Day 2: Main Salmon - Carey Creek to Devil's Tooth

Trip Start Aug 11, 2011
Trip End Aug 18, 2011

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Where I stayed
Devil's Tooth Camp on the Main Salmon River
What I did
Whitewater kayaking
rapid scouting

Flag of United States  , Idaho
Friday, August 12, 2011

We got up at 6 a.m. to pack and get ready for our shuttle at 6:45 a.m. that would take us back to the airport for our flight to Salmon, ID at 7:30 a.m. 

While we waited for the shuttle we did one last email check and facebook update to our family and friends. We got something to drink and some muffins in the Metro Cafe within the hotel so we weren't starving. 

Our shuttle took us back to the airport where we met Anna, Mary Frances from Girls at Play and Laura one of the guides from Canyons who would be hosting our trip. There were several ladies already there and we were waiting for a few more. We introduced ourselves and talked for a bit. I finally got to meet in person a southern boater named Leila who I've known on facebook for a long time! LOL!

Once everyone had arrived the Canyons staff and the pilots began to take our luggage and gear and load it on the plane. Each woman had to tell the pilot her weight so she could try to balance out the plane, lol! 

We walked outside to find out why this was necessary and it was because we were taking several 6 seater prop planes to Salmon, ID. Each plane could only hold so much weight between gear and people and they had to assign seats to better balance out the plane! Our flight took about an hour and took us to Salmon, ID. As we flew over Boise it was easy to see why people settled there, it was the only place in the surrounding area that had trees. Everything else was arid, extremely mountainous and seemed nearly impossible to live in. As we continued to fly we saw several tiny villages dotting the landscape and huge cracks in the land with a river at the bottom, it was pretty but looked very rugged. 

Once we landed we had a few minutes to use the restrooms and look around while our gear was being taken off the plane and loaded onto a bus. Kathy and I purchased a guide book that we found at the airport called " Idaho's Salmon River: A River Runner's Guide to the River of No Return, Corn Creek to Carey Creek". It was a guide to the specific section of river that we were running and it was waterproof. It has lot of great info on the rapids, camp sites, and the history of the river

We then loaded the bus and started a two hour drive to the put-in at Corn Creek. Along the way we saw pretty scenery, big horn sheep eating on the side of the road and glimpses of the river here and there. We made a pit stop along the way and we finally arrived at the put-in around lunch time. 

When we got there we could see that the rest of the Canyons staff was there and had our kayaks unloaded and waiting for us. They also had lunch set out for us. We had a chance to change into our river gear, use the last civilized toilet for the week and eat lunch. Lunch consisted of sandwiches, drinks, chips and cookies. 

We then had some time to go outfit our kayaks. When we signed up for the trip we had a chance to select one of their kayaks for the week. I choose a Wavesport Diesel 65 because I have one and I like it. We arranged the seat, hip pads and the foot braces just the way we like it and fits us and gathered our gear up and put it with our boat. 

When lunch was over they gathered all of us and gave us waivers to fill out and a water bottle to use for the trip. They also explained how the trip was going to work etc. There were 14 women total, 3 were Canyon's guides, Lisa, Tessa and Erica in the large Oar Rig rafts which took our camping gear, food and clothes down the river with us. There was one woman, Jenny, a guest who was using a canoe, two guests Karen and Martha who were using Inflatable Kayaks (IKs) and 8 kayakers, Me, Kathy, Leila, Claire, Sally, GAP guides Anna and Mary Frances and Laura from Canyons. We had quite a nice mix of river crafts and experience levels among us. 

We were told that the river level was 9,500 cfs, easily double the normal volume of water for that time of the year and that we would be paddling 13 miles today from Corn Creek to our camp at Devil's Tooth Rapid. We were all given single tents and camp pads for sleeping, they stayed on one of the oar rigs while we paddled each day. We were also told to keep our water bottles full and to keep drinking to avoid dehydration in the heat and arid air. We were each given a small "day" dry bag to keep inside our kayak and we could put whatever we wanted in it. I usually kept my lip balm, sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat in mine. We were also given a huge dry bag which contained our sleeping bag and enough room for our dry camp clothes and very limited toiletries we were able to bring. Once those were packed and loaded onto the oar rigs we had to usual safety speech from our trip leader Lisa and a few other things we needed to know about

In total we were going to be paddling 81 miles over the next 6 days with an average gradient drop of 1,000 vertical feet or a drop of 12 feet per mile. We would be stopping every afternoon for lunch and sometime for some side hikes and to visit some historic ranches, every night we would camp on a designated beach area where we would have happy hour, dinner and dessert. Yoga would be done every morning before breakfast. Basically we were living on the river for the next week. Lisa and Laura then explained the bathroom policy to us. We were told that the Park Service stance was "the solution to pollution is dilution", basically we had to pee in the river. For the other issue we had what amounted to an large ammo case with a seat on it. It was taken down river on the raft and set up anytime we set up camp. At first it sounded so bizarre but you really got used to it pretty quickly. Once we had all the info we needed to know we were able to get into our boats and paddle around.

We did some warm ups and rolls next to the beach just as a large jet boat came up river and made a huge wake. Once we entered the current it was easy to feel the power of the Salmon even in the flatter area. There were weird boils that opened up out of the blue and wanted to suck you in. You really had to pay attention even in the flat water. The waves in this river are large and powerful, even in the smaller rapids. There are huge boiling eddy lines and many spots that grab your stern and try to flip you. It reminds me of the New River in WV in a way but the scenery is totally different. The landscape is arid but there are tons of yellow pine and douglas fir trees growing anyway and there are huge boulder, possibly of basalt stone there. 

Our first rapid was class II+ Killum Rapid about 1.6 miles into the trip. It sits just beyond a sharp right hand turn of the river and for the most part was runnable in the center. There were some large powerful wave trains to paddle through but nothing too crazy. We had two swimmers both Karen and Sally, but we got them back into their kayak and IK without a problem. Killum is named for the Killum family who lived on the beach next to the rapid in the 1930s. 

We had about .7 mile to our next rapid. Along the way we saw big horn sheep feeding down by the river, eagles flying above us and some small deer on a beach. We passed them quietly and let them be. Next up was class II+ Gunbarrel Rapid. It was a strait forward run and no one had any problem here. We passed by Hand Spring Beach, Horse Creek Camp and Bridge Beach Camp, all different beach sites on the river because we already had a designated beach for the night. The Main Salmon River requires permits to access the river and part of the process atleast for commercial outfitters is that they must also reserve camp sites each night on a first come first served basis. The outfitters are only allowed to select certain beaches and the rest are open for private boaters. 

Next we came to class II Stub Creek Rapid which ran mainly right of center to avoid the large hole on the left. We were starting to notice that out west only the bigger rapids get names as we passed through dozens of smaller unnamed rapids. Also the scale of rapid difficulty seemed to be a bit off here. What they called a class II was likely an east coast class III, and just because it was a class II rapid that was one thing but more often than not they had class IV sized lateral waves and boils waiting to take you down!

Another thing that we noticed was that the scenery was starting to change very gradually. The put-in area at Corn Creek was surrounded by trees, now as we floated along we noticed trees mainly on the left bank and open fields with sporadic trees on the right hand bank. The explanation is that the left bank is cooler because it is in shadow most of the day and it supports more plant life and retains more water. The right bank gets more direct sunlight all day and is drier. It was interesting to watch the landscape and geology change is just a few miles on the water. 

We passed by the Stub Creek Camp, and the Legend Creek Pictographs because the poison ivy was too bad. We also passed Upper and Legend Creek Camps and the Spindle Creek Campsite. There were a few rustic cabins along the banks of the river near flat bars or beaches. We also passed by Lucky Creek Trail, Cottonwood Creek, Phantom Camp on our way to our next rapid class III Rainer Rapid. 

Rainer starts off nice enough,some big wave trains to contend with but halfway through the size of the waves get HUGE! I shit you not there were atleast 10 foot high standing waves. A huge lateral wave came out of nowhere and slammed into me. It was the hardest I have ever been hit by a wave on the river, it didn't hurt but it was stunning. I've never been tackled by a linebacker but I imagine that's what the force feels like. I almost got flipped but threw out a brace long enough to keep myself upright. The run was pretty much down the center and with a little bit of left hand angle. All the way down this rapid you could hear the ladies hooting and hollering. Those were the biggest waves I've ever seen, including the New and Gauley in WV!

Next we approached class III Alder Creek Rapid. Alder is a new rapid formed during the extremely high snowmelt in May 2011, and also the big rain storms to hit the area in June and July of 2011, its so new its not even in the guidebook! We got out to scout the rapid. Looking down river the current funneled into a giant V with a big hole on river right and several other smaller holes to the left. We looked at it for awhile and then it was time to run it. We were following the tongue and heading left of center and threading our way through the various holes. I don't know what happened but we had quite the shit-show! Everyone swam but Anna, Mary Frances and our guides! There were boats, paddles, people, water bottle everywhere. It was hilarious!

Once everyone was back in their boats we continued down river and passed Fawn Creek Camp, Upper Lantz Bar Camp, and Lower Lantz Camp before coming upon class II+ Lantz Rapid. Lantz is a backwards S shaped rapid and the river tries to slam you into the right hand bank. Overall it wasn't very difficult you just needed to pay attention to what the current was doing. 

We passed Tag Creek Camp, Disappointment Creek Trail, and Dwyer Creek Trail before coming to class III- Devil's Tooth Rapid. Devil's Tooth was the most technical rapid we hit so far. There were large rocks jutting out of the river pretty much across the entire river, I guess that's where the reference to teeth comes into play. We ran left of center, just left of the biggest rock in the river and made it through fine. We pulled an eddy on river left just below the rapid to find out this would be our camp for the night. 

We got out of kayaks, pulled them high enough up on shore,incase the water level rose over night we didn't want any to float away. We stripped off our wet gear and laid it out in the sun to dry. We then each got a tent bag and went about setting up camp. Our camp was a small sand beach surrounded by rocks and trees. We each sent up our small tent and put air into our mattress paid, and laid out our sleeping bags. We then headed down to the raft to get our large dry bags so we could change into dry clothing. 

As we were setting up our tents and changing our guides had pulled out camp chairs, set up two tables and were starting to cook over a fire. They told happy hour was ready. We had some beers and appetizers and sat around getting to know each other before dinner. All of the ladies were really nice. The ages ranged from teenagers to early 60s. Most of us came from the east coast, PA and VA, there were also some ladies from the southeast NC and AL and one from the west coast. 

Our dinner was salmon, a salad, wild rice and bread and brownies for dessert. It was amazing what they could make out on the middle of the wilderness with just some cookware and a fire. Everything was very fresh, delicious and healthy. We sat around the fire talking for the rest of the night before heading off to bed.

Main Salmon River Info:

Girls at Play:

Canyons, Inc.:

Main Salmon River:


Salmon River Guidebook:

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