Rafting the Middle Fork of the Salmon River with OARS - GREAT FUN!!!

After a great time rafting the Green River in 2009, we finally got another chance to go rafting in early June/2014 when my family did an AWESOME week long rafting trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho guided by OARS. We drove from Boulder, Colorado to Salt Lake City, Utah where we picked up our son Dirk who had flown directly from the East Coast. The next day, we did the very scenic drive thought Sun Valley and over Galena Summit (stunning) to Stanley, Idaho ... population 63! We had a pre-trip meeting that night, and then the next morning, drove to the put-in.

We were worried about the weather in early June (still some snow on the dirt access road), but as seen in the pictures below, it was just gorgeous, with sunny days reaching 70°F and the evenings weren't that chilly, especially once we started to drop in elevation. We had just missed the peak water flow, but there was still plenty of snowmelt - the starting water temperature was 46°F! ;-)

This is a pretty amazing trip on many levels, but one notable aspect is the remoteness. You are in the middle of the multi-million acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area. Because this is classified as "primitive", no motorized machinery is allowed with the exception of a handful of grandfathered lodges and airstrips - rafting is the primary means of access. So for over a 100 miles, we saw almost no signs of civilization, no cell phone coverage, no internet, etc. - it was GREAT!!!     NOTE: I've still need to upload the videos I took from the trip ...

Our intrepid group of rafters with our great guides from OARS

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From left to right: Alek, (safety kayaker) Dan Thurber, Bobbie and her husband Tom (orange hat), (guide) Jeff Berkey (kneeling), (guide) Ashley Brown, (trip leader) John Hilman (aka Mr. "H" in OARS hat), Kyle and Dirk (my sons clowning around), Mac-Daddy (white hat), Brian (red hat), my wife Wendy, Gary, Scott, and (guide) Derik Pritchett

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Here's what the whitewater looks like on the Middle Fork of the Salmon - fun stuff!!!

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Jeff gives Kyle a wet and wild ride that produces some big smiles! ;-)

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Here's a chronological summary of our trip


Before we hit the water, Dan does a safety briefing - mouseover image to see action

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Kyle and Wendy eyeball some caterpillar's at the first stop

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Meanwhile, the guides are slicing-n-dicing up lunch - food was darn good!

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Ashley gives us a sanitation briefing - always wash your hands before touching the food!

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The first of many wonderful spreads!

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I wasn't the only one taking pictures of the food during the trip

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Kyle gives it a big thumbs up ... when he's not busy eating! ;-)

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At our next stop, we came across some Forest Service folks clearing the campsite. Remember that the Frank Church Wilderness doesn't allow motorized gear, so everything has to be done by hand ... and these guys also use rafts to get around ... just like a century ago!!!

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They let me borrow their mega-saw ... but I'm not quite as burly as those big dudes! ;-)

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Rising moon over that campsite - note airplane contrail - only sign of civilization

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Rising sun the next morning - mouseover image to see without flash assist

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Our flotilla of rafts head down the Middle Fork of the Salmon

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We scouted the Pistol Creek Rapids - more images at that link
So I setup downstream to takes photos/video - Dan in the safety kayak went first

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Derik made a clean run in the re-supply raft

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Brian hot-dogg'ed it in Mr. "H's" raft

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Ashley looks fearsome running her raft

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Jeff got my family pretty wet - lots of smiles!

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Another group went through Pistol Creek Rapids (more iamges there) just before us

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Yet another beautiful campsite that evening

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Grilled Salmon for dinner - very, very, very tasty!

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A long-exposure with the semi-headless Jeff! ;-)

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Derik reading a book with his headlamp in his tent - mouseover to see with more flash

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How would you like to wake up to this view in the morning?!? ;-)

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The guides were always working hard!

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Mr. "H" takes Gary, Kyle, and Dirk (in back) down some whitewater

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Derik ran the re-supply boat that carried all our overnight stuff

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Brian playing around in the Ducky

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After a few hours of rafting, we stopped for a short walk up Loon Creek to a natural hot springs/jacuzzi

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Wendy said the mid-40 degree temperature of the Salmon river was a bit brisk!

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Mac-Daddy was a bit more verbose & animated about how he felt about it ... ;-)

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Kyle said it was too cold to dunk all the way in!

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Our campsite that evening - just beautiful!

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Not a bad place to do some more reading

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My wife had wanted to do a family rafting trip for her 50th birthday

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Chocolate cake on the river - yummy!

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Mr. "H" does some bedtime reading about the history of this beautiful place

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The next day, we went for a BIG hike to the Bear Creek Point fire lookout

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The wildflowers were stunning

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Wendy and Mr. "H" walking through the wildflowers

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Mr. "H" at the Bear Creek Point Fire Lookout - elevation 8,630' - we started at 3,730' !

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Dirk, Wendy, and myself (and Mr. "H") were the only one to make it to the top!

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Here's a topo map (graciously provided by Mr. "H")- 4,900 vertical feet and 12 miles - felt like more!

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On the way back down - the Middle Fork of the Salmon flows through the far valley

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Mr. "H" on the pinnacle as Wendy approaches - mouseover image to before image

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Mr. "H" overlooking the Middle Fork of the Salmon as a modern day Lewis & Clark!

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I had a bit of "slip" while taking the picture above ... and while "protecting" the camera in my right hand, I banged up my left side pretty good (check out this bruise!) and actually broke the pinky finger on my left hand ... x-ray closeup ... darn! As you can see from the dates in the X-Ray below, I waited a while to have it looked at as I thought (hoping!) it was just a sprain. Bone Doctor said he could try to patch it up, but since it is the non-dominant pinky, I didn't feel worthwhile. I got another X-Ray of the finger 9 months later while having a fractured fibula (from snow skiing) looked at.

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Back at camp, Kyle was smashing cans for easy recycle

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After some major can-crushing, he mellowed out in the middle of the Salmon River

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Meanwhile, I was pouring myself some fine wine after the arduous hike

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At lunch break the next day, Derik put on yet another fantastic food presentation! ;-)

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Dirk-n-Kyle getting ready to dig in! ;-)

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Mr. "H" describes some hieroglyphs - lots of interesting hikes & history on this trip

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Jeff pushes off from the sand bar with Kyle & Wendy in the front of the raft

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He was nice enough to let me rig my camera tripod for an elevated birds-eye view through the rapids

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Passing one of many creeks/waterfalls that feed into the Middle Fork of the Salmon

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Dan does a graceful raft to shore jump

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Kyle enjoying our final campsite

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Kyle playing with his Kadama

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Tripod mounted Canon7D with 10-22 wide-angle lens heading down river - mouseover for another pic

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The next morning, Jeff rowed us through the last rapids of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

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A light plane fly's up the river - only a few times did we see any sign of civilization during the week long trip

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A mid-morning stop to walk to a really cool waterfall

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At our final lunch break, we had company - some beautiful blue butterflies

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I asked this guide to take a picture of our group - he also shot this selfie! ;-)

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It was great to get some group pictures - what a fun bunch!

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After rafting for about a 100 miles on the Middle Fork of the Salmon, we met the confluence with the Main Salmon River ... and saw our first real sign of civilization ... a road with many vehicles on it at the take-out ... sad the trip had to end! :-(

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As hopefully obvious from the above, this was an awesome family outing - was really cool to just get away from it all and have an adventurous week away from the electronic distractions.

Jimmy Carter (while President!) rafted this same stretch of river - the OARS guides made us feel pretty presidential - check out their info on rafting the Middle Fork of the Salmon River - highly recommended!



Photography Notes: Pictures taken with a Canon 7D and 10-22, 15-55/2.8, 18-200 lens (plus a few with a Lumix DMC-TS5A waterproof camera) by Alek Komarnitsky - www.komar.org
Did you look at the Pistol Creek Rapids action sequences?