No western river trip starts at the launch site, and neither does this trip report. You have to get to Idaho from Arkansas first. 80% of ARG (Arkansas Raft Guides) and its affiliate, the Pete Rose “Banned for Life” Division, drove out. Members on the drive included the Cap’n, Ranger Rick, me and Marcell (who is banned but that could change). Lippo (Branson Division) flew into Missoula. The Cap’n, Rick and I got a telephone scolding on the road from Dr. Cindybob about being too cocky and hard on Marcell and Branson Boy. Her unexpected criticism stunned us all, but hit me hardest as I was still trying to recover from the salad selections at Applebees that caused me to throw a major pout (and my menu) in Pocatello the night before. We had gotten our dobbers down before the trip even started. We needed something to lift our spirits. What we needed were some new hats.
Master Hatter Roy Jackson at Jaxbilt Hat Company
in Salmon, ID had just the right medicine, and didn’t seem to mind that we blocked his entire driveway with Rick’s truck and trailer. Everybody but Cap’n Tightwad participated in the straw cowboy hat buying spree, with Rick’s hat band (a red double tassel cavalry style (shown here
in yellow) costing more than the hat). With our egos back where they needed to be we bought 32 blocks of ice at the Save More and additional gin, etc. at the lone liquor store in Salmon, and headed to the North Fork Store to buy quarts (because they didn’t have “40s") for the last leg of the drive.
Permit Holder Laura Timby gathered the MAXIMUM number of boaters allowed on a Selway River permit at the Paradise Camp put-in on July 9 and quickly (but thoughtfully) made cooking team assignments. (she didn’t actually use the team designations listed below – the teams just kind of named themselves (or I just kind of named them))
Laura and Dave, Jim “Lippo," "Jim Bob," "Branson Boy," etc. Mitchell and Marcell “Marcellus” Jones
Team Eat Water:
Walter and Gayle Felton, Bruce Bird and Bob Moffitt
Paul and Judy McCune, Dave Smallwood and Gil “Tin Man” Wooten
Team Big Water:
Stewart “Cap’n Downstream” Noland and me (the 2 founding members of Team Big Water), plus Ranger Rick Ramsay (the addition of Rick was an obvious choice – excellence attracts excellence) and Dave Phillips (Laura’s selection of Dave for Team Big Water was not one of those excellence things – it was more of an let's-even-things-up-in-fairness-to-the-other-teams kind of thing)
ARG, no matter how hard it tries to humble itself and melt into the crowd, cannot just walk around like flatlanders when on the banks of a river like the Selway. There were the cowboy hats, the cocky catchphrases (“Bigger is Better,” "Has anyone seen my high blood pressure medicine?"), and the appearance of swagger (which was actually just us hopping over sticks, shadows and everything else slinky looking, afraid we were about to step on a rattlesnake). The presence of ARG at full strength created a palpable if unspoken tension in the camp.
The tension quickly manifested itself and things started to turn ugly: aprons surfaced featuring “ARG” inside a circle with a diagonal line across it (the universal “no” sign); the swashbuckling symbols of ARG (the pirate and the parrot) were mocked by giant blow up dolls, eye patches, hats and costumes. And how did ARG respond? By upgrading raft sizes in spite of the relatively low water to sacrifice for the common good of the group. Team PH quieted the dissension by grilling fabulous rib eyes that, along with red wine, put everyone to sleep.
Despite the water conditions at the top, ARG graciously agreed to bring 32 blocks of ice (requiring two 120 quart coolers) and two York packers full of gin, vodka, margarita mix, a margarita machine, tonic, limes, extra vodka, extra gin, an emergency supply of beer, an emergency supply of margaritas, and my emergency supply of Makers Mark. Cap’n D decided he would need to carry two coolers (1 food, 1 ice) so he supersized to a 16’ Avon; someone else also needed to carry a cooler of ice so Phillips rowed a 14’ Avon instead of a Super Puma, and Rick borrowed Gayle’s 14’ Maravia (thinking back it’s hard to remember EXACTLY why this was a sacrifice for the common good of the group, but for the purposes of this trip report this was a courageous and heroic act nonetheless). The weight of all that ice, liquor drinks, and liquor drink accessories had us discarding less essential gear (i.e. tents, warm clothing, hiking boots, camp chairs, etc.)
Walter and Gayle also graciously agreed to “go bigger” and row their 16’ Maravia in order to haul even less essential group gear (stoves, rocket boxes, the kitchen, kitchen tables, kitchen sinks, range, self-cleaning oven, solar power generator, and other inter-related parts of their kitchen system).
Dave and Laura rowed a 14’ Maravia; Paul and Judy a 14’ Aire; Marcell a 14’ Hyside; Bob and Bruce R2ed a Puma; Smallwood, Lippo and I all rowed Super Pumas; and Tin Man paddled his (ugh) kayak. That made a total of 11 rafts and 1 hard boat.
Day 1. After Cap’n D and I managed to wrestle the two coolers of ice weighing about 150 lbs apiece down the launch ramp, among other stuff toted by everyone (stuff like rafts and things), we loaded the boats and took off on Friday afternoon. We headed for Waldo Bar, 5 miles downstream. The river was a little bony. There were 3 Class IIIs that were pretty routine, except for my Super Puma run through Washer Woman (that Gil critiqued from an eddy below the drop “If you were trying to find every way possible to screw that up without flipping you were pretty successful.”)
The first day was otherwise uneventful except for The Incident at Waldo Bar.
Paul, perhaps inspired by ARG’s many examples of sacrifice for the common good of the group, apparently decided that a large rock at the edge of the water in front of the camp posed a risk to anyone trying to land a boat. His solution was to attack it at its sharpest point with his shin. Things like rocks and sand stakes usually win those kinds of fights. The puncture wound was bad, but everyone pitched in at this point. The major contributions were the wilderness medical expertise and experience of Walter and Laura and ice from ARG for the cold pack. ARG also set up the cocktail table. The camp soon returned to normal. If dinner was delayed it was only slightly. I saw a rattlesnake while Stewart and I walked upstream to fish. The end result was that Paul managed to land his boat on the rocks and landed himself in sick bay and on the 24 hour disabled list.
Ranger Rick and Clair (aka the TroutBitch) have a tent they call the Taj. It is a structure so massive that it is visible from the space shuttle. Rick brought a slightly smaller tent, dubbed the Tajette, that will sleep 3 and … well, it will sleep 3. After we left my tent in the truck to free up space for more ice, The Tajette became the home of Rick, Stewart and me for the next 6 nights (please remember that we are all happily married men). It was even an educational experience for Rick, as I apparently demonstrated a new method of snoring (he may be 0-1 against sand stakes at Mackay Bar, but his saw mill imitation is legendary throughout Idaho).
Day 2. Out of an over abundance of caution Cap’n D picked up Paul as a passenger. Big props to Bob Moffitt for rowing Paul’s raft and Judy for jumping in the paddle raft with Bruce. At Cougar Flats the necessity of rowing a large raft to haul all that bulky, heavy and essential group gear clashed with low water conditions in a rapid that was a better fit for a Super Puma. The big 16' Maravia high centered on a rock. I stopped just downstream and walked back a short way. Walter and Gayle weren’t able to get it unpinned despite trying every trick in the book. I threw them a rope but couldn’t pull the raft off the rock by myself. Cap’n Downstream parked on the opposite side of the river and watched with a 75’ rope from about 80’ away. Marcell, Jim Bob and Ranger Rick arrived and the 4 of us were able to provide enough hard pulls (one of which nearly cut off Gayle’s circulation) that with Walter’s leverage on an oar the raft finally became unstuck (at this point let me interject that it is simply untrue that ARG is Latin for “dedicated to the common good”). The rest of the run included Goat Creek (Class IV-) that was huge fun for all the boats (about 6 or 7 “Piney moves” that were easy enough as long as you saw what you needed to do and didn’t hesitate). We camped that night at White Tail Flats. The ARG cocktail table, complete with endless ice, Ranger Rick's margarita machine, etc., was a popular spot as Team Eat Water cooked what may have been my favorite meal of the trip – spaghetti and meat sauce.
Day 3. Paul was back at the oars of his raft. Ham, a Class IV rapid at the end of the section, had bigger rocks and drops than Goat Creek, but maybe not quite as many. We camped that night at Tony Point.
Knowing we had a layover day tomorrow and 4 Class IVs coming up the day after that, the cocktail hour the first night at Tony Point was particularly liquid. I don't think anyone would disagree that I contributed mightily by accomplishing the rare happy hour equivalent of hitting for the cycle (margaritas, gin and juice, vodka tonic, and the very finest box red wine available at ANY* supermarket in Salmon, ID).
* also the only supermarket in Salmon, ID.
(Part II, The Hike From Hell
, to follow)