Articles tagged with: Salmon River

Rafting the Main Salmon River

Our Aire Super Puma Raft

Six Spectacular Days with a Primitive Tribe

Rafting the Main Salmon River held a prominent place on my bucket list for years. It turns out, I had it there for good reason. This past summer, my wife, Mary, and I finally made that trip and spent six sunny days surrounded by beautiful scenery, thrilling rapids, and learning the special customs of a unique and friendly tribe.

Our Aire Super Puma Raft

Our Aire Super Puma Raft

Trip Details

On this run, the clear waters of the Main Salmon River, plunge deep into Idaho’s 2.4 million acre River of No Return Wilderness, “the largest contiguous federally managed wilderness in the United States outside of Alaska.” This area contains parts of three mountain ranges, a 6,000-foot-deep canyon, almost no roads or stores, and far more wildlife than people, including bears, mountain lions, wolves, and rattlesnakes. The 80 miles of river we covered holds countless rapids, vast white sand beaches, and canyons lined with steep granite cliffs.

As to logistics, I was a bit flabbergasted when I learned it would cost $475 to have our truck shuttled to the takeout, 80 miles downriver. Then I mapped the driving route and found that because of the vast wilderness area, it was a nine hour, 409 mile drive, with many miles on exceptionally rugged and remote roads. I decided maybe the $475 was quite a bargain.

Way of Life on the River

With that background info out of the way, we can get onto the part about life on the river with a primitive tribe. I better clarify things a bit here, because the tribe wasn’t really that primitive. In fact, they looked a lot like normal people. They just had some interesting, primitive customs that we had to adapt to. Our group consisted of 15 people in seven rafts. Many of these were serious outdoors people that had rafted together for 25 or so years. Three of them had spent their careers working for the US Forest Service.  Their interesting customs included:

  • They pooped in ammo cans and peed in the river. Actually, the forest service requires people to do this, otherwise this tribe might not have followed this custom. These requirements force tribal members to become pretty uninhibited about their bodily functions, often continuing a conversation while nonchalantly urinating into the river.
  • Most tribal members slept on the beach, tent-less, amongst the spiders and snakes. We did notice that after a rattlesnake encounter, two of the tribe members started sleeping in a tent, like Mary and I.
  • Upon finding a rattlesnake that made threatening gestures in the poop can vicinity, tribe members eliminated the rattlesnake. For safety’s sake, this actually made a lot of sense. I may have even taken part in this.

    Tribal Members on a Big Beach

    Tribal Members on a Big Beach

  • Once at a campsite for the day, male tribe members spent a lot of time sitting in, arranging, and adjusting their rafts and gear, while the female tribe members drank intoxicating beverages and focused much of  their time on food preparation. This sort of behavior seems common to many tribes, although many primitive tribal males might focus on carving weapons rather than fiddling with rafting gear. Something that surprised me about this particular tribe was the quality and the elaborateness of meals and intoxicating beverages they prepared. It seemed to me as if the tribe had developed such a strong bond that they strived to honor each other with outstanding meals, including appetizers, side dishes, desserts, and a drink of the day. My wife and I found ourselves enjoying this custom immensely and will try to better honor tribe members during the next trip, with more elaborate gourmet food and unusual drink.
  • On the river, tribal members watched out for one another, waiting at the bottom of a rapids, ready to assist if another member needed help. Then, they generously complimented each other on river-running prowess, after avoiding the majority of boulders in a particularly challenging set of rapids. When tribal members smashed their boats into boulders, others politely pretended not to notice. I appreciated that.
  • Cooking and cleaning was accomplished without electronic appliances or devices. This also applied to communication. Rather than using texting, email, or even phone calls, people actually spoke to one another, telling jokes and breaking into spontaneous laughter.
  • On certain nights, tribal members would have celebrations and ceremonies that included dressing up, dancing, birthdays, and river stories around the campfire. They did use an electronic device (iPod and speakers), rather than traditional drums, on the dance night.

What Set this Trip Apart

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep

On a Lower Salmon River trip we took, Mary, our daughter, Heather, and I had only each other, and Mary and I do most of our wilderness trips alone. On our Main Salmon River trip, the tribe is what really stood out. We had been a bit apprehensive about joining a group of people we didn’t know, but they turned out to be a very nice and welcoming bunch of people, with some fun customs.

One of the retired rangers told me that they had been more than a bit apprehensive about letting a raft join their group, without actually knowing the skill level of the people that would be running the rapids. I absolutely understand that, because it could be life-threatening having unskilled people on a remote wilderness whitewater trip. He assured me that after the first set of rapids, the group knew we were perfectly competent to run the river. That was nice to hear.

As we fell into the rhythm of sunny days on the river, we became tanner and more relaxed, increasingly feeling like part of the tribe. We also grew in our river-running confidence and competence. Reading rapids on the fly, and sliding effortlessly past boulders became second nature.  I had initially thought that six days sounded like a long trip, but the days streamed by and were over before I knew it. On the way home, I started thinking about our next rafting destination.

Mary & Curt

Rafting Hells Canyon on the Snake River, Idaho

WalkAboutVisionQuest (1)

Rafting Hells Canyon on the Snake River, Idaho

by Curt Remington

Friday, August 14th, 2009

Rafting Hells Canyon on the Snake River, Idaho

I left the house at 4 am, thrilled to finally go on a multi-day Idaho raft trip, especially one on the Snake River’s Hells Canyon. The canyon is North America’s deepest river gorge, at 7,993 feet, almost 2,000 feet deeper than the Grand Canyon. The USFS website says, “the Snake is a big river with power many river users have never experienced.” Yep, the volume of water we’d be rafting through was more than I’d experienced. Before we moved west, five years ago, I’d bought a raft, frame and all the necessary gear to take my family on multi-day raft trips. Since that time, that gear’s sat in a pile in the garage, largely due to my failure at convincing my family that rafting is a good idea.

riverFor that very reason, I’d be alone, while my friend Kerry brought his wife, sister and daughter. I pulled into a campground on the Snake River and waited in the 100 degree heat. They arrived soon, and we shared stories from our recent adventures, like my trip toAlaska and Kerry’s mountain climbing trips. We had become friends years earlier, through whitewater kayaking, and we’d climbed Mt Baker together. Along with catching up, we discussed our next day’s plans for rafting Hells Canyon. Kerry brought a 16 foot Maravia raft and lots of gear, much more than my 13′ Aire Super Puma could hold. Maybe, a bigger raft and more gear, was the secret to convincing my family to go. Then again, it might just make for a bigger pile in the garage.

At the put-in the next morning, inflating and loading the rafts became chaotic, as outfitters competed for space, working to get their flotillas of rafts and gear into the water. The permit system only allows for a few groups to enter the river each day. Unfortunately, they all seem to do so at the same time.

I threw my gear together as quickly as possible, feeling apprehensive about rowing through big, pushy class IV rapids. The rangers at the put in told us some recent, inexperienced rafters had flipped eight times. Two of the hardest rapids, Wild Sheep and Granite, would arrive within the first six miles.

My whitewater experience had been in maneuverable kayaks, or paddling a raft with a number of people. Rowing a raft loaded with gear was a brand new experience. Would my gear stay together, if the raft flipped? Maybe I’d learn fast and keep it upright. Kerry and his family looked up from their gear organizing, so I just smiled, trying to look confident. Once they had their massive pile of gear strapped in place, we set off down the river.

Within a half mile, we reached a class II rapid, and I learned an important lesson. A raft with gear, in a pushy river, does not respond anything like a whitewater kayak. I found myself rowing frantically, while the river still pushed me into the largest waves and holes. New strategy! I would have to pick a line through a rapid that involved very little course correction, once the whitewater started.

rapidsWhen we reached Wild Sheep, one of the class IVs, I learned another technique. The raft crested an eight foot wave, a bit diagonally and started to flip. I jumped out of my seat and threw my weight against the higher raft tube. That one was close!Eventually, I also learned that rowing forward, and proper timing, help keep you upright in large waves. Now that I think of it, that usually worked in rapidstwokayaks too.

Along with powerful rapids, the river’s enormous eddies and whirlpools kept us alert. If you wandered into cliffan eddy, the river pulled the raft upstream, sometimes faster than you could row. By watching the currents, and working with them, the rafts continued in the right direction.

That evening, all that gear the big raft carried made camping downright luxurious. They had real beef and potatoes, cooked at one table and served at another, along with a variety of wines. They even had a selection of appetizers. Lucky for me, my friends are generous. I had brought more of that freeze-dried food that’s been sitting in my closet for years. Kerry’s family is also very friendly, welcoming and are considerate listeners, asking questions about psychic readings, past lives and the spirit world. Conversation stopped as a young eagle circled overhead, then dived at a fish in the river.soaringbird

Overnight, the river level dropped significantly, leaving our rafts high on a gravel bar. For my light raft, that meant lifting together. For the heavily loaded raft, that meant unloading an enormous dry box and cooler, then moving the raft and reloading. Finally, we set out and made our way to the first rapids of the day. While we scouted, a group of bighorn sheep stood, watching us from the cliff above.

The second class IV that day had a group of big holes at the top, on the right side, then more big holes on the left, towards the bottom. I stood on a boulder, trying to find a path that didn’t involve hitting a big, churning hole. I couldn’t find one, so my plan was to hit the hole hard and throw my weight around, hoping the raft kept going. At this point, I mentioned to my spirit guides that help would be appreciated. Once in the rapids, I skirted the top holes, hit some waves, and the next thing I knew, I was in the clear. What happened to the holes at the bottom?  I’m not sure if I somehow missed them, but my theory goes like this: In a big surging river, a hole can be a wave one second, then turn back into a hole the next. It may be that my guides saw to it that they did just that, before I hit them. For whatever reason, I managed to make it through all the rapids, still upright.

bouldersOur next night’s camp had a swimming beach, trees for shade and beautiful views of Suicide Point, a tall cliff across the river. On most rivers, it’s the rapids that have morbid names, like Jaws, Boatbeater, Gore and Slaughterhouse.

With only seven miles, and no major rapids ahead, I left my friends early morning, hoping to make it home at a reasonable hour. Each day, we had only encountered a few other boats, due to the permit and lottery system. As I floated alone, and looked up, the remoteness and rugged beauty of the canyon truly inspired me. The eddies even settled down enough so I could meditate while I drifted.

At the Pittsburg Landing takeout, I felt a great sense of relief in finding my truck waiting, with a third of arafttank of gas. It had been close to full, when I had left it at the put-in, along with a key for the shuttle service. As I drove up the steep, winding gravel road out of the canyon, I realized how they’d used so much gas. The drive to get my truck there had no doubt been a long, steep and winding one.

After seventeen miles, I came to an intersection and realized that I was now in a remote part of Idaho and didn’t have a decent map. My gas gauge kept dropping, and there was no cell phone reception. I should have meditated and asked a guide for directions. Instead, I guessed at the next few turns and wound up miles down another winding backroad, with Highway 95 visible on the hillside above me. Tuning into intuition, I backtracked and my next turn took me to the highway. Soon, I ended up in a town with gas and phone reception. Mary, my wife, gave me directions for back roads halfway across Washington, a much quicker route than heading straight for the freeway. In fact, I made it home in time to unpack and spend a few hours sharing my adventures with her and working to convince her that raft trips are a great idea.
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Surviving the Salmon River

Rafting the Salmon River, Idaho

by Curt Remington

A blinding flash filled the sky, lighting the inside of our tent. A loud crack followed, and thunder rocked the canyon. My daughter Heather muffled a scream. The flashes came so close together you’d think it was light out, if not

Curt & Mary just finished packing the raft

Curt & Mary just finished packing the raft

for the intense darkness between the flashes. I stared out the screen window, in case a bear would be so foolish as to venture out in this storm. Nothing seemed to be there, so I laid back down next to my wife Mary and thought about how easy our day must have been compared to my lives in the ancient Roman and Greek armies. Now that must have been tough, marching around with all that armor, fierce battles, bloody wounds, supply shortages and tents without floors. Just imagine all the insect bites.

Big snake slithering through camp

Big snake slithering through camp


In contrast, the first day of our Salmon River rafting trip hadn’t been so bad. For my teenage daughter Heather, the excitement may have started at the Hammer Creek boat launch, where her arachnophobic “spider spotting eyes” noticed a black widow on a nearby rock. Or maybe for her, the adventure started the night before, when we arrived at a run-down motel in the middle of the night, reminding her of the “Psycho,” or the many other horror movies she’s watched. She even got to stand guard, in the fold-out bed next to the front door.

What did we get ourselves into?


Our day’s adventures also included sunny 100° heat, challenging whitewater, a broken flashlight, another big spider on our tent and a large snake that made it’s way through our camp as darkness approached. We were camped in rattlesnake country, however I believe that one was a Bullsnake. They look similar to me. This was also bear and mountain lion country, as if the spiders and snakes weren’t enough. Probably the worst hardship of the day was climbing into the tent exhausted and feeling like you’ve stepped into an oven. That 100 ̊ heat soaked into the sand all day, and our tent just held it in and radiated it back at us. Besides all that, I was sore from rowing all day.

Sunset Over Camp

Sunset Over Camp – Did I see a spider under that bush?


These potential dangers reminded me of how vulnerable humans are, and yet how much we can really endure. I reached over my wife, patted my daughter’s shoulder and told her that everything would be fine. The storm would be over soon. At that moment, my wife and daughter were both probably wondering why they let me talk them into this torturous trip. In my Rafting the Snake River story, I mentioned the pile of rafting gear that sat in the garage for years, due to my inability to convince my family to go on such trips. Here they were, finally facing the challenge, and how are they rewarded? Spiders, snakes, heat and a thunderstorm. Good luck getting them to go again.

Soon enough, the storm ended, and the temperature cooled down to tolerable sleeping weather.

Making our way down river

Making our way down river


The next morning, we packed our wet sandy gear in a disorganized fashion, as items had been thrown into the nearest bag available, when the rain started. With everything packed into dry bags and strapped into place, we set off down the river to continue our 72-mile whitewater adventure.

In the morning, we set off down a dim and mysterious Cougar  Canyon, where big gurgling whirlpools and swirls would suddenly form. Did I mention the giant White Sturgeon in the Salmon River, which can grow over 100 years old and reach 20 feet in length. It was easy to imagine them lurking under the swirling water of the canyon.

A Big Whitewater Hole

A Big Whitewater Hole


Along with beautiful white sand beach campsites and giant Sturgeon, the Lower Salmon River has steep canyons, thrilling rapids and calm-water stretches in-between. In the rapids, much of the goal is to avoid hitting big boulders and holes. For you non-river people, a hole (hydraulic) is created when water pours over a rock ledge and flows back at the surface, causing that frothing white turbulence. A big hole can grab hold of a raft, turn it sideways, and flip it over, as water piles down on one side while lifting up the other side. A large enough hole can also hold onto rafts and people, churning them like a washing machine. This was something we didn’t care to experience, so we diligently practiced our maneuvering skills.

Punching through a wave

Punching through a wave


Our hardest whitewater that morning goes by the name “Half and Half Rapids.” The river map warns, “So called because half the time you make it. …big holes to avoid and maneuvering is required.” We dropped down a ledge and pushed through a small hole. Quickly, we pulled hard to the left to miss a car-sized boulder and a huge hole to the right. From there, we had a bouncy ride down a string of waves.

Snow Hole Rapids

Snow Hole Rapids- Yes, There’s a raft under them.


Three rapids later, we came to Snow Hole Rapids, a major class IV drop. Lucky for us, another group  was there to scout the rapids when we arrived. We watched, as each of them hit a car-sized boulder sideways, plummeted down a drop and made their way between enormous boulders and holes, riding through rollercoaster waves.

We followed right behind, hitting a pillow of water at the top boulder. It straightened us out as we plunged down the drop. We hit some big waves and soon reached the bottom of Snow Hole, wet but safe.

Maloney Creek Camp

Maloney Creek Camp


That night, we camped five miles into Snow Hole Canyon, at Maloney Creek. At this camp, I suggested setting up our kitchen near the river, rather than hauling all of our gear and cooler all the way up the sand dune. It saved a lot of work, kept our tent from smelling like bear bait and avoided the blowing sand that seemed to get through our tent screens.

I panned for gold, and had no luck, while Mary fished. She  caught two fish with her first three casts. After one more fish, her luck slowed down. Our tent still felt hot, but the situation didn’t remind me of life in the Roman Army, that night. It seemed much more survivable.

Packing the raft went much smoother, the next day. We found ourselves working well as a team, both in camp and in the rapids. We made a smooth run down China Rapids, a tough class III, and plowed into a big wave/hole in Eagle Creek Rapids.

Salmon River Gravel Bar

Salmon River Gravel Bar


A large gravel bar beckoned me, as a place to look for garnets or gems. Idaho’s nickname is the gem state after all. While I wondered in one direction, looking for agates or garnets, Heather grabbed the fishing rod and proceeded to cast. She soon had a nice sized smallmouth bass.

In the meantime, Mary used her psychic abilities to ask a spirit guide for help locating a nugget of gold. He told her to follow the shore downstream for twelve feet. His next instruction was to go inland for eight feet. Mary reached that point and looked around, asking “now what?” His final instruction was “down fifty feet.” Ha ha! Yes, spirit guides do have a sense of humor. He probably was telling the truth too. In studying prospecting, that’s just where I’d expect gold to be, at the bottom of the pile where you can’t reach it.

As we made our way down the river that afternoon, we found the nice campsites occupied by large parties of rafters. Kerry, the friend I’d rafted the Snake River with, had recommended a camp near the entrance to Blue Canyon. I really hoped to get that camp, but our chance of finding it available seemed dim. As the river narrowed, we stayed close to the cliffs on the right side of the canyon and hit a small eddy, at the bottom of a white sand beach. What a beautiful spot, and no one was there. A small alcove in the cliff made a great kitchen, with another alcove for sitting.

Comfortable Camping

Comfortable Camping


That afternoon, we swam in the eddy, watched the changing light on the nearby peaks and had a delicious dinner of bass, brats and veggies. Mary and Heather laughed and screamed, running from a butterfly that followed them relentlessly. Later, we watched the changing light in the canyon and surrounding peaks, while listening to the steady sound of the rapids. For the first time, we got out our fire pan and built a small fire, sitting in one of the cliff’s alcoves. It crossed my mind, that I could almost live in that campsite.

Had conditions on the river changed that much? Or had we adapted? Our kitchen gear now sat next to the raft, and we knew where everything belonged. The tent sat pitched away from rock piles which hold the spiders and snakes. All of our gear was ready, in case of a sudden storm. Maybe the biggest change was that we’d already faced plenty of challenges on the river. We had found that we can survive, and had a great deal of fun in the process.

The final day, we worked as a team, rowing and paddling through at least 15 sets of rapids, covering 25 miles of river, with 20 of it on the Snake River. Long stretches of the Snake River were calm, with a stiff headwind. Rowing into a headwind makes a raft feel like a big, oddly shaped balloon. In other words, it’s not that much fun. We pushed on, mile after mile, with barely a complaint from anyone, taking in the scenery and enjoying the occasional rapids with some eight foot waves. We reached the takeout around five pm and loaded our gear into our truck.

It was a long hard day, once again reminding me of marching in armor, in the Roman army. But by the end of the trip, we were tougher and more up to the challenge, having learned that we can survive major rapids, spiders, snakes, thunderstorms, miles of rowing and more. Not only that, but by facing these challenges, we gained strength and confidence in our abilities. We also saw some beautiful scenery and share some wonderful time together. Maybe life in the Roman army wasn’t so bad after all.

View across from our final Salmon River camp

View across from our final Salmon River camp


Powerful Being of Light Visualization Meditation

 You are an eternal and powerful spiritual being. You’ve also undoubtedly endured some very difficult lives and may have been part of the Roman or Greek armies. Through life’s challenges and difficulties, we experience our greatest growth. Yet in our current life, many of us surround ourselves with modern conveniences and tend to stay well within our comfort zones, missing out on a lot of wonderful experiences. Many of us stay in a small comfort zone because we lack the confidence to push our limits.

This meditation exercise will strenghthen your sense of true inner power, providing the confidence to venture out and explore your growth zone. With this confidence, you may wish to try new things, like camping, signing up for a class or joining a new group. For me, Toastmasters and public speaking required a big push beyond my usual comfort zone.

Grounding and running your energies are an important part of this exercise and are very powerful meditation techniques that you can use every day. If you’re not familar with these exercises, please take the time to read them.

Once you’re comfortably seated, with your eyes closed and your energy running, visualize yourself as an entity of light. This is your true spiritual state. As more bright light pours in through the top of your head, feel it expand your strength and power. You might visualize yourself becoming bigger or brighter. Know and understand that as a spirit, you are eternal and powerful, capable of manifesting great things. Feel this strength continue to grow. When you finish your meditation, carry this strength with you, as you try new things and face life’s many challenges.


Although your spirit is eternal, your physical body is not. If you do not have whitewater experience, please raft with someone that does or sign up with a competent rafting outfitter. Although my family and I had not done a multi-day rafting trip together before this, I did have extensive whitewater experience. Mary and Heather had been on numerous whitewater daytrips and many camping trips.

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