living organism under the ground in Malheur National Forest.
A few months on, it's a bit of a struggle to remember particular details of the trip. Details change and blur together in our memories, as is so often the case. Like many trips, it is imprinted in our memory as a collection of key moments; isolated, vivid memories of a time spent with good company on a stunning river.