06 Sep Exploring The Middle Fork
Diary of the Middle Fork
The 4.2 million acres of the Salmon-Challis National Forest are a piece of land that very much carries its own culture. This ranges from people who literally dedicated their lives to preserving the land and waters here to those who decided early on in life that they did not want to be anywhere else in life other than the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. This unique river exists as the single longest uninterrupted river in the United States and has been a protected wilderness since 1968.
Since my time being a part of the SCNF, I have found that no other place here holds as many hearts as the Middle Fork of the Salmon. There is no one answer to why that might be. It could have historical significance to the indigenous Tuku-Deka people, the geologic landmarks and variety that make up every inch of the 100-mile stretch or it could simply be the unique whitewater experience here.
Despite living in Idaho for most of my life I had never come come close to visiting the salmon. After this summer of being able to experience the Middle Fork from multiple angles, it is hard to see how people wouldn’t love it.
Prior to launching from Boundary Creek Boat Launch (where I spent time previously), I met with the River Patrol crew out of their shed located near the Challis office. There is where I meet Lynn, Crosby, and Geoffrey. The main purpose of our trip was to support boaters to the B.I.P. (Botany, Invasives and Pollinators) team. The B.I.P. team works to control to spread of weeds throughout the Middle Fork and Main Salmon River. They tackled two major enemies, Borderou and Rush Skeleton Weed which are notorious native grass killers. Most of that initial day was loading the trailers with our boats, supplies, and food.
That same day I was able to return to Boundary Creek Boat launch and got to visit with friends there from my previous station.
After a quick breakfast we made our way down to the eddy and did some last-minute alterations to the rafts. Geoffrey, Lynn and Crosby all took part in giving me a river safety talk. This covered things like the dangers of whitewater, how to properly grip on to the boat during an emergency, proper floating technique, throw ropes and other river etiquette.
After the talk, we officially started our 100-mile journey down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River down to our takeout at Cache Bar. I started on the front dry box of Lynn Richardson, the trip leader. Our first official stop on the trip was at a campsite called Elkhorn. This campsite was the site of a blowout last year created a new of rapids and altered the shape of the river. The B.I.P. team walked through the site and did their thing and river patrol went through to naturalize and frazelle.
Naturalizing and frazelling mean dispersing rocks, and firewood, picking up trash, destroying art installations (anything somebody made to post on Instagram), and checking on the Heritage aspects of campsites (artifacts, pictographs, and pit depressions). Arrowheads and pictographs are abundant along the Middle Fork and are some of the most common aspects of the heritage sites, however, one of the more unique qualities is the pit depressions. Pit depressions are 2 to 5-inch rectangular depressions along the river and were used by the Tuku-Deka as semi-permanent homes and they all are all marked as restricted campsites. Sadly, every week when one of the river patrol teams makes their way down the river, nearly all (if not all) campsites that have pit depressions show clear evidence of people making full use of the pit depressions.
The following day we picked up the B.I.P. weed technicians at Indian Creek airstrip (where I spent nearly a month) and they officially had enough hands for the trip. The day was filled with many hikes, scouting rapids, and of course clearing trails where snags had overtaken the trails.
We were also able to stop a Sunflower Camp. Famous for two reasons, the first being that is arguably the nicest hot spring along the Middle Fork and the sunflowers surrounding it. The second is the amount of Poison Ivy surrounding it. I didn’t think I would be getting a shower on this trip, but still a pleasant experience.
That day I learned more about the businesses that exist on the Middle Fork. Pistol Creek Ranch, Middle Fork Lodge, and the Flying B airstrip/convenience store/hotel. All of these exist because of the high abundance of Geo-thermal energy that exists in central Idaho. We also visited the Little Creek Guard and explored all the surrounding fields. It would also be neglectful to not mention the many different outfitters that exist out here. Their price points are enough to make you take a second look and gasp at the price tag. They also use a type of raft called a sweep boat that exists almost exclusively on the Middle Fork. These large boats are used instead of 22ft gear because of the decline of the river and also can also be extremely dangerous with even a simple mistake.
At this point in the journey the temperatures were reaching over the triple digits, and it was truly putting everyone through extra work. We made sure to take plenty of dips in the middle fork and took our time exploring the historical sites.
One of my favorite draws of the Salmon River was the immense wildlife. Just to list a few there were; Big Horn Sheep, Bald Eagles, Otters, Salmon, and various types of snakes.
This was the part of the trip that everyone looked forward to, the true white water rafting experience. This section was class III rapids that were so much fun to be able to enjoy. The end of the trip because mushed together because of the sheer amount of work and rafting done in a short amount of time.
This experience is something that people wait years to do and spend thousands of dollars on and I was lucky enough to get paid while doing it. Through this trip, I was able to understand just how truly special the Middle Fork of the Salmon is. The Salmon’s River Patrol program is filled with so many loving and knowledgeable people who have truly given their lives to the protection of this river. I hope that one day every body of water in the country has a team as passionate as the Salmon. I learned so much about Salmon and the people that inhabit it.