An umbrella drink vacation, Idaho style.When I got invited on a trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, I had no idea how lucky I was. My friends had been trying for 12 years to score a permit. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Which, I've learned, is the secret to running rivers, racing bikes...and much of life.
The put-in for the 99-mile, six-day Middle Fork trip is at the Boundary Creek Campground in the River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho, about a nine-hour drive from Bend. Like water evaporating and returning to a river as snowmelt, sometimes people recirculate in our lives. At the put-in, I was reunited with my roommate from grad school in the '80s, Carol Cady, who now lives in Missoula. Carol was an Olympic discus thrower in '84 and '88 who went on to earn an M.D./PhD. Anything Carol decides to do, she excels at. She turned her focus to whitewater kayaking about 15 years ago, so I felt pretty good following her down the river.
The trip started right out with Velvet Falls at Mile 5.3, preceded by Hell's Half Mile. In The Middle Fork of the Salmon River: A Comprehensive Guide, Matt Leidecker provides this cheery advice: "To avoid the hole, push or pull into the powerful eddy below the triangular rock...Pull too soon and you bounce off the triangular rock into the meat of Velvet Falls, too late and you're also a goner. Good luck!" The river level, an ideal 3.1 feet, was well below my anxiety level and we all ran Velvet smoothly. Two miles later, we were luxuriating in the first riverside hotspring at Trail Flat.
And that pretty much characterizes the unique Middle Fork experience-continuous whitewater action counterbalanced by soothing hotwater soaks, all set in spectacular pristine wilderness. The upper reaches are cooler and woodsy while the lower section opens up into drier landscape and sandy beaches.
The second day provided our biggest adventure. It featured the most treacherous Class IV of the trip, Pistol Creek Rapid, where the water speeds into a tight S-turn around bedrock ledges, Pistol Wall and a large manacing log protruding into the river. The trouble began, however, just upriver in the Lake Creek Rapid, which we had intended to scout, but unfortunately did not, due to the less-than-accurate Forest Service guidebook (Use Leidecker's guide). The two of us in inflatables could not make the power move to the left to avoid an enormous hole, thereby experiencing a thrilling swim. We managed to pull out on river left just above Pistol while my ducky ran Pistol without me. We found ourselves at the bottom of an extremely steep 100-foot embankment which required us to rig a pulley system to haul up the kayaks before hiking back down to Pistol Creek.
Highlights of the rest of the trip were good food, great company, beautiful walks, mountain goats, a full moon, a plentitude of hotsprings and successful negotiations of Earthquake Rock, Rubber, Devil's Tooth and the big grand finale of Cramer Creek Rapid below the confluence with the Main Salmon. Our final camp was at Cradle Creek, where prayer flags hung high on the rocky canyon wall in honor of Eddy Miller.
LE TOUR, CCC, NATIONALS
One reason Lance Armstrong is a great bike racer is that he has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. This tour, enjoying a pregnant pause before entering the Alps, has all the makings for drama ala Lemond/Hinault, with Armstrong sitting just behind Contador in third place. Should be fun to watch.
There will also be great live bicycling locally. The Cascade Cycling Classic, July 21-26, will be followed by the U.S. National Championships in Bend July 28-Aug. 2. The CCC will star Floyd Landis, in his third race since returning to the sport from his doping ban, and Taylor Phinney, the 19-year old son of former pro Davis Phinney and Olympic gold medalist Connie Carpenter-Phinney. I'm betting that Phinney, who won the individual pursuit at the World Cycling Championships in March, will be the next Lance Armstrong. The CCC and Nationals need volunteers!! www.cascade-classic.org/ or Renee Mansour at [email protected] or 541-771-1094.