Middle Fork Salmon River BETA - Mountain Buzz

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Old 04-24-2008   #1
Salt Lake City, Utah
Paddling Since: 2006
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 3
Middle Fork Salmon River BETA

Middle Fork Salmon (BETA request)
So, I might be getting into a trip near the end of may on the Middle Fork of the Salmon. Everything I've seen so far is saying that it will be high water. I'll likely be floating an oar rig with my gf, who's an experienced guide back East with experience on the Hudson, Kennebeck and the Dead. She has 6+ years of guiding experience to my 1. Anyways, before we commit, we're trying to figure out just whether this will be in our comfort level or not. How dangerous does the river get at high water? Is it shit-your-pants, just try not to die kinda of scary or just really fun? Descriptions I've seen online say it will be "beyond treacherous". What the hell does that mean?

Also, what's up with the road at that time of year. I see snippets here and there about snow cover until mid-June. Do you really have to fly-in or is there another put-in to drive to?

For reference (just in case anyone can relate), the highest water I've seen has been in NY on the Hudson at 6' which was really quite fun. Thanks for the input.

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Old 04-24-2008   #2
Join Date: Jul 2005
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I had a June 6 launch a couple years ago. It was running 6.33' and was one of the best trips I've ever been on. It was basically 100 miles of continuous III/III+ with a handful of IV's. VERY continuous; it will take a while to recover gear/boats in the event of a flip. There's a raft-flipping hole that's just a couple bends from the put-in, Velvet was starting to fill and therefore was not as steep and most people were punching it instead of risking missing the S-turn move (there was a log across the sneak, so that wasn't an option). Pistol was a tough one for the rafts. Tappen basically washed out to a big wave train. The big rapids in the last 30 miles were continuous and big but very manageable. After running it at this level I would totally do it at 8, 9, 10+ feet (and the rafters agreed). It was amazing.

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Old 04-24-2008   #3
Denver, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1994
Join Date: Jun 2004
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I am guessing that the MF will be running pretty high this year. Depending on what the weather does in May, I would say that it will easily get above 7 feet, which is a really fun level. I've run it several times over 8 feet, and in a kayak it is really fun. But from a rafts perspective the river high levels (above 7.5ft) is a different proposition. I would say that for a raft the MF above 7.5 feet is class V rafting. Not for any of the individual rapids, but for the river as a whole.
The first 20 miles or so down to pistol creek are FAST! You will not be able to stop to scout anything when the river gets above 8. Two years ago at ~8.5 feet, our rafter made one eddy somewhere below powerhouse, and the one to scout pistol. And he is a very competent boater, who was in a light 18 foot cat boat. I haven't been down the river since the blowout at Lake Creek, so I don't know how that will look at high water. The other two rapids that I would warn you of in the first 20 miles at those levels are Elkhorn and Velvet. Neither very hard, but Elkhorn turns into a big Grand Canyon style wave and Velvet is freakin big!, but you can sneak it all the way against the bank on river left.
Once you get past Pistol, things ease up. The lower parts of the canyon at high water have individual rapids that are bigger than anything on the first 20 miles, but they are more spread out, and offer some opportunity to scout, although there is nothing that can't be boat scouted by a class V rafter.
Don't get me wrong, the MF at high water is great, just throwing my perspective out there.
As for getting in when the road to Boundary Creek is closed, you have two options. Fly into Indian Creek (which puts you below the first 20 miles of the river), or float in on Marsh Creek. At high water, Marsh is pretty straight forward, fast class IV. Just watch out for wood that has caused some serious issues for parties putting in on Marsh Creek in the past. Like the upper 20 on the MF, there are very very few eddies to catch. Thankfully the one above Dagger is still very big and a relatively easy pull even at high water.
Last thing. If it is running high, don't raft it without a drysuit. In the upper 20 miles a swim could be several miles long, and the water is very, very cold.
Chris Morrison
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Old 04-24-2008   #4
lmaciag's Avatar
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2002
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 674
Sweet... I've been looking for exactly this information.

Count, I didn't know you did a high water trip. We have a 5/26 permit and are launching on Marsh Creek 5/25. Anything else you'd like to share would be GREATLY appreciated. Almost every TR I've found is from the perspective of a raft. More info from a kayaker's perspecitve would be wonderful. Should I bring my Fun or Burn (got two new boats since Mexico)?

Thanks in advance!

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Old 04-24-2008   #5
Join Date: Jul 2005
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Laurie, take the playboat (unless you're doing the speed run as a kayak self-support). Give me a call and we can meet up and I'll bring my crib notes.
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Old 04-24-2008   #6
Avon, Colorado
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I'm not so sure the river will hit 7feet this year. Their snowpack is only about 100%-110%. I bet it hits 6.5 for 2-3 days. Any weird heat surge can greatly effect the outcome. Maybe goto the idaho board and see what they guess the peak at (its a game for one board)

Idaho did not have a snow season like Wyoming or Colorado this year...Sun Valley (just over the pass from the salmon) was its standard donut hole with 220" total snowfall.

I've done it a 5.5' with a bunch of expericned kayakers and only 2-3 years experience on each raft (4 rafts with no problems). It was a June 1st trip. small patches of snow on the road and a few small trees to cut.

Stay upto date with the snow conditions with the shuttle services...they normally have a good idea (but are conservative). Bring a few shovels and a chainsaw to be safe (driving all that way).

With guide experience....you guys will be fine adn have a blast. Although i can't guess what it'd be like over 7 feet..but i doubt it gets there.

In difficulty i'd compare it to Brown's Canyon..the upper part being more continuous.
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Old 04-24-2008   #7
Join Date: Apr 2008
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6-7 feet is big but managable, stay alert and hug the inside corners. 8-10 ft is HUGE and continuous! I've rowed it at both 8 and 9.2 ft, above 9 the river get wierd. At 9 ft a tight constriction 1/4 mile above Velvet falls (aka Hells Half Mile) has masive holes we flipped 2 boats here. I ended up swiming Velvet which wasn't as bad as I expected. We flipped another boat at Ski Jump an insignificant rock/wave at lowflows about 1/2 mile above Sunflower hot springs. I doubt the MF will get above 7 ft, however last week of May first week of June is the perfect time to see it peak.
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Old 04-24-2008   #8
River Gypsy
Swannanoa, North Carolina
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So has anyone here rowed Marsh above 6ft?

I'm on a late May trip as well, and will be rowing Marsh for the first time. I've seen it from a kayak at levels ranging from 2.5' to 5'. How much harder is it when it gets between 5.5' and 7'?

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Old 04-25-2008   #9
Join Date: Apr 2008
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I've rowed Marsh when the MF gauge was 8.2 ft. It was a fast wild ride. At this level you will just fit under the bridge about 1/2 mile down from the put in. I remember a few partial log jams which can be a little unnerving flying around blind corners. Continuous III+-IV, similar to the top 5 miles of the MF but tighter. We shot through Dagger Falls no problem. Then I got cocky, let my guard down and flipped in Velvet.
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Old 04-25-2008   #10
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Bellevue, Idaho
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Join Date: May 2005
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This may give you some idea of streamflow, which should peak the last week of May or first week of June.

Middle Fork Salmon Snow-Stream Analysis | Idaho NRCS

Should give a similar peak runoff as 2003 if the snow, water equivalent and precip continue on as they have. I doubt the road will be open until the first week of June, but it is such a crap shoot with the cooler weather we have been having.


I have three trips posted up there from last year. Lake Creek is a mess and who knows what the higher flows will do to that corner.

Looking at the top post on the blog, shows just a few of the really big trees in the river last fall. All of these were between Powerhouse ( which burned ) and Lake Creek. There are probably 100 to 150 small trees in the river and 20 to 30 pretty big ones including three that we had to drag around on the side of the river.

There is nothing on the river that is class V up to 8 feet ( the highest I have done it ) Velvet is frightening to behold as you slide by the far left sneak. Of course the class 2 entry to the Velvet area becomes class 3 + and pushy. Hard to keep track of where you are too cause you are moving so fast. The other that was quite impressive was lower cliffside with the monster nearly river wide hole at that flow. Rubber was a sneak on the left. As mentioned Ski Jump is monster and there are some huge waves in Jack Creek one that nearly flipped my boss on the Chewbacca ( big 20 or 22 Mararvia ). Weber is impressive with ocean size waves, but easily missed with a center left entry and move right. You will float right over several things without knowing in the last ten miles.

Pistol always gets weird at high flows. I saw it reverse taco a paddle boat on the eddy-seam-hole thing that forms at 7 +

The flipper in the first mile is Murph's Hole. Big, big foam pile at higher flows. Hells half mile has some spectacular holes in it. Pretty much read and run if you are on your game. It pushes you right, but you can just miss on it the left. Seems like you can go far right almost to the bank there too.

I don't think I would want to do Marsh without knowing the log situation. Always subject to change.

I know a couple of brave souls who may be going out there this weekend or next week. They may fly in to Indian Cr which I think heard just cleared of snow on the strip, but I don't think anyone has flown in yet.

The high trip I did. We rigged and launched that morning. Left about 11am. Scouted Velvet and set safety so we mess around a bit. Had lunch at Sheepeater at 1:30. Ran down to Pistol. Drank gin and tonics for a while there. Went down to Sunflower and drank some more and still made lower Jackass before dark. Quite a day.

I will post back if I have any updates.
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