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Old 04-28-2016  
Pulaski, Virginia
Paddling Since: 2006
Join Date: Apr 2016
Posts: 8
Middle Fork Salmon questions...

I'm an east coaster, so forgive me if my snow pack questions are on the side of ignorant. I have a trip launch date in early June and I'm trying to plan. I've never run the Salmon before or even been to Idaho, so this is going to be a great trip!

We're doing a kayaking self support trip in long boats.

In some of the descriptions I've read, it makes high water sound pretty gnarly, and from what I can tell we can expect a fairly high flow in early June. Our group is solid class IV+ boater that delve into the V range; comfortable running Upper Gauley, Russel Fork, Colorado (GC), etc. Should we be concerned about the potential for high water or is that more geared toward raft trips?

I've seen some postings about snow pack and current river levels, but it's all kind of Greek to me. I know temps and other factors could greatly make a difference between now and then, but anyone knowledgeable about the topic have any guesses on what we should expect for levels?

Any side trips or must see stuff on the run that a first timer simply can not miss?

Thinking of taking a hammock sleep system; am I going to have any issues finding places to hang at the camps?

I'm sure there other questions that I've left unasked, so any other stand out info would be greatly appreciated.

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Old 04-28-2016  
DanOrion's Avatar
Indian Hills, Colorado
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 1,498
A few quick thoughts:

Even at high water (7 ft), the river is completely manageable for a Class IV boater with a completely bombproof roll. It's a kick in the pants and a ton of fun. There are some holes that would absolutely destroy you, but if you're used to big water, you'll quickly learn to read the river. I suggest scouting Pistol due to it's weird hydraulics at high water (essentially I remember just plugging in right, knowing I was going for a ride, but at least wouldn't get flushed left into the room of doom). There may be some other rapids to scout - talk to the ranger. In general, follow the inside tongue of each rapid and then react as you drop over the horizon.

Other sage advice is to always start on the inside of bends because it's easier to get to the outside than back inside - also the monster holes often lurk on the outside.

You'll have no problem finding trees for a hamock in the upper canyon, but I'd prefer a tent just to have a little room away from the rain. Lower in the canyon some camps have less trees, but always enough to put a hammock somewhere.

A final note - MF at 7 ft is no joke. Super continuous for the first 30 - 40 miles. A swim could become very protracted with lost gear and deadly consequences. It's also stunningly beautiful and amazing whitewater.
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Old 04-28-2016  
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Its just really big, fast, cold water. Most rapids have kayak sneaks. This is very true at flows above 6'. 4' is kinda tough because the sneaks are not always there. Most camps will have trees for your hammock but below big creek you could be sleeping in the sand. Bring a good sleeping bag. It will get cold at night. You need the firepan, ash can, strainer, popper, thing. I made that float in 1 night. How long are you planning? Any thoughts on how many miles a day?
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Old 04-28-2016  
Pulaski, Virginia
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Join Date: Apr 2016
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We're doing 7 nights and there is talk of linking up the Main in that time as well, so something like 25 miles a day. I'm not the TL, so I'm not sure what the final plan is actually going to be.
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Old 04-28-2016  
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Originally Posted by mikeljcarr View Post
We're doing 7 nights and there is talk of linking up the Main in that time as well, so something like 25 miles a day. I'm not the TL, so I'm not sure what the final plan is actually going to be.
Your going to be on the water for 2 or 3 hours a day max. Your going to have 14 hours of light. Bring your hiking shoes.... The main will be a blow out. A canel with fast swirrly water. I hit 21 mph at big mallard on my gps last year.

Linking up the main will suck for hammock.

You should try to get a Payette in too. The SF canyon would be a good warm up to Idaho water. Just a thought.
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Old 04-28-2016  
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25 mile days at high flows are not uncommon and manageable, but I for one would slow down on the miles and enjoy the scenery a bit especially the first 30 or so miles. There are many hot springs to enjoy and no reason to miss them, if you play it right you can have a soak every day for the first 3 to 4 days. You'll want to get a guide book and Matt Leidecker's Middle Fork of the Salmon is a great guide book to have. His toll free number is 866-261-7861. If your going to also do the Main Salmon after the Middle Fork you'll need a permit for the Main in addition to the Middle fork permit, and prior to June 20th there are still many available on Rec.gov. In June the weather can be anything, snow and rain, rain and snow and sunny and down right sweet. I would rather have a tent then a hammy and since you will be doing a self support maybe teaming up and splitting the gear between someone else, also a shelter or tarp with rigging is nice because it will rain!
Hope that helps
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Old 04-28-2016  
Lake Oswego, Oregon
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You could easily do a couple of layover days. Don't miss Loon Creek hot springs. There is a nice hike past the hot springs up the Loon Creek drainage.
In kayaks, you should go left of the rock at Velvet if the flow is close to 6 ft.
It looks like this early snowmelt is going to continue. I doubt if the flow will be much over 6 ft. then. Don't miss your camps, the river will be running fast, like 8 miles an hour or more at times. Stop at Veil Falls and the Flying B ranch.
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Old 04-28-2016  
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Steamboat, Colorado
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Good info here, the river is absolutely amazing - love me some Idaho.

I would only add (again) to pack for everything from cold temps and snow through shorts and flip flops. Have seen every type of weather in early June on that river.

Waiting and watching myself, little disappointing with the drop Idaho has seen the last few weeks. Hear the middle fork was running at its highest point on April 17th in over 26 years. It has been above 4 feet for a while now...but the next 6 weeks will be the deciding factor. Hopefully few locals chime in with their predictions, NRCS is saying similar to 2000.

Here are some links to help watch and help guess levels:


National Weather Service Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service


At high water dirtbag is right, the miles fly by. Lots of good hikes, hot springs, cave man drawings and fishing to do with the extra time, +2 Matt Leidecker's guidebook.

I am hoping for ~4-6 feet for our launch early June...
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Old 04-28-2016  
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Bellevue, Idaho
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This is a handy chart. Pretty sure the river will peak in two to three weeks. You should be on the receding side and if you have a roll you should be fine. It may drop enough (five to six feet) to have some awesome surfing. At Marble and Ski Jump are two places where we plan on the kayakers camping out for several hours and plan short days around there and at that flow. Much higher and a lot of the waves turn into one-shot-drive-by surfing.


Banner Snotel is at 18"SWE. We have opened several times including once at almost 12. Hard work but doable.

Logs are very present spanning full width on upper Marsh Creek.

You will be able to drive in easily by early June I believe. Marsh Creek reference is only for those thinking of jumping on now. Pics courtesy of FB and Middle Fork Donna.
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Old 04-28-2016  
Pulaski, Virginia
Paddling Since: 2006
Join Date: Apr 2016
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Thanks for all the info so far; good stuff. Keep it coming.

For clarity, my hammock is a Clark with bug netting and an Xtra large tarp system. So, I think I'm good in the rain, providing i have trees to string my tarp between.

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