June Middle Fork: Making The Tough Call And High Water.

Twenty Five miles down from Boundary Creek, the normal put in for the Middle Fork Salmon, is the airstrip and boat ramp at Indian Creek.  The ECHO raft crew, our outfitter on these trips, had flown in on July 24th, the day before our scheduled launch to begin rigging. This turned out to be the same day of this year’s spring peak which measured 7.2 ft or 10,500 cfs at the gauge located ten miles downstream of them. A normal flow for this time of year is closer to 3.0 ft.

Plane, dybags, kayaks,loading
Preparing to load gear into the plane for the flight to Indian creek.

As they rigged the crew saw other outfitters deadheading , bringing rafts without passengers down from Boundary Creek. They would pick up their guests at the Indian Creek airstrip and continue on. Of the groups running from the top most had tales of at least one raft in their party flipping. At those flows an upside down boat can go miles before you find an eddy large enough to push it into.  Meanwhile, downstream, two private groups located in and around the Flying B ranch had called it quits and flew out.  A forest service crew in rafts said their gps had shown them going 16 mph through the Artillery section just upstream of Pistol.

Middle Fork Salmon, Indian Creek.
The ramp at Indian Creek.

We originally had twelve folks for our June 25th start and had begun calling them two weeks out to let them know things might be high.  One week out, when it looked like the peak runoff was delayed and would fall on or near our launch date we canceled.

That didn’t keep some of us from tracking the melt. Just shy of using a fortune-teller we were studying the Salmon drainage carefully; snow/water content, weather, freeze/ thaw, NOAA and USGS projections and historical flows were all consulted to try to come up with a reasonable guestamet of what and when the peak would be. In the end we weren’t far off.

Kayak, Tent, Middle Fork Salmon
Camp at Little Soldier.

With just two days left before our launch we were on again.  On the morning of the 25th nine of us flew from Salmon, ID with seven kayaks and all our bags to join the other guides at Indian Creek. There would be strong five kayaking guests, one raft passenger and five guides; two of those were Mary and myself in kayaks.

Here’s Mary’s list of notable moments from the trip.

Flying into Indian Creek at mile 25- wow! and how much snow!
Paddling 2 miles then hike up to the mine at Pungo and lunch

First Camp at Mile 31- 6 miles from Indian to Little Soldier Camp on river right, all green in the upper part of the river. Colleen’s pineapple-upside-down cake.
Next day handing off the radio to the rafts at Marble. Running down the right at Ski Jump, after the log that stuck out from shore. Sunflower hot springs
Passing the Middle Fork Lodge gauge, lunch at Cameron with the pictographs, pit dwellings and obsidian point that Colleen showed us. Morlee tests her roll in the eddy from hell. Decides she won’t flip any more.

A full-flowing Loon Creek above the gorge and hot springs.

Second night at Mile 49- Loon, checking out the creek on the hike up to the bridge, the hot springs, steak dinner!
Next day we have rapids!! Continuous wave trains from Grouse through the Tappans.

Third night at Mile 60- arriving at Camas for lunch/camp and hiking up the creek and/or up the ridge. gofer snake doing laps around camp.
Next day we stop at Flying B for ice cream, run Bernard and Haystack, and the lonnngggg BIG, wavetrains of Jack Creek into camp.

Salmon river at Camas Creek
A view looking upstream on the Middle Fork at Camas Creek camp.

Mile 71.5- Little Pine Camp river left with the 360 view including a view back up to Flying B. A “concurred” siting of a blue grouse on the hike. Shade tarp in camp. sheep and lambs stroll through.
Next day we get a taste of “boily, boily, boily” water. Steve tests his roll and decides Morlee’s got it right, and he won’t flip anymore either. Hike to top of Waterfall Creek and lunch at the confluence with Big Creek. Rattle snake at our tie-up spot. The microburst and the 15 ft high water spout! So funny with us all sitting geared up on shore! Catching just 2 eddies after lunch, the first after 4.5 miles of continuous waves and just above Redside, the second eddy being camp at Cradle! Happy to find both Redside and Weber BIG but no holes or hits. Mist Falls coming in on the right below Weber. “More boily, boily, boily” water. How can that boily stuff travel 10 miles an hour? Arn and Phil compute this speed.

Camas Creek rapid
A nasty looking drop just up from camp on Camas Creek.

Mile 88.5- The waterfall across from Cradle Camp.  “Concurred” Cedar Waxwings congregated in the dead tree. Last night’s camaraderie and no one wants to fold. Microburst sends us scurrying and we wonder if Tom and his tent will pull a Mary Poppins!
Next day a “leisure” start with Lower Cliffside as our wake-up rapid, what a start to an amazing day! 7 miles in 40 minutes to the bottom of all the big stuff. The rapids flowed one into the next and we didn’t catch many eddies because of the weird-water- Rubber, Hancock, Devil’s Tooth, House Rock, Jump-Off- more “boily, boily, boilys” down to the confluence with the Main, and then more “boily, boily, boilys”.

Kayak group Middle Fork

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