I answered this question 3 times yesterday to friends who "won" June Middle Fork trips and decided to write the following blog post. I would love feedback from anyone before I publish it. Enjoy!
Title: June Trips on the Middle Fork of the Salmon
June is a great time to visit the Middle Fork of the Salmon, but also very unpredictable so here are some tips to help you plan your trip.
<h3>Snowpack and Water Flows</h3>
You'll probably check the snowpack almost every day from now until your trip. I use the Banner Summit Snow Station page (Snow Station Information - BANNER SUMMIT
) which tells you how this year compares to and "average" year.
You'll also probably be checking the flows every day for the month preceding your trip. Most people use the Northwest River Center MF Salmon - Near Stanley ((MIDI1) MF SALMON--NEAR STANLEY Station Summary
) web page. It has flow prediction which I tell people is "for entertainment purposes only" since it's a good guideline but not terrible accurate.
I consider a snowpack between 80% and 120% of average a pretty typical year. The river will likely peak sometime the first week of June and get up to 6 or 8 feet. A few really experienced groups will get on the water and have a great time, a number of unexperienced groups will cancel their trips, and a few unexperienced groups will go and have some sort of major problem. The second half of June is likely to be great.
If the snowpack is higher than 120% of normal then expect higher flows for a long period of time with a peak at 8 feet or higher. When this happens the whole month of June could see high water.
It's important to note two things that typically happen and throw a wrench in trip planning.
1. We have a normal snowpack (80% to 120%) through March but a cold, wet spring and the snowpack jumps to 150% of normal plus.
2. We have a huge snowpack (120% and higher) followed by a warm spring and an early snowmelt peak in May. Flows in June end up being normal or even lower than normal.
So no matter how many times you check the snowpack and flows, your big decisions will happen a week or even a couple days before you actually launch.
<h3>The Road to Boundary</h3>
When the snowpack is high the road to Boundary can be closed in early June. Sometimes the Forest Service plows the road early and sometimes and intrepid group of paddlers goes in with shovels and opens the road. Again, you'll be checking the message boards every day waiting to hear when the road is confirmed to be open.
If the road isn't open, here are you options:
1. Fly everything into Indian Creek and start your trip there. Most groups don't want to pay the money for the flights and/or miss the first 25 miles so they choose the more difficult and dangerous second option.
2. Launch your boats on Marsh Creek. You can paddle down Marsh Creek down to Boundary Creek in a day. This section is continuous and often full of wood so this option should only be attempted by experts. At flows higher than 4 feet this section becomes much more continuous and dangerous. If you choose run Marsh Creek you'll have to either run the Class V Dagger Falls or portage it. At flows above 5 feet most people portage it - which is no easy task.
The first group down Marsh Creek each year typically reports back about the wood situation here. Before you go please search out and find this information.
In June the flows are higher making for a more dangerous experience. The most dangerous part is the first 20 miles where the river is the steepest and recovery from a flip or swim is very difficult. Here are general notes about flows.
- 3 - 4 feet: this is the sweet spot! The whitewater is great and here are eddies to catch along the way.
- 4 - 5.5 feet: things start getting real with some bigger holes and moves that need to be made. There are still eddies but they are harder to catch.
- 5.5 - 7 feet: this is where there are very few eddies in the first 20 miles. The moves are all Class IV but there is little room for mistakes. A flip or a swim can be very difficult to recover from. Your group should be full of solid Class IV boaters who know each other and work as a team. There should also be a few people who know the river well.
- 7 feet and higher: You should be solid experts who know the river well and want to be challenged. It's common to have logs coming down the river at these flows.
If you've made it through the first 20 miles with style then you'll love the rest of the river which will have plenty more big rapids but with more recovery room in between rapids.