After the flight to Boise we checked into the Best Western Vista, had dinner on our own then met guide Chris for an orientation and final Q&A session.
We met in the lobby area for breakfast at 5:30 am, then loaded up ourselves and river gear for the flights to Salmon. The plane I was on held 4. I think there were 4 other planes. The flight is really cool; over and through the Sawtooth range, seeing rivers, fires etc. At times we were not as high as the peaks we flew past. Most of the snow was gone but still a few holdout patches. The flight is about an hour and a half. From the airport we were greeted by Verle, the owner of Action Whitewater Adventures, the outfitter that provides all gear, food, raft guides, etc.
We loaded on the bus headed for the river, with a stop at North Fork to buy beer, wine, booze, fishing gear and licenses for those wanting same. The selection was good and prices really fair. On the ride in along the river we saw a lot of interesting things including bighorn sheep and river features. We arrived at Corn Creek boat launch, set up the boats and soon we were off in rafts, duckies, kayaks and a Shredder with even a SUP stashed on the raft.
The level was 0.45 ft at the ramp, or 3300 cfs, contrasted with about 5400 cfs on the American Whitewater page. The difference is due to all the creeks and rivers that flow into the Main between the two guages. This level was average for our launch date. The week before it had been 0.7 ft.
We had 8 of us in hard shell Jackson kayaks: Zens, Karmas, Fun Runners, plus one in a Shredder for our group, plus 10 others in paddle rafts and inflatable kayaks provided by the outfitter. A couple of us had our own craft, but most came from a Boise shop we have a great deal with. The other guides, except for my assistant in a Jackson Hero, ran the 18 foot sweep rafts used to haul our food and gear and the paddle raft. Folks switched between craft daily, or even more often, which is always an option. Anyone not wanting to run a rapid just put their boat and selves on a raft.
After a quick 1.5 mi we came to our first name rapid; Killum, rated 2+, which served as a warmup, followed by Gunbarrel (2 +) less than a mile later. There were several less significant rapids until mile 8, with Ranier (class 3) and big waves. Pretty much all the rapids had good sized, fun wave trains with some big ones of 6 feet (some guessed 8).
Next was Alder Creek rapid (class 3), a suggested scout, at mile 8.6. Nothing of consequence until Lantz at mile 11.2 where we all got some unexpected excitement from this big wave reverse S-turn. The book gives it 2 plus; we gave it a 3. The last named rapid of the day was Devils Teeth (class 2+ to 3). We camped just below at the camp of same name. We unloaded, set up and kicked back after our short 13 mile day. Cold libations flowed.
Dinner was steak and baked potatoes with salad and cheesecake for dessert. Some slept in tents, some did not. Such a pleasure with no mosquitos.
We all did our morning rituals, ate a good breakfast and were underway at 9 am. The first stop almost right away was the Devils Toe Pictographs, then another few miles to Little Devils Teeth rapid; an easy 2.
The next 3 scenic miles ended at Black Creek rapid (mile 20.8), rated by me as a 4. This rapid didn't exist until 2011 and continues to change to the steepest, most technical drop on the river. We scouted from river-left and saw at least a partial tongue on river-right to avoid the big hole. When I got over to the right, I couldn't see the line so followed a boat that disappeared over the lip. Turned out, a bad choice as I was way too far right, so directly into the hole, got violently swirled, roll attempts failed, so I did a manly swim after running out of air. There were several other flips, but the others were at least mostly on the tongue. No harm done and I will definitely not do that again! There's a good chance next year's line could be far left(?). After that excitement we had a pretty relaxed run until visiting Maisie (class 3) at mile 26.2. The next biggee was Bailey (class 3+) at mile 32.5. With a hole hiding in the wave train, we ran right without mishap. From there, a mile to camp at Allison Ranch; a special deal as it usually isn't open to the public. Our company is friends with the caretaker Jim Mozingo. Great campsite and really interesting place. Jim gave us a tour of the museum and cool cabins built on the property. There is even a tiny airstrip.
Day 3 was truly awesome with 26 miles of great rapids: Sapp Creek, 5 Mile, Split Rock, Little Stinkerv (all 3s), then Big Mallard (3-4). Nobody fed 'the duck' but it is a big rapid, Big waves, big hole to miss. Of course ya gotta have a Little Mallard then Elkhorn, rated a 4, but not at this level; just long and fun, followed by Growler, which was really growling on the left, so we went center, then Whiplash, which can be the toughest rapid on the river at high water but class 2+ at low. Next was Boise Bar rapid (3), then a stop at Buckskin Bill's where we saw the small museum to Bill, an old squatter that built a gun turret to protect his non-rights and made knives, guns, etc. Pretty interesting. Some bought ice cream and some beer. After less than 2 miles our final rapid; Ludwig, (3) with more big waves invigorated us all for our camp called Dead Man (a pilot died there) at mile 55.7, a half mile later. 26 beautiful miles, 12 notable rapids. How could it be any better. No one even thought it was a long day, but the libations were sure good.
Day 4. Another great breakfast then on the river about 9 am for a gentle 5 miles then a couple of fun 2s, more scenic river to Cottontail rapid and T-bone Rapid (2-3). The first rapid of consequence was Dried Meat Rapid, followed by camp at Slide Beach at mile 75.2. We had a good Mexican dinner followed by a talent show and dress up event. What happens on the river.....
Day 5 was an easy start past the Confluence with the South Fork Salmon and Chittam Rapid; sometimes class 4, but not so for us then Vinegar Rapid which is a powerful flow that develops a big hole that flips rafts at low water. We scouted river-left and I wish we had checked out river-right. I ran the worst line possible unexpectedly, busted my hand up, etc. but no one followed, needless to say, so I was the bozo. Last rapid was Carey Falls a half mile before the Carey Creek boat ramp, our takeout.
The Main Salmon is a great, fun river to paddle and simply a great place to experience. I quit trying to compare it to the Middle Fork early on the trip. They are both wonderful rivers but with different characteristics. I will continue my study by running them both next year. Launching on the Middle Fork July 30 to arrive at the Main Aug 4, a night in town, then launching on the Main August 5, taking off on August 9 for a night in McCall then coming home, I guess (: