Women weep at its sight!
Men are limp and pale...
Attempting passage is to tempt fate!
Yet here we are...
Natalie, Simon, and I...
at the Corn Creek boat ramp along with 13 other adventurers, 6 guides, and 6 giant rafts stuffed with camping gear, enough ice-packed food to feed a small army, and a generous supply of ice-packed beer to drown the same small army. If we were going to engage in folly, we would do it in style!
The funny thing about a multi-day guided float trip is how little physical work the passengers actually do. The guides, however, are constantly busy setting up camp, cooking, cleaning, tearing down camp... and rowing giant rafts through rapids and along doldrums.
Here's how a typical day's critical tasks are divided between passengers and guides:
Todd's Handy Chart of Critical Tasks
I think this delineates the roles and responsibilities in a fair and balanced way.
Well as the song goes,
"Row, row, row the boat, using my own guide"
"Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, where's my dinner and beer!"
Are you ready for some river time?
Are you ready to get a groove?
Come along on a brief tour deep in the Salmon River Canyon...
In picture and caption format!
Let's begin, shall we?
Everyone's freshly coiffed and giddy with excitement as our Adventure-of-No-Return begins!
Actually, the Salmon River received its River of no Return moniker not because of danger, but because the sweep scow boats, built specifically to haul lumber from Salmon City to Lewiston, could not be returned to Salmon City. Instead, they were dismantled and sold with the rest of the lumber.
The River of No Return name has stuck because it's a WAY better tourism slogan than The River You Drive Back Around To and Start Again.
Below: Natalie (center) and Simon (cool shades guy) suited up to start the trip. Note Jason, one of the guides, is covered from head to foot to block the sun. The guides can rack up a lot of sun hours in a season.
The guys and gals of SOAR Northwest are extraordinary in their river skills and personalities. As Todd's Handy Chart of Critical Tasks demonstrated, the guides pretty much do it all on these trips. Even our day in the more physically demanding paddle raft was low key.
Leading the crew, SOAR owner, guide, and master chef Ari Kotler has the trip's sequence of events well choreographed, including the logistics that begin days before a raft touches water. And, though the SOAR crew worked hard, they did (contrary to what Todd's Handy Chart of Critical Tasks shows) take time to eat and drink beer with us.
Below: The SOAR crew setting up Groundhog Camp. River time with each guide was a blast. They're fun, funny, interesting people. From left to right: Brett, Allison, Jason, Mara, and Ari. Missing from the image is Wade.
Yes, we were a rag-tag group. Professionals, retirees, a kid going off to college, another kid being a kid. The one thing most of us had in common was a tie to the Idaho Conservation League, where Natalie and fellow passenger, Marie, work. As a result, there were after dinner discussions about Idaho's river ecosystems and related conservation issues. Simon dubbed ICL as the Idaho Conversation League.
Below: OK, let's see... passengers and crew, from left to right: Erik, Linn, Jason, Wade, Mara, Brendan, Allison, Connie, Alan, Rob, Justina, Brett, Cole, Marty, Marie, Natalie, Dennis, some guy named Todd, Ari, Simon, and Claire!
Now that we've got the introductions and pleasantries behind us, let's get down to business.
The Salmon River runs through the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. At 2.367 million acres (3,698 square miles), it's the largest contiguous federally managed wilderness in the United States outside of Alaska (Yeah, don't look this up on Wikipedia because you'll see there are different ways to slice and dice what area is #1 and all of that!).
Here's a Fun Fact! You know how sizes are always compared to "The size of Rhode Island?" Well, the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness is three times the size of Rhode Island! And now you have no better idea about the size of Rhode Island than you did before! You are welcome!
Anyway, being a wilderness area, packing everything out that you packed in isn't just a good idea, it's the law!!! And that includes your poop! With over 5,000 people visiting the river's beach camps annually, it's easy to imagine how poopy they would become without poop it out rules. Ironically, you are encouraged to pee in the river because dilution is the solution to pollution!
Anyway, back to the poop. Nowadays, the rafting companies bring sturdy metal boxes on which a toilet seat is attached. That's where you poop. But back in the day, before an entrepooper invented a metal box with an attachable toilet seat, river companies used World War II era munitions boxes in which to poop. I can't imagine they sealed "air-tight," if you catch my drift.
Anyway, after sitting on a munitions box to deliver a lethal grenade, the sitter was left with "grooves" on the back of the thighs and therefore, everyone knew his/her immediate past "doings."
And THAT'S why it's called the groover!
The trick with the groover is that you need to get your "call of nature" in sync with the daily float schedule; once you're on the raft for the day, there's no groovin'. If you've really got to groove during river time, your guide will make a beach stop, but you'll be packing a special delivery bag the rest of the day.
Q. How many groovers do 21 people fill with poop in six days?
Below: Groover with a view! I was happy no other rafts came around the corner.
Food, Camp, and Sleeping Out
Food! Bacon with your pancakes? Fresh fruit? Caprese salad bites? Grilled salmon? Steak? BBQ'd chops? Cold beer or chipped ice for cocktails? How about a dutch oven baked cake? Mint Oreo cookies? Breakfast, lunch, or dinner, the menu was always varied... and always great... and safely stored on ice in giant coolers. NO one was losing weight on this trip!
Hors d'oeuvres? Caprese salad bites on grilled baguette!
Ari's Chops City!
Camp Chat - Natalie, Brett, Simon, Brendan, and Jason.
A typical camp setup: No tent and no bugs. Just stars and river sounds.
Hey! It's the Ari and Todd show!
By day three, river time has kicked in. You know the routine and who's who; you can relax. Every now and then there's a rapid to be splashed through, but the guides know the river so well they can thread the needle of any whitewater with ease. Actually, I'm pretty sure they can decide just how much water they want to deliver on their passengers.
Our day with guide Allison was an education for me. She let me take the oars for a while. The oars are heavy! The uninitiated (that would be moi) expend a lot of energy trying to keep them under control, never mind the raft. She had me push through a small rapid. Using my dope skilz and awesome poise, I masterfully guided our raft into an eddy. I oared out of the eddy... and was immediately pushed back into it.
I gave Allison her damn oars back!
She made it look SO easy.
Did I mention my new camera made its debut on this trip? It DID! Because of the wet nature of water, it stayed in my dry bag during most river time. I brought it out one day on a calm stretch and snapped a few shots. Unfortunately, I inadvertently flipped a switch to an effects setting. I hope you enjoy the cartoonish format!
The Salmon teams with wildlife. Osprey and bald eagles dotted riverside pines every mile or so, as did deer and mountain sheep. We were told there are trout in the river, and fellow traveler, Rob, tried several times to invite a few to dinner with his fly rod. They accepted the hors d'ourves he provided, but declined his invitation join us at the fire.
The (bright) yellow crab spider Natalie spied one afternoon at camp was a crowd pleaser, but my favorite was the mountain sheep that stood atop a rock, still as a statue, for several minutes; I had time to grab my camera and take the shot. Though highly cropped, I feel the image conveys how strong and beautiful these creatures are.
Now HERE's a little guy that caught my attention. Super cool blue tail. I called out to Natalie, "Natalie, look at this skank!" Natalie called back, "No, that's a skink. A skank is something entirely different!"
Natalie's usually right, but I was unconvinced. A Google search lead me to humor-novel author Amy Vansant's website where she graphically explains the difference between a skink and a skank. I'm still confused. I think they're both kind of cute...
Smoke and Fires
Idaho, like the entire western United States, enjoys four seasons: winter, spring, fire and smoke, and fall. This year's fire and smoke season has been outstanding. In fact, much of the west is burning as I write this post!
Voyaging down the main Salmon brings the effects of fire to the forefront. Over the past two decades, much of the land has burned. Because of its wilderness status, fires are allowed to burn in the Frank Church-River of No Return unless structures, such as back country homesteads and lodges, are in danger of becoming charcoal.
So it was on our trip. The canyon was shrouded in hazy bluish smoke as we passed skeletal forests, interspersed with non-burned stands here and there. One afternoon we passed an active burn. It was a good burn... moving slowly, mowing down forest undergrowth. Still, it was eerie to float along quietly while the bark of a nearby tree crackled in flames.
Until the forests are back in balance, this is the new normal. It turns out fire is good.
A cleansing fire moving its way across the forest floor at the river's bank.
Sure, it's designated wilderness, but there's a whole history of people who settled along the Salmon. And at times it was more than a few; it was a couple thousand, usually seeking the riches of gold.
Today, a number of historic homesteads and ranches remain dotted along the river, still occupied and cared for, and we had the opportunity to visit them.
Here's a fun fact! Arnold Aviation, out of Cascade, Idaho, is the last scheduled air mail service in the lower 48. Once a week, for the past 42 years, Ray Arnold has flown his Cessna 185 through the Salmon River Canyon, making stops on bumpy grass airstrips to deliver mail and staples. At $.33 per pound, air delivery is a necessary luxury.
Below, Natalie talks with Sue Metz, current co-owner and caretaker of Yellow Pine Bar. Sue's garden grows everything.
Doug and Phyllis Tims, current caretakers of Campbell's Ferry. These two have their story craft well tuned.
At the Reho Wolfe homestead, while Reho's son, David, spoke, his grandson played with a headless but still writhing rattlesnake. Yeah, I have no idea what David said.
Well there you have it!
Who knew six days and nights floating the River of No Return would return so much?
More importantly, now you know what a groover is!
Thanks to Ari, Mara, Allison, Jason, Wade, and Brett for taking such good care of us. If you ever get the urge to live easy on the Salmon, call Ari at SOAR Northwest. He'll float, wine, and dine you.
Before I go, did I mention my new camera? It made my finger press its button over 500 times during the trip. If you'd like to see the shots that made the final cut, stop on by my Main Salmon River Float Album.
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We're not done yet!
OK, gotta go! Gotta get my groove on!
Ciao! ~ Todd
SOAR Northwest rafts at the ready.
Mara is the photobomb JEDI! For more Mara photobombs, see my PHOTOS!
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