MFS ELF trip report Oct2-9
A few Photos are here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?...1&l=4c6a62d484
We drove up from Poky on October 2. The flow was around 1.45. It was a three person trip + a dog. We took a 15’ cat, a tomcat solo IK and running shoes. The plan was to allow one person to run the middle fork trail and one to row and one to paddle. We would all swap out on half day intervals and take 8 days to complete the trip.
Andrea ran the entire first day, just to trail flats at mile 7ish. There were tentative plans to meet at velvet but the trail wasn’t really near the river and she missed it. Joey ran the IK and I rowed the cat.
The cat was lightly loaded by most standards. 1 drybox of food and kitchen and misc required gear. 1 drybox of fishing gear, a shotgun, ammo, repair, pump and tent. 2 captain boxes with day use stuff and 3 medium drybags. We took a gamma bucket for a groover despite having a jonny partner available. I would guess the gear load at 200 lbs. For water we just took a few Nalgenes and steripens. Kitchen was backpacker style, food was zero cooler.
We arrived at the ramp around 1:00 and launched within 90 minutes. Nobody else was around. It was warm and rowing I wore chacos, trunks and a LS tech shirt. Joey wore a drysuit in the IK. We nailed all the lines but weren’t pushing by any means. I had stopped and fished and spun in the eddy at Murph’s hole for a while.
The first few rapids were challenging but with a light cat I straddled, spun, slimed and shimmied through the gaps and found just enough water between rocks. Hitting a lot of rocks was inevitable; just choose the right rocks to hit. Often it was an exercise in patience to leave the oars up until there was water to dip them in for a quick pull.
Just after Sulphur Slide we came across another group. This was surprising because nobody had been at the launch meaning they had a minimum of a 90 minute head start and we caught them in 3~ miles. I assumed they were fishing. NOPE. I asked where they were camping so we could avoid that site. “The next available site”. They looked tired. I asked about their condition and equipment and they assured us they were good to go. We cruised on. The group was 2 rafts and a packraft. I think there were 4 people. Their load looked ‘medium’ the usual dryboxes, cooler, pile of drybags in the back but not much up front. I would guess a 15’ and 16’ raft.
We pushed on uneventfully to trail flat stopping to fish a bit and take pictures and chat before each major rapid (boulder maze). Andrea had beat us there by 90 minutes. We probably averaged 2-3MPH she averaged about 5-6. Camp was lovely and we took pictures of the milkyway from the hot pool. This would prove to be our shortest day on the water.
Day 2- 13 miles
I started as the runner. The trail was in OK condition. Chutes gave the cat a hard time and a minor wrap cost 30 minutes. I forgot about chutes or I might have stuck around longer. As it was I ran the trail and fished the deep holes. Fishing was OK. I carried a collapsible spinning rod and a few crimped lures. I always break at least one point off for easier removal and, of course, crimp the barbs. The fish were gathered in the deep pools and there were fewer than usual and they were more wary than usual, but bigger.
I met the group at powerhouse and took pics. We had lunch at Joe Bump. Andrea and Joey had swapped rowing/paddling already. I jumped on as passenger with the dog to see how the dog would do on the cat. He has had mixed results on boats.
This was a mistake. The next few miles were really rough. The extra weight on the cat made it just deep enough to grab 1000% more rocks and lost enough maneuverability to make a huge difference. I bailed out after a couple miles to the kayak and let Joey manhandle the pig. Progress slowed to maybe 1mph through artillery and we pulled into mile 19 Dolly lake pretty late. It took a long day to do 12 miles. Much of the cat day was 1 person walking it through shallows and bruising shins to get back on quickly.
We decided there would be no more passengers until more water showed up.
We also gained sympathy for the group we passed. Their loads must have made making mileage really tough. Even taking 50lbs off made a big difference for us. Having the option to take 200+ lbs off and run was a world of difference. The skill level was pretty irrelevant if loaded. It was just a drag.
I have never caught a decent fish out of dolly lake but just a few casts in I took a nice cutthroat out of the exit riffles and called it a success. Ironically I caught dollies in most of the other deep pools, but not this one.
Day 3- 18 miles
Joey ran from dolly to indian creek. He didn’t beat us by a ton. Andrea and I swapped row/paddle duties every hour or so. We made good time. At IC I checked in with the ranger. She made us boat tags and checked our required equipment (a first for me in October, it has always just been a quick nod “you look like you have it together”). We selected camps but were told that we didn’t have to actually stay there, just let them know if we missed so they could compile accurate use stats. We selected one long day and the ranger was dubious of our abilities.
The group we had passed at mile 3 had flown in more people and gear. They were screwed. They had already satellite called the ranger to tell them they would be late in the day, and perhaps a day late. One passenger who flew in was wearing designer jeans and knee high leather boots. It went well with her performance shirt though. I have no idea how this group was going to make the miles in 8 days. It does get easier after IC but not “lets add 500lbs” easier.
There was only 1 other group on the river- Jerry just taking off. I didn’t see any other scheduled launches. We had our choice of sites. It takes a special kind of person to run the MFS in October.
We left after about an hour. I took over running duties. About 3 minutes out of the ranger station I made a wrong turn up indian creek instead of across the bridge and spent 90 minutes mildly lost. Our goal was Sunflower Hot Spring, just 9 more miles so I wasn’t concerned. I continued to fish spinners and caught nice fish out of marble, ski jump and a few other deep spots. I spent probably 3 hours fishing along the way. The boats beat me to camp by a lot. We spent the evening soaking and getting that patented sunflower shower massage.
Day 4- 18 miles
Andrea ran the morning shift. Things were pretty uneventful to lunch. We got water at culver creek and ate at the next beach. Then chukars appeared. I rowed Joey across and he harvested a couple birds for dinner. A&J then hunted the next couple benches without success while I figured out that the fish would still rise to big dry flies. Nothing had been rising so we didn’t bother. But they were still looking and I had a blast on my 3wt rod pulling in 12-15” cuts.
We made loon creek camp and were setting up when joey spotted and shot a grouse. Then chukars flew across the river so we went a got a few more. While looking for good firewood I found more grouse and we made a feast out of it.
We spent the evening roasting birds and watching the fire dance and ended with a late soak up at the hot spring under perfectly clear skies.
Day 5- 23 Miles
In the morning everything was frozen but we had a long day planned so we chipped off the ice and pressed on. Joey ran first and Andrea rowed. I ‘perfected’ my IK fishing skills to hospital bar where I flipped and lost a rod. Luckily it was a cheap one and we had spares. Sadly it sits in the river. Enough creeks had contributed to the river that we had a passenger spot for a while. This was perhaps another mistake.
Tappan falls had a very narrow entrance leading to rocks, it was not really possible to run it clean. Cove creek rapid also had a super narrow entrance the led to inevitable rocks and a minor pin. It didn’t cost much time but certainly dinged frames and boxes. Most of the day was just us pushing through more flat water than I recalled. At flying B we filled water and bought jerkey. We debated taking airplane camp because it was getting late but a cold wind was exiting jack creek canyon and it felt like a swamp cooler.
We knew we were committed to several more miles as we entered jack creek canyon. It was cold in the canyon but the rapids were fun. Andrea and I swapped rowing duties to stay warm. Joey paddled the kayak and got chilly. The trail looked tough so we stuck with a passenger. It wasn’t too technical so it worked OK. But I noticed how much slower rowing the flats was with a passenger and dog. Probably half speed. We pushed late to grassy flats I and made a surprisingly warm camp. We essentially chose the opposite of what a summer trip chooses in a camp. Open, sunny, lots of evening sun and preferably morning sun. We had passed some tempting sites that were nice camps but shady. This was a very long day. Someone should have run from Tappan to flying B.
Day 6- 7 miles
We had pushed so long the day before partly to extend our time at Big Creek. Joey and I both ran to Big Creek while Andrea rowed with the kayak attached. Every time I turned the corner and saw her it looked like she was broadside and tipped up on a pin rock because of the kayak. We fished big creek, I stuck with dry flies but Joey pulled the biggest fish of the trip out of a pool with a spinner. After several hours we went to Elk Bar. It was a bit shady but still warm. We collected more chukars along the way and ate well.
Day 7- 10 miles
The goal was to get to otter bar. I had never camped so low and we wanted a short final day. After debating taking other camps we stayed the course and landed at Otter. The rapids were fairly easy in a light boat. Joey styled them in and IK. The pools between rapids were really slow and we rowed more than I am used to. I mostly fished though. It was a beautiful camp with soft sand, a ton of firewood and lots of fish. We slept under the stars and enjoyed enough late sun to take a river shower.
Day 8- 10 miles
We actually set alarms and when we woke at 7 it was still very dark. We ate in the dark by headlamp and burned the last few drops of fuel and ate the last few bites of food. Pretty much nailed the packing job. By 8:30 we launched and I rowed a couple of the bigger rapids and handed the sticks to Andrea. We saw our driver above Cramer and he took pics through there. We were at the ramp about 90 minutes as we tore down, dried and loaded the truck. We drove past the confluence for a final look at the MFS by noon.
Our driver Ben brought potato salad, smoked ribs and baked beans. Money can’t buy these services.
Reflections on an ELF trip
Don’t let the number trick you. There is a HUGE difference between 1.7’ and 1.4’ on the gauge. Look at the CFS. It is my guess that we launched on less than 200 CFS.
Leave it home. We packed light (no cooler, no chairs, no real kitchen, no groover system, light fire pan, etc) but to do it again I would go lighter still. Less fishing gear, no hunting vest, fewer ‘summer’ clothes, maybe 1 camera instead of 2. Might even leave the paco pad for a thermarest. Gasp.
Running/hiking was super fun. I really enjoyed my trail time and it was a great way to lighten the raft.
An IK was really entertaining. A beginner could do it. self-support is an option for sure, drysuits mandatory. It would be way easier to make miles.
The difference in having a lightly loaded and a slightly overloaded boat is slim. Too heavy boats were not fun. The days with passengers were the worst. We moved half speed with passengers.
There were no outfitters. There just wasn’t enough water to run a loaded boat. A sweep would be utterly screwed in tappan and cove creek
The Leidecker guide book (while excellent)just doesn’t apply at this ELF. There are infinitely more tricky spots and some of the low water suggested lines dry up. It doesn’t make sense to write the guide book to the .1% who run below 1.5’, I get it. Just don’t rely on the guide too heavily. Read and run, scout as necessary.
The fall colors were awesome.
The fishing was slower but the fish were bigger. I enjoyed it but someone looking to catch 50+ per day would be disappointed. All the fish were in pools or unusual places. I had to alter my game drastically.
Know your limits. This is a wilderness river and you can get seriously screwed back there. Be in good physical shape and be prepared to work your tail off. I thought the other group we saw was just unprepared for the physical rigor of the trip, they looked beat down.
The days are short. We were up at dawn and often grabbed camp at sunset. We really only got 10 hours of light and it was never hot. Drysuits were the norm all day on the water. We had to dry tents and clothes strategically each day. Efficiency was key. But we slept well and long.
There was a lot of wood. Surprisingly there were some fresh blowouts and random wood. Nothing dangerous but there was just more noise than usual to look out for. More things on the radar.
An ELF trip isn’t for everyone. Bring you A game, leave your gear home and expect to work your tail off.