Lower Salmon Trip Report and Shout Out
I wanted to send a shout out to all those on the Buzz who helped inspire me to lead a group of fairly green boaters and their families down the Lower Salmon. When I joined this forum in 2013 I had asked for advice on getting into rafting with the goal of eventually getting my wife and kids out on multi-day trips. I have since heeded a lot of your advice and by my count have logged over 300 river miles on multi-days, and many more on day trips. This trip was my first as trip leader responsible for all the planning and organizing a fairly large group, including 7 kids age 7 to 13. By the way, I wrote up a post yesterday that somehow disappeared - so if it magically pops up, forgive me for being redundant.
We ended up running from Pine Bar to Heller at flows of around 3300 CFS. I was somewhat concerned going with such low flows, but in the end I think it worked out as the slower flows were forgiving for the newer boaters and no one got stuck or wrapped. I was happy that we put in at Pine Bar - first off it is a pretty nice camp and we had it all to ourselves. Secondly, it allowed the first day to be mellow class 2, giving me the opportunity to assess the skills of the other boaters and do some teaching. The first night we camped at a nice sandy beach above Packer's Creek. It was a great spot but the only one we had any issue with bees (1 sting).
The second day launched us into some of the more notable rapids which, I realize, are not much for more experienced boaters. The first class 3 was Bodacious Bounce, which we quickly scouted (the BLM recommends scouting at flows < 4 K) - really it was just a fun wave train with no obvious exposed rocks. One kid got bounced out of the boat but was quickly pulled in by her mom. The next class 3 was Half and Half which we boat scouted from the eddy on river right. The river was moving so slowly it was easy for everyone - though if you didn't go left you would likely get stuck (I've seen some folks on You Tube go right at higher levels). Finally, we got to Snow Hole, the rapid I had been losing a little sleep over in the week prior to the trip, not being sure how well the newer boaters would take direction and follow my lead. We scouted it hard and I made sure everyone knew exactly where to enter and what boat angle to use. The boat from Minam is still wrapped on river left and looking ragged. At these low flows, it is hard to imagine how this could happen (no criticism implied) - I suspect at higher flows things are moving so much faster that you could get pulled in if you do not ferry to river right fast enough. I am sure there are various ways to run Snow Hole but it seemed following the downstream V on river right, angling your stern to the left and letting the current do all the work was the ticket. This is a little nerve wracking as the current seems to be pushing you straight into the big, ugly, mossy rock at the bottom - yet at the last minute the current pushes you to the left. Your instinct is to start ferrying to the left as you descend but to do so lines you up to hit another ugly, huge rock in the left part of the wave train. One of my friends did this but was able to correct at the last minute. As it turns out, the moms ended up walking the kids around Snow Hole - the one kid who had been tossed out at Bodacious was a little freaked. Other than some boulder hopping, it wasn't so bad but I suspect, as some had mentioned, the danger from snakes was higher than actually running the rapid.
We camped that night around Malhoney Creek - another great campsite. We did have some snake encounters there, including at the groover (which I promptly moved). The next day we scouted and ran China. This is one rapid definitely worth the scout, at least at lower flows. Once you get around the blind curve, you really have to hug that left bank or you are in a world of hurt. Scouting this rapid put an end to us letting kids join us for scouting (not that there was much more to scout). One of the 11 year olds jumped up on a rock a foot away from a rattler - they are so damn camouflaged I did not see it until she was right on top of the rock. It was unnerving but also a reassuring reminder that snakes are not aggressive and want nothing to do with you. The rest of day 3 was a mix of painful upstream winds in slack water and some nice class 2-3 runs as we reached Blue Canyon. It was also the only day we had trouble finding an unoccupied camp. We ended up having a long day and camping just above Checkerboard on river right at an unmarked but very nice site.
The next day we were only a few miles from the Snake. We did not scout Eye of the Needle, and there was no need to. The kids loved this drop! We ended up rowing about 8 miles down the Snake and camping at an awesome, flat beach on river left. It was a Sunday and jet boat traffic was moderate but not bad. The next day we got up early and rowed the remaining 14 miles before noon, with no wind!
This was a spectacular trip, and a perfect confidence booster for all of us. I appreciate those from the Buzz, especially Shapatack, who answered my PMs and helped me work up to this!