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The Gearboat Chronicles

Lower Salmon All To Ourselves

From wetplanetsalmon

Crawled out of my tent Tuesday morning twenty feet from the Salmon River. Looked up and couldn’t help but notice the snowline was just 200 feet above the Salmon River. Crawled back in the tent to stay there until July. I would have, too, if Paul hadn’t put a fresh mug of coffee outside, close enough for me to smell it but far enough that I had to leave my sleeping bag to reach that sweet, caffeinated elixir. Damn you, coffee.

Next thing I know we’re shoving off for three days on the lower Salmon and I have to confess the weather got better, I was glad to be there and once again found myself patting myself on the back for leaving a so-called real job to work on the river.

Todd and Jaco brought some of the Wet Planet crew over from their Columbia Gorge headquarters on the White Salmon River. They had six kayakers in the water, plus passengers on our three rafts rowed by Paul, Morgan and myself. Didn’t see another soul until we hit the Snake River and got into jetboat territory. Not one person. Which is a definite upside to an earlyish spring trip with the snowline way down low.

The Salmon was running at 11 to 12,000 cubic feet per second while we were down there. That’s double what I’ve seen it at before. Turns out it’s a very easy flow. The usual rocks and shallow stretches were well under water. Snow Hole Rapid is much more forgiving at 11 thou and you don’t need to row your arms out of their sockets nearly as much through China Bar.

If you haven’t been on that lower Salmon stretch, I’ll just say that you can believe the hype. No dams, so the water is clear – excepting right now when spring runoff adds dirt and sand particles into the mix. But that’s a good thing, in the form of big white sandy beaches for deluxe campsites. You float through impressive canyons and my personal favorite thing to behold are the columnar basalt displays, which appear to be gigantic honeycombed rock crystals lining the shore in places.

Also interesting is the The Slide. It’s a Jekyll and Hyde river feature. Normally it’s nothing. A monster rock slide deposited a big, big pile of big, big boulders on the left side of the river. At low water, you wouldn’t even know it’s got a reputation as a rapid at all. You just bob through on gentle waves. In big water, though, say over 20,000 cfs, you’ll know. That pile of rocks shoves the river hard right and slams it into the opposite rock wall. In the mid-20s to 30,000 and up flows, you just don’t do it. Because you can’t. So my ears perked up as we floated toward the Slide and I could hear it a good long way up the canyon. I knew well the river wasn’t running anywhere near the 20-thousand danger zone. But still. I thought maybe I should take a sip of the hot chocolate and spiced rum concoction that my trusty crew, Lauren and Alison, had made to take the nip off the weather. Maybe two sips. Just in case I got thirsty in the next few minutes.

And it was nothing to be concerned about, the Slide at 12,000 cfs. Just a fun ride down a little wave train. So I took another sip to celebrate.