Go With the Flow: A week on the Salmon River


Salmon River, Idaho

Last week I was reminded how much I love river trips. Winter snows melt into runoff, seep into creeks and become tributaries to large rivers like the Salmon in Idaho. After a few months of rehabbing nagging injuries and dodging summer rains in the PNW, a week of warm weather, good people and splashy whitewater was just the ticket.

The Salmon River is the second deepest river canyon in the Lower 48 and lies within the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. We floated the Main Salmon from Corn Creek to Carey Creek, a little over 80 miles of Class III water, beautiful sandy beaches and high canyon walls.

At medium flow, its important to keep the boat in the main current. Since the river is not dammed and river levels fluctuate wildly, the channels are narrow, creating swirly eddies and little ribbons of downriver current. Stay in those and you’ll be fine. Eddy out and you’ll have to pull hard to get back in.

Christina–raft guide, ski patroller and all-around awesome woman

This is my new motto: stay in the current. Or put another way, go with the flow. Thanks to Christina, a fellow ski patroller and guide on this trip, I learned how to row a dory. It is heavier than it looks and rides the waves like a coffin. But you feel the river more intimately. The hydraulics and swirly eddies suck at the edges of the chine, and waves crash against the bow. Face the waves, take them on the chin and you’ll sail through the rapids. But be sure to avoid the rocks. When the river drops away–the horizon line disrupted only by shots of spray and foam–trust your line, point yourself right at it and row like hell.

Of course, we’re only dealing with Class III rapids here, and that makes all the difference. I recently wrote a post about risk taking, and the dance we do around it. Risk makes us feel alive, but can also kill us. It is a strange dichotomy. On my last river trip, I kayaked the Grand Canyon. After swimming through Lava, the biggest rapid on the river, I stepped back from that risk and reevaluated it. Then my husband got sick and my kayak got stolen and I decided I was okay with that.

A girl in her element

The Salmon taught me something else. I don’t have to risk quite so much for an endeavor to be valid. An easier river can bring just as much joy as the most difficult one. I tell beginners skiers this all the time: you don’t have to ski black diamonds to have fun. It’s easier to give this advice than to adhere to it. But I’ll declare it again: I don’t have to take big risks to have a big adventure.

This was also my first time ever being a client on a guided trip. I decided it wasn’t so bad, especially since two of the guides were friends and the whole group came together much like a private trip. Besides that, the food was excellent and I didn’t have to shop or plan for any of it. Nor did I have to clean the gear once the trip ended.

On day 3 of the trip, Evelyn, my ten-year-old step-daughter told me she wished she could stay on the river forever. “No faucets, no showers, and sleeping outside,” were her favorite parts. “I never want to return to civilization.”

Whether on the river or in the frontcountry, there’s always a way to find the main current and simply go with the flow.

5 responses »

    • Kimmer love it too.
      I have been climbing at a low grade for the same reason now for a long time and now that the Grand kids want to go climbing with Grand Pa, I have a lot of 5.2 climbs lined up and totally Beta out.

  1. Looks absolutely wonderful. And your step-daughter’s summary is priceless. I feel that way when I’m out on the trail for a prolonged backpacking trip. And I’m so heartened to hear that from a kid, no less. I worry that the next generation is so wired that they are losing touch with being in the natural world, unplugged.

  2. I did an 8 day river trip on the Green River in Utah last year when the river was at an all time high and I learned that lesson of going with the flow like it is the only thing I need to know now! There is nothing like river time, for a long time.

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