Winter Boating in Our Backyard


ErinTeam NRS paddler Erin Clancey got a rare chance to paddle some of the local runs in our backyard in December. For many of you, local winter boating is a given, but in our cold climate, it’s a truly blog-worthy event! 

Usually by December it’s too cold to have water in any of the drainages around the Palouse, but early this month it was fairly warm (~45 degrees), and it rained. The Potlatch peaked at just over 1000 cfs, Lolo Creek came in, and the Salmon River at Whitebird came up to about ~15000 cfs. So, of course, I took advantage of paddling locally around Moscow (home of NRS) in the first week of December!

It wouldn’t be local Palouse boating if it wasn’t a bit of a mission!

On Tuesday, my friends Paul Singer, Travis Cowles and I ran Potlatch Canyon. It was a little on the low side (3.1 ft on the gauge at Boulder Creek), but we didn’t want to go in there with high water because we had no idea about the wood. Amazingly enough, the run was free of wood, EXCEPT in Coleman Falls. The right line (sneak line) now has a big log in the last drop on the river right side. Now you either have to portage or run the left side. You can portage on the left easily at flows in the three-foot range, but I’m not sure if that is possible at flows over four feet. I had actually never run the left drop at the bottom of Coleman, but it’s really fun. Travis and I ran through the far left slot in the lead-in and then made the turn right in front of the rooster tail coming off the big rock in the center of the river. It was pretty easy at that flow even though it was a little shallow (I’m sure it’s better with more water). Everything else below Coleman was good to go. We did the two-mile hike out – and I still honestly enjoy hiking out of the canyon. It wouldn’t be local Palouse boating if it wasn’t a bit of a mission!

Coleman Falls Wood-png
The log in the bottom right drop at Coleman Falls.
The left line on the bottom drop at Coleman Falls.

The next day I was lucky enough to hit Demon’s Wave on the Lower Salmon. It was a little low (~11500 cfs), but still in. I went down and surfed by myself for a few hours in the afternoon and paddled out just before dark. It was beautiful down in the canyon. Nobody else was around, and it was a gorgeous sunset.

Then, on Thursday, Paul and I went in to Lolo Creek. The gauge on the bridge at the put-in was reading 2.5 feet, so, again, a bit low, but good because there was only the two of us and we had no idea where we would run into wood. Lolo Creek is also a bit of a mission because it is 15 miles long, and in December, we are short on daylight. We had to portage Zigzag because of wood. Then there were a few other logs we had to walk around in random spots, but nothing that was not easy to see while boat scouting. In one of the bigger sections between Zigzag and Big Schmidt (sorry, no formal name for these rapids), Paul ended up swimming. He was fine, but we ended up loosing his paddle. As we learned the hard way, a key piece of creeking equipment is a breakdown paddle. Paul actually had NRS Propulsion Gloves (which worked great!!), but a breakdown would have been ideal. He did really well, but he still had to portage all the big rapids, and we still had a long way to go. There were a few more portages in the section above Big Schmidt, but Big Schmidt itself was clear of wood. I ran the center line at the top of Big Schmidt, which I had never done before. Boofing the flake is super fun!! The next drop below Big Schmidt had a tree in it; you could probably get around it, but we decided to portage. Everything else was good to go! It was almost dark when we got to Landslide, so we just walked around and hurried to the takeout. For a day of creeking on the Palouse in December and loosing a paddle, it went really well. We had positive attitudes the entire time, made good decisions about portaging, and dealt with every problem. All in all, it was still a good day on the river. Now that it’s snowing, it’s time to ski (or to start training when the Trailer Park Wave comes back in)!!!

Sorry, no photos of Lolo Creek, but you can find info about Lolo on the American Whitewater website: http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River/detail/id/572/