Salmon River Rafting Trip with O.A.R.S.
My O.A.R.S. trip started with an introduction the night before our scheduled departure from McCall to Salmon, Idaho. We met at the Hunt Lodge where the folks from O.A.R.S. went over trip details and expectations.
Early the next morning I made our way from the Hunt Lodge where I had been staying, to the McCall airport. We then boarded a series of small planes to transport us closer to our rafting put-in point. The hour-long flight provided some spectacular views of rural Idaho.
Once we landed in Salmon, we boarded a bus that took us the remainder of the way to our starting point. The ride was about two hours; with great anticipation building among the guests…we were all excited to get on the water. Once we arrived at our put-in point, we received additional safety instructions and details of the trip. After enjoying our first of many guide-prepared meals, we were finally ready to hit the river. We rafted for a few hours, stopping once for a short hike before reaching our camp site. As we disembarked we received further instructions on camp etiquette—then we formed a fire-line to assist in unloading the boats. By the time we had our tents set up; the crew had appetizers prepared for us.
Just as we were settling in getting to know one another, the call for dinner was announced, which included grilled salmon, rice and salad…a very impressive camp meal.
The soothing sounds of the rapids soon lulled us all to sleep. Many of the crew members opted to sleep on their boats, out in the open under the stars. As midnight approached, unbeknownst to all of us, the weather began to change. Wet stuff from above began dispersing. Everyone was now up and out of their tents trying to affix rain fly’s. Unfortunately for the crew, and a few other folks, they had to set tents up in the soaking rain. As I was getting dressed to put my rainfly on, I noticed someone loitering near my tent—as this person took notice that I was up, she asked if she could share my tent as she had not set one up. The nice guy I am…I accommodated.
After my new lodger helped me affix the rain fly, we attempted to get comfortable and get back to sleep. Unfortunately for me it was a bit rough, not only was my sleeping bag damp, but having a strange woman next to me wasn’t helping matters.
Morning greeted us with clear skies, coffee, tea and hot chocolate…breakfast consisted of blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup and an outstanding melon called: “Santa Claus.” After breakfast and packing up, we hit the river for our first full day.
After a few hours on the river we pulled over for a hike…while a couple of the guides led the hike, the others prepared lunch, which was ready upon our arrival. After lunch we hit the river once again. Soon thereafter, we noticed the skies begin to cloud up…then the rain started. The light rain turned to a torrential downpour, and it didn’t take long until we were sufficiently soaked. The weather turned progressively worse as the rain formed to hail—small stuff at first…then it turned into pea size hail, which really hurt when it hit strategic spots on the body, e.g. the tops of ears. The hail continued to increase in size and ultimately reach the size of a garbanzo bean…let me tell you, at this size it pretty much hurt wherever it hit the body.
Just as the cold had fully set-in, the guides pulled off to an embankment where they led us up a short hill. As we made our assent, I began to notice steam, which got me extremely excited…“hot spring” I thought. Sure enough, there was a man-made tub that held about twenty people at a time. The warmth of the hot water was so inviting, and so timely. Just as we sufficiently warmed up, the skies cleared for what would become an enjoyable afternoon.
After a couple more hours of rafting, we arrived at our camp destination. Once our tents were set up we enjoyed appetizers and then an outstanding dinner that included; chicken fajitas, black bean & mandarin orange salsa, chips, dirty rice and iced cold beer. For dessert we roasted smores over the campfire. Evening activities included a competitive game of horseshoes.
Breakfast included eggs any style with ham, melon, juice, coffee and English muffins. Yesterday I spent the afternoon on the river in an inflatable kayak, which was a lot of fun and more active than being in a raft.
After a couple hours of kayaking, we pulled off to do a short hike to an area called “Old Eakin Cabin Site,” which is now managed by the forest service. This area was inhabited many years ago by a man who built a cabin and planted an orchard of fruit trees. The trees on the property actually still bear fruit…during our stop we enjoy a bounty of cherries that were in season. After our bellies were full, we headed back to the rafts and kayaks and continued downstream.
Since the river is always changing due to varying water levels, the guides would occasionally pull over to observe various rapids and decide on a line to take. I had taken great pride in the fact that I had yet to “go swimming,” a term used for those who fall out of boats—that stretch would soon come to an end. We were coming up to one of the bigger rapids on this stretch of river, “Five and a half mile…” it’s a two-part rapid with a small break in between the second part. This rapid was long and a serious Class III, (maybe even 3.5). My heart was pumping as I approached, some of the waves it was creating must have been 8-10’ feet high, which I judged by using our lead Dorrie boat as a measuring stick…as it went through the boat looked nearly vertical at times. I made it about three quarters of the way through the first set up rapids and was thinking I was nearly home free…when all of a sudden, a side wave crashed atop my boat and jarred me to one side—as I was trying to gain my balance by taking a strong paddle stroke, I caught air instead of water, which caused my boat to go further awry, thus throwing me into the frigid and turbulent waters.
You’re taught to try and hold onto your paddle, which I did, and then swim to your boat and try and get back in. However, in this case, my boat was so far from me that all I could do was let the rapid take me downstream where a rescue boat would retrieve me. Once in the raft, I couldn’t believe how out of breath I was…it took several minutes before I would resume normal breathing. In the meantime, as we made our way to the side of the river into an eddie, we waited for a lagging raft to procure my kayak so that I could continue. However, as it was, my kayak was sucked into a significant boyle which caused my kayak to spin in successive circles. The guide from the lagging raft was unable to retrieve my kayak…thankfully a fellow kayaker from another company was able to paddle into the boyle and retrieve it for our guide to bring it downstream for me. Needless to say, it was an exciting day on the river.
After finding and setting up camp, we were once again enjoying a fabulous dinner prepared by the guides…this evening we indulged on pork tenderloin, pasta and a freshly baked red velvet cake for dessert. Each day it amazed me how the crew was able to store and prepare such quality meals—maybe not restaurant gourmet, but certainly fantastic for camping standards.
This evening we enjoyed the soulful tunes from our talented guitar playing and singing guide, Chris.
Everyone was really tired from the extra long day and so most were in bed before darkness could envelope the evening.
The day started out with a breakfast consisting of French toast, bacon, fresh melon, yogurt and granola. After our usual routine of breakfast, then packing up camp, we were off once again. Today would be the first fairly “mellow” day of the trip…only a couple big rapids, which allowed us to relax and enjoy the slowly passing scenery. It was also a fairly short day with regards to river miles, due in part that we covered so many miles the day before. The river guides try and reserve campsites, but there are a limited amount that can be reserved, the rest are first-come-first serve. Since the river was still flowing a bit high, many campsites were not fully revealed and could not accommodate our large group—therefore we had to just continue downstream until we could find an adequate site. It took awhile, but we finally found a really nice spot to park for the evening.
During the day I got an opportunity to get on the oars of the Dorrie boat. Laurie (another passenger) had given the oars a shot just prior to me…she lasted all of a minute or two. I was giving her so much crap, she enthusiastically let me have my turn…knowing that I would end up taking back everything I had just said. It didn’t take long before I quickly apologized to Laurie for teasing her. I was blown away at how difficult oaring was/is. I have rowed a lot in the past, but smaller boats. Rowing is also known as pulling…what I found incredibly difficult was the “pushing part.” In other words…rowing is when the bow of the boat is going downstream, “pushing is when you are facing forward and the stern of the boat is going downstream. The muscles that it takes to “Push” are muscles I never knew I had…I’d never felt such an odd burn before. In addition, I almost felt that “Pushing” was a counter intuitive motion…guess it’s something that one just has to get used to.
The prior day I had been in the Dorrie boat for a spell with Deb, the oarsman…we went down a very challenging rapid and while going down we were headed for a big boulder and hole (a spot on the other side of a boulder…that you do not want to be). Deb oared like our lives depended on it…it was an amazing thing to witness. Given the experience from the day before, then having an opportunity to oar myself…I had huge appreciation and respect for the guides—they make it look so leisurely. There were a couple days where the guides had to oar many extra miles because we could not find campsites…then, they’d have to set up camp (i.e. kitchen, tarps, toilet, etc.) and prepare dinner. While it must be one cool job to be a river guide, they earn every penny in salary and tips. After a week on the river, I was exhausted and hadn’t done half the work of the crew. Huge props to those guys!
Day four of our trip took us to a really cool sojourn, a place called the “Buckskin Bill Museum,” which is also a bit of a trading post where you can pick up ice, soda or an ice cream cone. The museum is comprised of relics, tools, pictures and other archives of a man named Sylvan Hart, aka, “Buckskin Bill” as he was known. Sylvan lived off of deer and used their hides for clothing…he smelled so badly that the Forest Service called him, “Buckskin Bill.”
For lunch we stopped at a beach just past a bridge, which gave us all an opportunity to do some exploring. I really enjoyed the vantage point the bridge provided for photos and video. Our mid-day meal included hummus, pita bread, meats, cheeses and some cookies for dessert. I was not feeling well by the time lunch was served, my stomach seemed upset and so I did not eat much. We didn’t have much longer until camp since we rafted so many miles the day before. Once we landed, I quickly set up my tent and decided to just relax. It was tough to get comfortable since it was quite hot and our camp site provided little protection from the sun.
While I was laid up in my tent, most everyone else was playing volleyball…I was very envious! Candice, a gal I had befriended on the trip was kind enough to check on my from time-to-time to see if I needed anything. I didn’t feel like doing much other than laying still and waiting for the sun to fall, providing some much needed relief from the heat. I tried to drink lots of water to keep myself hydrated. I did not eat dinner this evening and just tried to recuperate. I found out the next morning that I was not the only person who did not feel well. I thought that something at breakfast did not agree with me, but was told by one of the guides that heat exhaustion often mimics food poisoning. It had been a really warm day and we had all been warned to drink plenty of water, even if we did not feel thirsty. I have to admit that I could have drank more H2O during the morning hours, but felt like I drank enough to prevent heat–related issues. I’m from Arizona, I know heat! Whatever my ailments, I felt nearly 100% better the next morning, which was a huge relief.
It was a bit cooler on Day Five, nearly perfect temperatures…the previous two days were not bad, but a bit on the warm side. The morning and evening temps had been excellent camping weather…except for that rain we received during the evening on Day One. The cooler temps did bring with it an element that apparently is so bad, that the oarsmen cannot even say it by name…it’s just called “W,” for wind. After a while, what seemed like nice breeze, intensified…I felt so badly for those having to row/oar. There were slower river segments where the boats did not even appear to be moving forward…if it were for the oarsmen rowing, we might have actually lost ground.
To make matters worse (at least for everyone rowing or oaring) was the fact that we did not have a reserved campsite this evening…and everything we passed seemed to be occupied. We would look around each bend with great anticipation to try and give our guides any sign of possible spots to pullover, each time the dejection would zap a little more spirit from their moods.
We ended up traveling an extra 8-9 miles farther than we had anticipated, so needless to say, when we finally found a spot to camp, it was a huge sense of relieve. As each of the guides came in with their rafts, you could just see the exhaustion on their faces. It was about an hour later before we started to see the kayakers come it…some nearly rolled out of their boats as they came a shore.
Once everyone had a chance to briefly recuperate and get their tents set up, we enjoyed an outstanding dinner…t-bone steaks, pasta salad, and, an upside down pear cake with pecans for dessert.
Apparently there is some sort of tradition among rafters…the last evening of a trip, those who wish to do so, paint their toenails…men included. You have to check out the video above of Jamie getting his toes painted by his younger brother…classic!
We also enjoyed the wise and inspirational words from Chris (one of the guides), about the wilderness area and how we should appreciate the lands that have been set aside for this kind of enjoyment. That too is included in the video above.
The last night of our trip was bitter sweet…for many, it was a perfect amount of time to be out in the wilderness…for those it was time to get back to the real world. For others, the awe-inspiring beauty of the Salmon River Wilderness, the night skies so bright with stars, and the serenity of being one-with-nature will be missed.
For not having a “reserved” camp site, we did a pretty good job of finding a neat area to spend the night. The spot we found was a bit of an alcove with a nice flat spot for the tents up an incline of about 10’. The perched area set us back from the river a bit and made for a very serene setting…which was fitting for our last evening. Because we had made up so many extra miles the day prior, we had a leisurely day ahead.
After breakfast and getting our camp packed up, we hit the river for one last hurrah. We spent a couple hours rafting and kayaking until we reach a massive sandy beach where we decided to pull ashore and set up the volleyball net for one last competitive game. It’s really impressive how the guides have a system for everything, while utilizing all the gear that they bring with them in a multitude of ways. The oars are used as stanchion to hook the net to. Then they dig some holes, find large rocks…tie rope around the rock, and then to the oar—then they fill the holes in with sand , thus making a sturdy volleyball system. After marking out the dimensions for the lines, they then take buckets of water to highlight the lines, which keeps them in place for a fair amount of play.
While some of us played volleyball, others took one last opportunity to hone-in on their kayaking skills by doing rolls and ‘surfing’ drills in a nearby rapid. We then enjoyed our last lunch and lounged around on this wonderfully expansive beach (as seen in the video).
After we got things packed up, we hit the river for another hour or so while enjoying our last two exciting rapids. We made our way to shore where a team of folks from O.A.R.S. greeted us with transportation trucks and vans. After helping load some of the gear, we boarded a couple of the vans that shuttled us back to the McCall airport where it all began just a short week prior.
After 92 river miles and an hour and a half ride back to McCall, this was the end…we said goodbye to new friends and went on our way. What an amazing adventure it was rafting down the Salmon River! I had only been on one other guided rafting trip before, and it was only a single day excursion. Going for nearly a week where everything was taken care of for you, was quite a treat.
I want to give a special shout-out to everyone at O.A.R.S., their team is quite remarkable! Everyone from the folks handling the scheduling, to the guides, to the transportation drivers…they’re all first class. I’d also like to thank everyone at TripFilms.com and its community for voting for me and naming me the contributor-of-the-month for April, 2011. Thank you all so very much!
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