Doing Middle Fork Salmon at low flow - Mountain Buzz

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Old 08-15-2011   #1
Mcgreyger's Avatar
Pleasant Grove, Utah
Paddling Since: 1965
Join Date: Aug 2011
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Doing Middle Fork Salmon at low flow

Has anyone done the Middle Fork from Boundary Creek at 700-800 cfs in a SB raft? I have a launch early Sept. and it could still be above 900 but Murphy says to expect the worst. We plan to go super light, as in back pack weight only. No cooler, no stove, no dry boxes, pump drinking water etc. I am guessing the USFS still requires a fire pan, shovel and bucket even though we don’t plan to have a fire, so we will share the USFS essentials between four rafts. My set up is a 156 Achilles with oars, three adults (the two adults using paddles in the front). I do plan to take a couple extra blades. Any advice or hints would be greatly appreciated. (a cooler, dry box , table and chairs could make all the difference-say another 75-100 lbs)

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Old 08-15-2011   #2
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Bellevue, Idaho
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Fully loaded off the top for 8 days with two adults a dog, full cooler, case of beer, fifth of crown and a bottle of ibu at 450 cfs in a 17 foot Williwaw 2 as a one boat float. Oh yeah we took the boom box too. Nothing like listening to the Dead or U2 while you are catching fat cutthroat.

Not like we didn't get stuck in a few places, but it is still awesomely good fun.

CAVEAT: I have seen 'experienced' boaters get their ass handed to them at these levels though. If you haven't run low, technical water it can be a wakeup.
Must run soft boat. Must not fight river. Must work with river. Go slow to start. Take as long as you can for your group size. Take a pin kit.

I personally don't like having extra paddlers flailing away on my boat. It's all finesse and timing, but who knows it might work.

You know we are having a great water year up here right? You've got four rafts and you don't want to bring a cooler? Who has been scaring you with horror stories?
Good luck.
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Old 08-15-2011   #3
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at my house, Montana
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What level is that (in feet, as we refer to the MF)? We did 1.78' from the top last year. Definitely NOT backpacking style, but were very careful in what we brought along (both paco's came, but not one single beverage - keep in mind we don't drink so it wasn't a major sacrifice). Don't listen to CD, it was a pain in the ass! I don't think I'd do it again at level with the raft (although I'm going in 10 days but it's going to be 2.1), I would in a heartbeat with my solo cat. Our raft comes with a passenger and 2 dogs, and I think the hardest thing was being worried about the dogs as we spun/bounced/careened through rapids and often the flats were the hardest. They actually did great, but I was stressed because of it. I think I worked too hard also, but it sure is hard to tell which rock is going to cause you to pause.

Why backpacking style? I say go for it, and don't skimp too much, you don't need to go that light. Bring some stuff to be comfy, have fun, and eat a better than dehydrated. Shoot, I did a Class V multi day and wouldn't even do dehydrated for that. Yuk.

303 the bottom of your boat before you go. Bring an extra extra oar. As CD has said, the rule is "spin to win". You'll have a blast. At that level, NO ONE will be around and it will be glorious. Bring a freaking chair!
Living in Montana, boating in Idaho
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Old 08-15-2011   #4
Idaho Falls, Idaho
Paddling Since: 1970
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I have half a dozen trips under 2' (860 cfs) as low as 1.56. One was backpack light but more importantly, as mentioned in other posts, experience is crucial. Not only handling a boat, but reading the water. Size of boat, passenger or solo also weighs in. I have never run a boat solo at that level (had a passenger and gear on each trip). I believe my recommended cutoff would probably be 1.8 or so for folks not sure of the river. Depending on your launch date, you may see levels at about 2' which would be awesome for September. Plan on cold nights, comfortable days. There are a number of places to get water along the way to eliminate having to filter all of it. Boundary may be shut off so don't plan on water there.

I have seen, and used two scenario's as well - certainly 303 your boat, even after launch day. I have seen boaters keep their boat's fairly stiff, and others run them soft. I think it is all preference.

Most will forgo the top section and fly into Indian creek although the top section is my favorite (until I get to the middle section, then bottom section, which then become my favorite!).

Sulphur slide and powerhouse can be tough at the lower levels. Some shallow sections below trail flats and Indian creek can cause some difficulties as well.

Be sure to take a camera as the river is spectacular this time of year and (maybe because every side stream brings more water) each tributary seems much more scenic than the last.

I could provide additional information offline should you request it. I may have some video of low water trips.

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Old 08-15-2011   #5
Eagle, Colorado
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MF @ 1.9

We launched at Boundary at 1.9 ft last year and got off seven days later at 1.77 ft. We had a small boat R2 as the lead and look for low water lines. Quick and nimble, it could change directions quickly to hit the most favorable line for gear boats, or point to a more favorable line. It worked out quite well and the river has more than enough gradient, so they didn't have to paddle a ton to keep the lighter boat moving. We definately didn't go backpack style. 14 footer and a 13 footer in addition to the R2 rig with the normal load for a 7 day desert float trip. Of course it's not the desert, so you can filter most of your water. We actually only brought one 5 gallon container.

It was the first trip for all of us, but we live in Colorado, so we were all familiar with low water boating. Not to say that we didn't get stuck a few times, especially on the first two days. I would agree that Sulpher Slide is tight and the Chutes seemed to be a bit tricky as well. That said, find the flow, let it take you over the shallows, and at times it is better to just aim at the small rock, hit it straight on, and rumble over it than run away and broadside the bigger rock. The fishing is absolutely incredible at low flows. The pools after Pistol Creek rapid look like an aquarium.

Go for it, bring a pin kit and know how to use it (of course, hopefully you won't have to), and have fun.
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Old 08-15-2011   #6
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at my house, Montana
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Boundary is going to be staffed through Sep 3 this year.

Chutes, good lord that was a wild ride!
Living in Montana, boating in Idaho
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Old 08-16-2011   #7
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Salida, Colorado
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I’ve done it under 2’ twice. One time at 1.9’ solo in a 12’er. We put in at Boundary and flew most of the weight into Indian Creek. Did not go back pack style. We had a couple of 14’ and one 16’ rafts with passengers that got stuck a lot on the top part. I had no problem solo in the 12’. It was a blast, had a great trip. Small boats are the way to go if you’ve got them.
Last year we did a 1.7’ trip with Jack from Jack’s Plastics. We had 12 people in 11 small Jack’s boats. Cutthroats, Pack cats, and one small Royal Flush 1222 that I took with my wife and one of my custom frames. We were the only boat with two people. Several of the solo boaters were very inexperienced and although we had some swimmers and many people got stuck in the upper section, we had a great time and no serious swims or pins. We did no go back pack style, everybody brought a chair, we had roll up tables, stoves, coolers with great food, etc. etc.
As I recall the “Cutes” was the most troublesome rapid, and I know we had swimmers in lower “Power House. Most of the swims and pins were in the upper section.
The reason The Middle Fork is rated in feet is because it is small with low cfs at the top and then grows to be 2 or 3+ times the size at the end.
Have a great trip, take small boats if you’ve got them, and take you chair and cooler. This is my favorite river in the lower USA.
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Old 08-16-2011   #8
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Fort Collins, Colorado
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Folks were feeding me the same BS horror stories last year for my September launch on the MFS. We took 60 beers instead of 120 and it was a mistake. It was under 800 and we never got stuck. We were all kicking ourselves that we were so concerned about weight. Why not let me come, I'll bring my boat and carry all your heavy stuff. I've run it before, am charming and cute.

Eric 970-222-7178
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Old 08-16-2011   #9
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Pleasant Grove, Utah
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Thanks to all the responses. Although I’ve read the forums for the past year, I had just never registered until yesterday. What a warm welcome from everyone. If the permit was in my name I would invite all of you. (Seriously) I’m just a mutual friend of the actual owner of the permit. Being in Utah we get a lot of low water runs, just not fast, low water. I am really looking forward to this trip. Thanks again to everyone.
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Old 08-16-2011   #10
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spokane, Washington
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At 1.7 ft on a launch date of Sept 20th, we opted to fly in 600lbs of gear to Indian Creek but launched at Boundary Creek. I believe it was $180 out of McCall, ID. Had a 16 ft Achilles bucket boat and 2 IKs. Got stuck here and there. Had a blast. Broke/chipped oar blades. Think shallow strokes. Never saw another group on the river.
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