NF Clearwater - Mountain Buzz

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Old 06-18-2010   #1
Okemos, Michigan
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 29
NF Clearwater

Anyone ever paddle the NF of the Clearwater in Idaho? Thinking about heading making a trip down that way and was wondering how the playboating would be.

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Old 06-20-2010   #2
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 43
It's way low for the 'traditional' spots mentioned in the Idaho playboating book but I bet you can find some good spots. It's similar to the Lochsa (but a bit easier) and the Lochsa is just now dropping into prime playboating levels. If you can hit Pipeline around 5000 you will be beyond stoked.
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Old 06-20-2010   #3
Uzbekibekistanstan, Mississippi
Join Date: Mar 2010
Posts: 449
I used to work at the Kelly Creek Ranger District for the Forest Service, so I used to paddle there before fire season began. Most of the paddling is less exciting than the Lochsa, but it's still a fun river. There are two main forks that you can paddle in the upper section; Kelly Creek and the Black Canyon of the North Fork. They're both III with a little IV and you need to watch for wood. Below the confluence, the river is bouncy III, but there's one rapid with severe consequences that should be scouted. Sorry can't rememeber the name, but you can find beta in Idaho the Whitewater State. The easiest way to access this river is from Superior, Montana... over Hoodu Pass and down into the North Fork Ranger District. Have fun. You'll likely be on the river by yourself, but you might run into another group. If you stop at the Kelly Creek Ranger Office, ask for Bonny. She likes to paddle, but she generally has no one to paddle with out there. You'll make her day.
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Old 06-20-2010   #4
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 43
The bigger rapid is called Irish Railroad and you'll have no problem spotting it from the road.
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Old 06-21-2010   #5
Okemos, Michigan
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 29
Awesome. Thanks a lot for the info.
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Old 06-21-2010   #6
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Moscow, Idaho
Paddling Since: 1995
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 269
Some friends and I ventured into the NF in late May at around 10,000 on the Canyon RS gauge. The paddling and camping options in that canyon at that flow are incredible. Both Skull (IV) and Orogrande Creeks (V) were running and the 420 Hole was in. As others mention, the NF itself is Lochsa-esque III/IV big water with one obvious V at Irish Railroad.

Skull Creek features boulder rapids in a tight channel. There are two notable rapids. First is a two-part boulder drop with a great flare boof (check for wood in both parts). The second is a constriction followed by a weir-like pourover. You can scout most of the action from the convenient road next to the river. We put in at the bridge, but rumor has it that more action lies upstream.

The lower two miles of Orogrande Creek consists of low volume class V boulder gardens with a few bedrock rapids for good measure. Wood is in play in almost every rapid, so be on your game. That said, there are no mandatory portages and many excellent boofs. The crux comes at the bedrock gorge half-way through the run. Staircase ledges lead to the lip of a 30 foot low angle slide with a hungry hole. Below this gorge, fun runout drops lead you to the Clearwater. As with Skull, scouting is facilitated by the convenient road (seems like Idaho has a lot of these).

You could camp on either creek or split the difference and camp at 420 Hole. This eddy serviced gem will entertain beginners and experts alike. It felt pretty optimal at 10 grand. Another play feature seemed to be forming below Washington Creek, but 420 was so good that we didn't bother to investigate. It's pretty remote in there so bring extra gas if you're planning a long stay.
"A river is more than an amenity, it is a treasure."
-Oliver Wendell Holmes writing for the majority in New Jersey v. New York
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