Main Salmon questions - Mountain Buzz

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Old 06-17-2013   #1
Fort Collins, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2000
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 58
Main Salmon questions

We are planning a trip on the Main Salmon in mid-September. The group is shaping up as two IKs, two open canoes, and a cataraft. (I am one of the open canoes). I figure that for the canoes this will be essentially a self-supported trip, although maybe we could put some group gear on the raft. I assume Corn Island to Carey Creek, although I am open to other suggestions. A couple of us are 60 plus, I think that everybody is over 50, so not young folks. None of us know the river. We have experience on week long trips on class III rivers, such as Deso-Gray. My understanding is that the Main is more class IV in high water, generally class III in low water.

My main question relates to the length of the trip. I have heard that scouting on the Main Salmon can soak up a lot of time, at least for open canoe folks. Apparently some of the individual scouts can be non-trivial in themselves. We usually scout class III rapids, but not class II. I think that I have heard 8 long days. Any insight into how long a trip makes sense?

I notice that a guided canoe trip in August is 7 days, but I am going to guess that they skip some scouts in favor of "stay left on this one", or "follow me". They claim the trip is open to advanced beginners and intermediate paddlers.

Idaho canoeing, kayaking trips, Salmon River.

I am thinking a wet suit for Mid-September, although I own a dry suit. I don't generally paddle that far north.

I will take any tips that I can get, especially those related to low water, late season, and to open boating.


Open boater.
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Old 06-17-2013   #2
Lewiston, Idaho
Paddling Since: 2000
Join Date: Mar 2013
Posts: 38
8 days seems like a long time on the main but I have never put in at corn island? hehe.. I don't know your skill level but I'd think you could read everything from elkhorn down from your boat. I couldn't see scouting more than a hand full of drops. Wet suit would be nice for cooler days. I'm thinking 5 maybe 6 days tops.
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Old 06-17-2013   #3
cedar city, Utah
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 2,261
The Main is definitely a step up from the caliber of Deso/Grey, which is mostly a Class II float except for one rapid at medium to low flows. Scouting is so subjective but the rapids aren't remotely the same between the two. At a minimum I would start conservative (i.e. scout a little more) at first and see how your experience translates.

Your craft should be relatively efficient to travel in so I would doubt at as well that 8 days is "needed" just to boat that stretch. It does open up some time for lazy mornings/evenings, lay-over days and hikes if that is the desire, which to me is always pleasant. The trip is only 79 miles on the river. If you have that much time off you could just always extend the float closer to Riggins, which is what we did last time. Less wear and tear on trucks/trailers and more time on the river. Still a pleasant stretch with mild rapids.

Wet suits are always a nice option once you start getting close to the fringe season and might be nice in the boats you mentioned. Don't you will need them much though.

One of the great benefits of the northern rivers, when compared to our desert rivers in Utah, is the reliable clean water you will find along the way. You won't need to pack as much. Seems like you could easily disperse group gears through the boat in a way that recognizes the limits of the canoes, i.e may not need to be self-support if one group. All depends on your style of camping.

Have a great trip, would love to be up there in September rather than the early August I have this year (but still psyched to have the permit). Let us know how the trip goes.

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Old 06-17-2013   #4
cataraftgirl's Avatar
Sandy, Utah
Paddling Since: 1997
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 3,344
Let me start by saying that the Main Salmon is my all time favorite river trip. I have about 15 trips logged on that river over the past 10+ years, from June to September. We generally run it in 8 days/7 nights with two layover days. The outfitters generally do 6 days/ 5 nights.

I agree with restrac2000 that the MS is a step up from Deso overall. In September the water will be low, but the MS is always a big water river. Most of the rapids mellow out at low water, but some get trickier due to more pronounced holes and features. Definitely not class IV like at high water. I'd call the MS in summer and fall a class III-III+ river. Scouting is up to you. I'd recommend at least scouting Black Creek, and Big Mallard at a minimum. I HIGHLY recommend the guidebook by Eric Newell. The drawings and write-ups on the rapids are spot-on. The camp info is also great. The only downside to the guide is the maps, so I always carry the big guide with big maps by Duwain Whittis. Hard to say about the weather? My fall trip was quite pleasant, but since you're in IKs and canoes, you'll probably want wet suits and at least good splash gear. As restrac2000 said, you can carry a filter, and cut back on carrying water. We always use river water for coffee in the morning with no problems. If you plan and pack wisely, you should be fine. Have a great trip.
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Old 07-08-2013   #5
Blarney, Iowa
Join Date: Aug 2010
Posts: 537
We just got off the Main Salmon. We planned for 7 days, ended up doing 6. I would do 7 days if you can if it's hot; otherwise 6 would work fine.

We launched at 1.9 on the Corn Creek gauge. We scouted Black Canyon, Mallard, Elkhorn, and Chittam. At our flows, honestly, Chittam was the only necessary scout. I plunged the hole on Black Canyon and came out just fine. Mallard was a little tricky but can be read and run with a lighter, quicker boat. Elkhorn was an interesting choice for us... we debated both the right and left lines before deciding the usual left line was best... I ran through the "domer" hole because it honestly wasn't very big. Chittam had huge holes you need to miss that the Newell book does a lousy job depicting.

Take wasp/bee spray.
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Old 07-09-2013   #6
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SLC, Utah
Paddling Since: 2005
Join Date: May 2009
Posts: 1,390
Just got off Main two nights ago. Flow was 1.5cfs at Corn Creek and dropping. We had one IK, total newbies, they did swim in a small rapid due to not paying attention on a long day.

If you have no people experienced on the Main, scouting is a good idea. Most rapids are read and run though. Black Creek rapid should be scouted for sure.

Last year mid-September we did it at 2,000 cfs and we did 8 days with a layover day. This year we did 5 days and it was a bit of work, we only scouted Black Creek. I would say at low water 6 or 7 days would be ideal not to overload yourself, hike some hikes and have enough time to scout.

Main is a step up from Deso as others mentioned, but most rapids are really just big wave trains.

Here are my two videos to help you understand the scope of rapids. My boat is 16' so you can see the perspective.

July 3, 2013 (only class 3 rapids):

Sept 13, 2012 (most noticeable rapids):

Hope this helps.
-ALEX [ youtube ][ my boat ][ ]
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