While
browsing the numerous white water magazines over the past years I had
often come across stories of the great rivers of Idaho and, most
notably, the Salmon River (it is the longest free flowing river in
the lower 48). So naturally, while exploring vacation ideas, it
never occurred to me to take a guided trip down one of theses white
water heavens. But fortunately, I have a wife with an infallible
memory of all the articles I had told her about. After calling The
Idaho Outfitters Association we received over 25 brochures for guided
trips down numerous rivers and finally settled a four day run on the
lower gorge section of the Salmon.

For
those paddlers who have never ventured to white water beyond the
rivers of the Southeastern US, it is a trip I highly recommend. Due
to the huge snow pack this year the river was running at an unusually
high level for this time of year of over 16,000 cfs (it had peaked
earlier in the spring at 101,000 cfs). This volume of water makes
Western rivers of this nature a completely unique and sometimes
horrifying experience for paddlers used to rivers with volumes of
4,000 cfs or less.

As
luck would have it, the outfitter let me borrow his son’s Pirouette
S, which seemed easier to maneuver in the big water than my usual
Outburst. I must confess my apprehension upon entering the first
rapids and being in the kayak instead of the safety of the oar rafts.
After some successful runs and rolls through the first rapids, I
joyfully inquired to the guide about the class of water we had just
run, thinking I had just run my first class III western water. The
guide chuckled and told me that those rapids weren’t worthy of a name
because they were barely class II water.

This
opened my eyes to the difference between ratings of rapids out West
and those we run in the Southeast. It became evident that once we
got to the real class III-IV water it would be like nothing I had
ever attempted before.

The
first class III rapid was called Demons Drop. Due to the huge volume
of water the rapids are totally different from what I was used to.
Instead of the quick and technical rapids with one or two steep
drops, the rapids consisted of long wave trains lasting 10-30 seconds
with huge holes on either side which were to be avoided at all cost.

The
waves in the class IIIs were 8-10 feet high, with one wave in class
III “Chinese Rapid” exceeding 15 feet straight up. The
name Chinese was given to it when three Chinamen drowned there trying
to bring their prospected gold down river. The wave stretched for 25
yards across the length of the river, with the middle and right being
lethal. With proper maneuvering the waves can be successfully run
down the middle. The problems arise from the numerous laterals,
which are created by water rushing off the sheer banks of the river,
and the severe turns in the river.

Another
learning experience was dealing with the very powerful eddy lines. An
extreme amount of speed was required to get back and forth across the
eddy lines and I was flipped may times for not giving the line the
respect it deserved.

The
great feature of this type of white water is that when you did flip
in a rapid there are usually no rocks right on the surface to give
you a munching. You simply set up to roll and wait until you reach
the bottom of the rapid where the waves are only 3 feet high (they
called this the pool, which was another lesson in relativity). There
is no fear of going through a rapid upside down and being hammered by
rocks just under the surface.

After
four days of paddling we where ready for a break, but had gained a
new perspective of white water. The scenery was magnificent and
ranged from mountainous deserts with big horn sheep to sheer canyon
walls. The huge sandy beaches made great campsites and the outfitter
did all the cooking and cleaning. It was great to sleep outside
under a thousand stars and wait for the full moon to come over the
canyon and light up the river like daylight.

We
both agreed to come back next year with our fellow paddlers and run
the Salmon again. I highly recommend this trip for all paddlers as a
great learning experience and a great way to improve your paddling
skills on an entirely differing type of white water.

For
those interested in joining us in August for the trip, call me at
404-847-9509. See ya’ paddling!

by
Don Klein

From
The Eddy Line, December 1997