River Of No Return: The Salmon

Two years ago, Nancy and I were asked to join a 6 day river trip down the River Of No Return: the Main Salmon. We were eager to say yes, but we had already committed to a wedding that same week. The river group needed a shuttle driver, so I volunteered drive the 630 mile round trip shuttle to the put-in and back. Watching them pack and set out on a week of adventure was a little heartbreaking. Redemption came this winter when the same group drew another permit despite tenth of a percentage point draw odds. We couldn't pass up this opportunity a second time.

I've never taken the time to really get into white water. Most of my friends in college were rafters and kayakers, but I opted to stick with what I knew: bikes and fishing. Since then, I've branched out a bit, and bought a tandem ducky, or two person inflatable kayak. We've taken a measured approach to kayaking, only floating stretches of river that are pretty mellow: the Yellowstone, lower Shoshone, and S. Fork of the Boise. Our group leaders reassured us that Main Salmon wasn't too crazy and we'd be able to handle it. They were mostly truthful.

I've been reading water my whole life: trout water that is. One of the most rewarding things about fishing is looking at a stretch of river, knowing how hydraulics work, and realizing where a trout will hold. It's even better when you cast to that spot and are rewarded with a fish. Knowing my 30 year obsession with rivers, I should have been more confident with my white water reading skills. Maybe it's the fact the the consequences are so much higher, or that there are often passengers (dad, brother, wife etc.) on the raft/kayak. Either way, I'm more conservative about risk taking when white water is involved. Maybe I'm just getting older, but I've never put much confidence in my ability to pick out a line through a rapid, and commit to it.

This trip forced the point, and I paddled through water twice as big as anything done previously. I learned my instincts are (mostly) solid, and the ducky can go though some serious water. I learned how to commit to a line, flip halfway though, swim a class IV rapid, and self rescue at the bottom. I'm hooked, and can't wait to get out there again. Do I see a raft in our future?