Early May Middle Fork Trip - Mountain Buzz

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Old 03-26-2018   #1
Ann Arbor, Montana
Join Date: Jan 2017
Posts: 6
Early May Middle Fork Trip

Hey everyone, my friend and I are considering a kayaking self support on the middle fork of the salmon first or second week of May through Boundary.

I know some years the wood in Boundary is pretty bad, anyone have any advice on this? Does anyone have a guess as to the what the flows might be? (Obviously too soon, but hopefully somewhere know more about the snowpack than me for a general estimate)

Any other advice about a preseason middle fork trip?

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Old 03-26-2018   #2
Dipshit with the most.
carvedog's Avatar
Bellevue, Idaho
Paddling Since: 1991
Join Date: May 2005
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Well.....my first suggestion would be to learn what section of river you are going to be floating.

Boundary Creek is a launch point for the Middle Fork of the Salmon. It won't be open then. You would have to launch on Marsh Creek...and maybe that is what you meant.

There is no 'wood in Boundary' that would affect your trip. The wood in Marsh Creek can be challenging, like all logs that try to fully span the river. My guess is that the flows are going to be under 3 feet at the beginning of May. Easier to limbo under the logs at that flow. By mid May the flows will be in the four to five foot range. This is just enough to cover the logs so you can't see them, but not enough flow to get over them.

You should read this article about a trip gone awry.


The participants on this trip knew what they were getting into and several had tons of experience. My kayaking buddies came along and helped them gather some of their gear. One of them had a close enough scare on Marsh Creek (solid 3+ boater) that he quit kayaking after that trip. Completely. It was not even close to flood stage. Just normal highish spring water.

If you don't encounter any full span logs or new log jams it can be relatively easy. Your casual approach to the danger and true expedition type approach that is necessary for a preseason Marsh Creek and Middle Fork run translates into Don't do it.

A much better idea would be drive a car to the takeout and leave it there. Then drive back to Challis and have Middle Fork Aviation fly you into Indian Creek Airstrip for $425 and enjoy the lower part of the MF with no one else around.

We also had a very significant rain event (up to about 8,500 feet) which caused a lot of area flooding in the valleys around here. I can't imagine that it didn't cause some major damage in the Marsh Creek drainage as well (it's only sixty miles from our valley).

You can call this sour grapes if you like, but I have floated Marsh Creek before looking for a body in log jams on our way down. So if you aren't familiar with the run and extremely competent and experienced I would not recommend being one of the first if not the first one down.
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Old 03-26-2018   #3
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Darby, Montana
Join Date: Feb 2018
Posts: 68
Carvedog is the man and his knowledge of marsh creek is worth its weight in gold.
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Old 03-26-2018   #4
Ann Arbor, Montana
Join Date: Jan 2017
Posts: 6
Hey Carvedog, first off thanks for the response. To answer some of your points, I apologize for mixing up the names - I was reading about what the trip would entail and wrote down both names and mixed them up when writing the post. From my reading it seemed like Marsh was anywhere from a casual jaunt through the park to a death trap depending on the group.

I was invited by a group of boaters from Montana, two of whom have done it from Marsh before, but I don't know much about the area myself. The trip was proposed over the weekend in passing, so I was hoping to get some of the background here before I seriously consider it. I'd consider myself a solid class 4 paddler who can get down some class 5, but not with as much style as I would like if that helps. I'm definitely not the person in charge of planning; I just know my friend has a habit of making everything sound super easy and good to go regardless of how true that is.

Unfortunately the 400 dollars is not quite in my budget at the moment, but I'll take that into account in the future. With the water at 3 feet the wood is manageable then? Do you have any guide books or other trip reports you'd suggest I read to get a better idea?
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Old 03-27-2018   #5
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Bellevue, Idaho
Paddling Since: 1991
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Neff....my brother. You are too kind. This river has treated me well when approached with respect. Hope we get to bang down it again sometime soon.

boaterbob....that does change things quite a bit. It does not sound like you have done the Middle Fork? And you are right Marsh Creek can be a walk in the park. Until it's not. That someone else is leading does matter. And the boating is honestly not above 3+. There is one drop that at bigger flows gets pretty crunchy with no recovery below it for a ways that might be a four, but I don't think you will see that much water.

You will almost certainly be on a rising flow, which is when the trouble happens. Loose trees on banks edge start to get marginal roots washed out and the damn things seem to always fall perpendicular to the flow. I have floated over several as we have tended to do it at higher flows and that is a puckering sensation to identify something under the water 20 feet in front of your boat, that turns into a log with no possible way to avoid.

That you are in kayaks helps a bunch. That you will be loaded for a multiday and maybe a little sluggish is not. If you can identify and grab microeddies early you should be able to avoid carnage. Carry a sat phone or emergency messaging something as backup.
Oh yeah, the other thing. It can turn back to winter at any time which means extra gear. It snowed eight inches on us in Stanley after a mid June trip one year. We had to shovel snow out of our trailers before we could put gear back in. Below Indian Creek it usually warms up as you drop down. Stanley is at 6,200 feet and likes to catch the unprepared with their shorts down.

It is a fantastic river and the idea of being out there with almost certainly no one or ver few is just an incredible experience. Most peoples view of the river is shared with six other launches per day and 150 to 200 other people. It is better the way you would do it.

Do you know how many days potentially? There are lots of hot springs to temper chilly spring weather if you plan it right.
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Old 03-27-2018   #6
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at my house, Montana
Paddling Since: 2020
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I would like to add that Marsh is class III CREEKING . Which is not like class III river running. There may be no eddies where you need to pull over so your skills in this are most important. This isn't as big of a deal for kayaks but for inflatables it is significant.

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Old 03-27-2018   #7
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Evergreen, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1991
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I don't often respond to posts about conditions on this or that section of river but when I read a post about Marsh Creek I perk up. I am no Carvedog or Laura, and I have only catarafted Marsh Creek once in 2002, so take my comments as you see fit. I know, rafting is not kayaking, just like class 4 river running with an empty kayak is nothing like serious class 3 creeking fully loaded for a multi-day trip. If going self-supported make sure you are used to navigating your loaded kayak.

We pushed our boats off the snow banks into the creek on May 17 with water at 4.25' and took out at Cache Bar on May 20 with water at 5.6', so moderate to highish flows depending on your perspective. At this flow Marsh Creek was fast with very few eddies, and with blind corners that hide the unknown. We floated over river-wide fallen trees between exposed limbs reaching to the sky and below river-wide trees where I shipped my oars and dropped in the water between my cat tubes (drysuit is a requirement). When something happens on Marsh Creek it happens fast and your group must be fully prepared for anything and everything. The link posted by Carvedog is a great read and will give you some idea of the nature of the beast.

No matter what, an early season Marsh Creek/MFS trip is an epic adventure. Was I prepared when I did it? I thought so, and as it turned out I made it all the way down right-side up and with all gear intact. But it was taxing. I am not embarrassed to state that to date, the day running Marsh Creek, Dagger Falls and continuing down to Sheepeater Camp was the most harrowing day of my boating career. At the same time that trip was also one of the most awesome. It was possible because I was with a group of stellar cat and raft people from Idaho that had done this many times before. This was a tight-knit group that graciously invited a friend and me to join them. The trip was well coordinated, safety conscious and they all had my back as the least experienced person in the group. In my opinion any first-timer on Marsh Creek should be with a seasoned group that knows this stretch and will give you an open and honest view of what this trip entails.

An early season Marsh Creek/MFS trip is truly fantastic with the right skills and group. Just go into it with eyes wide open because they will bug out anyway at one point or another. Attached is a sequence of my hero shots in Dagger Falls to give you some idea of what it can look like in May. Enjoy it if you go.
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Old 03-28-2018   #8
Carbondale, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2004
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Posts: 126
carvedog, thanks for the link to that well written article
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Old 03-29-2018   #9
Bozeman, Montana
Paddling Since: 2010
Join Date: Mar 2018
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Hey boaterbob, this is very coincidental. I am a Montana boater from Salt Lake going with my buddy from ann harbor to kayak Marsh creek and the middle fork between May 6-15th if it is looking reasonable. I personally have paddled the Middle fork on three separate occasions (3.5 feet, 4.5 feet and 6.5 feet), but have never paddled Marsh creek. My roommate has paddled it and says it is reasonable class III with one possible IV, but continuous. Obviously wood in the river changes everything. He did say it would be difficult to stop in any case where there was wood. Depending on how things are looking, and how you're feeling my buddy and I would be down to join up with your crew for the sake of safety at least on the Marsh Creek portion of the run.
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Old 03-31-2018   #10
Golden, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2000
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 25
Hopefully Launching May 31st

I have a permit for May 31 and hope the road will be open but I am not optimistic at this point. We plan to run Marsh as well if we need to. Obviously weather over the next 2 months may change if that is feasible/possible/sane but we have our fingers crossed.

Is there anywhere other than the buzz to look for wood/trip reports?
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