The first half of Clyde’s adventure ended with him saying goodbye to his 15 boating companions at the end of their Main Salmon float. Never one to dilly dally between trips, he slapped a motor on his NRS E-150, “Lady Godiva,” and shoved off solo to begin another adventure.
Before I left the ramp, a Middle Fork River Expeditions (MFRE) group pulled in. James Ellsworth and his MFRE guides hosted our Middle Fork Mayhem trip. James hosted the Canoe & Kayak Magazine crowd and three of us NRSers on another Middle Fork run this past June, a great trip that didn’t get written up. I didn’t know any of these guides but I gave them a bunch of NRS Coozies and asked that they share with James and the rest of the crew.
It was 4:30 p.m. on Thursday when I left Carey. I was scheduled to meet my friends Tyler and Dustin the next evening at the Hammer Creek launch site for the Lower Salmon stretch, about 55 miles downstream. The motor was a big 60 pound clunker we have in our employee Company Use stable. The motor mount was a prototype that Rob, our Frameshop Manager, had dreamed up. I was pretty excited to give the mount a try because it could just be strapped on the boat without having to use Motor Mount Stern Side Rails.
The river for the next two to three miles is pretty narrow and there were a couple of other groups spread out along the way. I’d never used this motor before and didn’t want to learn its quirks while weaving past other boats, so I put muscle to the oars and powered on.
After lapping the other boaters I dropped the motor in. It started right away, but the river runs east-west and the sun had dropped low. The glare off the water, even with sunglasses, made it really hard to see. The river was quite clear and when I started to see rocks below I would cut the motor and pull it up to avoid clipping the prop. One eye on the bottom and one squinting into the glare, I alternated between motoring and rowing.
What’s that ahead, is it… crap, it’s a rock! Kill the motor, jerk it up and jump to the oars. Too late!! I rode up on a cone-shaped rock. It lodged up under the area below the right side of the front thwart. The boat pivoted on the rock until I was facing back upstream, with the boat nose-up at about a 30° angle – bucking in the swift current and stuck fast.
My first thoughts were: I’ve hardly gotten started and I just blew it! I’ll be here until someone comes along or I’ll get a hole in the boat. Then I just got pissed and decided I wasn’t going to let this defeat me. I tried the oars but it was a no-go. So, I grabbed the frame up by the cooler and jerked and bounced and bounced and jerked and nothing happened. I caught my breath and cussed and breathed and went back to work – jerk, bounce, jerk, bounce, breathe, jerk, bounce. Is that a shift? Yes, I think so! Jerk, bounce, jerk and I slid free. Gads, was I tired.
I went back to the oars until I got out of this narrow, rocky stretch. Finally the river widened out, the sun sank below the ridgeline and I could motor safely. Fifteen miles down from the end of the road is Spring Bar Campground. I still had daylight and thought about pushing on, but I was totally spent. Plus, camping near here I could use the restroom facilities and not have to break out my Cleanwaste toilet.
I pulled up on a sandbar and threw out my camp gear. I readjusted the motor mount so the motor would ride higher. A gourmet meal of canned chili and beef ramen and I was ready for bed. It dawned on me why I was so totally tired. In the rush to get on my way, learning to use the motor, hitting the rock and striving to make miles in the August heat… I hadn’t been drinking enough water. I’d let myself get dehydrated and had just hit the wall. Dumb rookie stunt.
Up early on Friday and on my way for the 10 miles to Riggins. Ruby Rapid, a high water monster, was mellow but I did stop to take a look at Lake Creek. There were several lines; I picked a conservative one and bumped down through it. Running solo concentrates the mind.
A stop in Riggins for ice, bleach for dishes, candy bars… and burger and fries to go at the Back Eddy Grill. Riggins is a whitewater town so they’re used to seeing scroungy, disreputable-looking folks walk through their door. Stop in when you’re passing through; the food’s good and the people are friendly. You can even get elk and buffalo burgers and tacos and huckleberry shakes.
First course – miso soup. Second course – spring rolls. The third course was whiskey, which seemed like a good idea at the time.
I sat in the willow shade by the boat savoring my burger before casting off. Beautiful day for it. The next 10 miles is called “the Riggins run”, a Class III section that’s the bread-and-butter for the several outfitters that call Riggins home. The several big water pool-and-drop rapids aren’t to be taken lightly, especially when solo. The last time I’d rowed it was three years ago, so I didn’t remember the lines. There were a couple “Oh $&#!” moments, but the black side stayed down. The next 15-20 miles is pretty flat, except for Class IV Blackhawk Rapid, so I could start motoring when the river wasn’t too shallow.
Good thing I enjoy spending time with myself. I had little company except for a few fishermen; then just a nod and a wave. But lordy, the gold dredgers working along the edges of the river! I quit counting after a dozen. These are small suction dredges – a floating platform with a gas engine driven pump that vacuums up sand and gravel and runs the material across a sluice box to capture the heavier gold particles. With the economy in the groover, gold prices have shot through the roof and ignited gold fever.
Lots of wide, shallow stretches so I spent plenty of time on the oars. There was a big sigh of relief when Hammer Creek hove into view at 7:30. Dustin arrived at 8:30, accompanied by Maris, a big super mellow golden retriever, great river companion. Tyler cruised in dark-thirty and we were four.
I count Ty in the top tier of my friends. We carpooled while he worked at NRS and have shared many a river adventure over the years. He’s one of the best boatmen I’ve known and one of the funniest. He’s now working with AIRE Inflatables, down near Boise. Dustin is a super fellow who lives near Whitefish, Montana; he and Ty were college roommates. We’d all boated together last fall on the Rocktoberfest trip. We rigged Dustin’s E-150 raft and Ty’s AIRE Force IK by headlamp, ate food, drank beer and I hit the sack.
As I wrote in the first half of this trip tale, a river journey is one part the river and its rapids and one part the people you share it with. I used the analogy of: river trip = jambalaya. The river and its beautiful surroundings are like the meat and rice – great stuff that can be made into many a good dish. The people you share it with are like the spices and other ingredients that make it a unique dish and experience.
Ty and Dustin are unique folks themselves. Good buddies that share a love of the outdoors, with a fun “let’s make it happen” attitude. They’re both committed boating folks. I know their aptitudes and attitudes; I know I can count on them. We talk a similar talk and see a similar world.
On the water at 8:15 Saturday morning. I love this Green Canyon stretch, the first 10 miles of the Lower. Lots of beautiful beaches and in the spring the green moss on the narrow canyon walls simply glows. We stopped near Shorts Bar and Ty showed us the Native American pictographs. I’d seen them indicated on the map, but never found them before.
After we’d rowed and paddled about eight miles we decided to motor for a while. I pulled on the cranking rope two times… and it broke! I must have cranked that thing 30-40 times over the previous two days and never noticed that it was fraying. We decided we better try and fix this if we were going to finish the trip in three days, without working our butts off. We pulled up on a sandy beach and commenced surgery.
Now I’m not a total klutz when it comes to mechanical things, but it’s not my strong suit. I do, however, carry all kinds of tools in my repair kit; the thing’s heavy enough to serve as a boat anchor. I dug through my other gear and cut off a length of nylon cord I use to hang sun shower bags and got to work. Some two hours later we had the thing back together. The rope didn’t recoil very well but at least we could start the motor.
Down through the Bungholes to White House Bar campsite, which was occupied, so we kept on trucking, with Dustin and Ty trading off between the raft and IK. Bodacious Bounce, Half and Half and the Gobbler – all fun rapids. Ah, then Snow Hole Rapid, the only Class IV rapid at this flow, always worth a scout. There are definitely serious consequences if you’re not in the right spot. We all styled it, then a-hunting camp we did go.
Let me tell you, this camp had class. Dustin had a table from Pottery Barn! Seems when he and his wife got married they got a gift certificate. Being good outdoors lovin’ folks they wondered what they could source out of this citadel of urban desire. Ah, a folding table! Works like a Roll-A-Table, except the slats are bare wood and it only stands about 18″ tall. Makes you think of tatami mats and kimonos. But we had the perfect carpet to set it on – the first sample of the CGear Sand-Free Multimat. This is a neat addition to the camp kitchen – sand filters down through it but food scraps and micro-trash are trapped on its surface.
Now Ty, in addition to being the proud purveyor of putrid puns, is a good cook and an inventive one. He announced a multi-course meal for the night. First course – a miso soup, rich and fragrant. Second course – spring rolls: crisp veggies wrapped in moist transparent rice paper with an exotic dipping sauce, tasty and colorful. The third course was a whiskey one – which seemed like a good idea at the time; digression here occurred. The fourth course, served later, was a spicy curry dish that scoured the palate and delighted the taste buds. Ah, and the fifth course was grilled mango and pineapple, a sweet caramelized dessert served at the perfect 11:00 p.m. hour. Full, happy and blurry-eyed we all found bed by midnight.
Morning came at the appointed hour; activity came at the appropriate one. Much coffee was consumed – courtesy of Ty’s and my AeroPress Coffee Makers and Dustin’s fine Montana-roasted coffee. Breakfast was hummus, pita flatbread, smoked salmon, avocado, tomato, Rondele cheese spread, pineapple and mango. What a way to start the day! We got on the water by 11:15, which felt very appropriate.
It’s a short run from Maloney down to China Rapids, one of the other Lower Salmon biggies. The rapid reminds me of Big Mallard, up on the Main Salmon. If you run it right you don’t get your hair wet; if you screw up, everything gets wet. Where China gets a lot of people, especially first timers, is that it’s right after a sharp left-hand bend. So, the river wants to push you to the right and the “dry run” is hard against the left bank. Now I’m certainly no first timer but this time I rounded the corner a bit too much river center and had to work at getting back left.
It was another beautiful day for boating. The sun was out, a golden eagle put on a show. The motor performed flawlessly and we used it quite a bit. The plan was to camp while still on the Salmon, but close to the confluence with the Snake. Ty had his sights on a campsite just below Eye of the Needle, the last rapid on the river. But right before we got to the rapid we spotted a beach on river left. We pulled in to look it over, drew the rafts up on the sand and decided it looked like home.
Then, Dustin says, “I think your boat has come loose!” Sure enough, the Lady was easing away from the bank without me!
We sat there in the boats and relaxed in the sun, satisfied with a fine 20-mile day and lots of daylight left to enjoy. Now I don’t drink while I’m on the river, but I enjoy a snort when I get to camp. I pulled out a partial jug of icy Toad Juice, a semi-lethal lemonade/limeade/vodka mixture and we passed it around. As we BSed, a couple of small jet boats came up through the rapid and proceeded to do “doughnuts” in the water off our beach.
Everybody was having fun and the longer we sat and sipped the more fun it got. Soon Ty announced, “See that beach across the river? Come hop in Dustin’s boat and I’ll row us up the eddies on this side and we’ll go over and check it out.” Sounded dubious to me but I put my life jacket back on, tied Lady Godiva to a rock and climbed onboard.
There wasn’t one big eddy on our side, just a series of micro-eddies, so Ty worked his butt off to get us upstream far enough to scoot across the current to the other beach. Then, Dustin says, “I think your boat has come loose!” Sure enough, the Lady was easing away from the bank without me!
Obviously I hadn’t picked a good anchor rock and the waves kicked up by the jet boats had probably jogged the boat enough to cause the loop to slip up over the rock. Ty powered back into the current and rushed back. In the rush we didn’t work out a plan.
Ty’s instinct was to nose into the raft and push it to shore; mine was to get on the boat and get back in control. He powered into the boat, while at the same time I jumped for it. My timing was off; I missed and went into the water. The oars were swept forward, resting behind the handle ends of my spares, so I struggled to find a spot to get back on board. When I did, a jet boat with bikini-clad ladies (even in the chaos I could observe that) appeared. One of the nymphs grabbed my bow rope and attempted to tie it to their boat. Knot tying didn’t seem to be in her skill set because the rope came loose as soon as they applied power.
I’m drifting toward the rapid and no way am I going to be able to row back to our beach. The motor is my only option. I jumped back, dropped it down, adjusted the throttle and pulled on the starter rope. Nothing. Didn’t fire and didn’t recoil. Damn. Eye of the Needle loomed; I jumped to the oars, squared it up and hit the violent, sharp drop. Of course I knew there was a campsite just below; that had been our original destination, so I hauled into it.
Beached, I was able to catch my breath and take it all in. I was immediately disgusted with myself. The booze was my idea and it led to the whole chain of events. It put a damper on my evening and made me take stock. If anything positive came of this fiasco, it was to reinforce why I don’t drink while on the water. I was eventually able to quit beating myself up and resolve to learn from this stupidity.
Tyler, Dustin and Maris came down to join me. While Dustin started supper and Ty spotted the groover, I went back to motor repair. After a bit of fiddling, tinkering and wrenching, I determined that we were screwed. One little part was defeating my efforts. There’s a “star-shaped” lock washer that fits under the nut that caps the recoil mechanism. One of the ear tabs on the washer has to be bent up against a flat on the nut and another bent down into a keyway on the recoil spring, to lock the spring in place. I had taken the darn thing apart so many times all but two of the ear tabs had broken off. The two remaining ones were about to go. I gave up and decreed us motor-less.
Dustin cooked up a tasty pasta dish, flavored in part from the first half of my journey. Before I left Carey Creek, Brian gifted me a package of elk sausage and some of it went into the pasta. We were a more subdued group this evening. Or rather, I was. When I hit the Paco Pad, Ty and Dustin were still up visiting.
Since Ty and Dustin had long roads to get home we didn’t dally on Sunday morning. It’s 20 miles from the Salmon/Snake River confluence to the Heller Bar takeout, and it’s a slow-current 20. Now, when a motor would have really been nice, we were strictly arm-stronging it. Our early start allowed us get about half way to Heller before the upstream wind kicked up. After that it got to be a real slog.
When I have to do a lot of rowing in relatively calm water I can really get in a zone. Hundreds and hundreds of repetitive motions – forward strokes until that set of muscles gets tired, then turn around and back stroke until that gets old. When I’m by myself it can get quite meditative. Some part of my sensory awareness checks for obstacles and current threads that can ease the rowing, but it’s almost at a subconscious level. When I caught up to them at one point, Ty shouted that we were at Lime Point, just above Heller. Several miles had gone by and I could only vaguely remember details of the journey.
210 miles in 10 days, and about 140 of them in the past four days. Yep, I was tired, but a good tired. After a trip I often think of all the energy expended – gathering gear, loading gear, unloading gear, miles and miles of rowing, setting up and breaking camp. If we didn’t eat so well, I’d probably lose weight doing this!
We loaded up our gear, handshakes and man-hugs all around, a scratch to Maris’ ears, “let’s do this again soons!” and we were off to our respective other lives.
Damn, I do love this river life.
Boat Often, Boat Safe, Hope to Meet You On the Water.
My encounter with the rock, early in this tale, didn’t leave a mark on Lady Godiva’s bottom. However, I did find a nickel-size spot where the outer coating had been rubbed away. From the look, it was caused by the boat rocking overnight against a submerged rock, rather than from a single hit. So, alas, the Lady has her first patch. Kind of like getting the first scratch on a new car. But not bad, considering the hundreds of miles we’ve journeyed together over the past almost six years.