Lower Salmon River Stats at a Glance:
Dates: August 5th - 8th, 2019
Water Level: Approximately 4,000 CFS
Distance: Hammer Creek to Heller Bar ( 71.1 miles)
Board: Hala Atcha 86
Day 1 of the Lower Salmon (6 miles)
Continuing from the previous blog post, after we drove over the "hump" from the take out of Hells Canyon, we ate lunch and launched from Hammer Creek at roughly 1:30 PM. We had three rafts, three paddleboards, and eight people on this half of the trip.
Our group was very efficient, which made the transition day between rivers extremely quick and smooth. We pulled into camp around 3 or 4 o' clock that evening. I tried to pace the trip so that we weren't doing any consequential rapids late in the day when we were tired. Also, we didn't know how exactly how many groups were sharing the river with us since this stretch is not regulated with a lottery permit system like Hells Canyon, so we wanted to avoid getting into a situation where we were forced to continue downstream in search of an open campsite.
We settled for the night at Woodruff Left Camp. It was a beautiful campsite with a really nice beach and eddy. The downside? There were HUNDREDS of jellow-jackets. The jellow-jackets were pesky in the sense that they tried to land on any food, drink, or person and they didn't give up until you actually hit them like a tennis ball. During dinner, my strategy was to walk the entire time I was eating, but others were standing in the river while eating, building bee traps with bait to distract them, or continuously swatting as they ate. It was ridiculous and unfortunate because it was obvious that the jellow-jackets had grown accustomed to getting their food source from campers at that site.
Day 2 of the Lower Salmon (17.3 miles)
This section is so much fun because there are tons of class III rapids! On this day, we paddled through Wright Way Drop, Demons Drop, and Pine Bar Rapid. Check out the video above for my GoPro footie. I didn't video Pine Bar Rapid because my GoPro battery died.
I believe we camped at 29.4 Mile Camp. It was a hot campsite because the sun set in such a way that the mountains didn't cover it, rather, it traversed just above the horizon of the canyon walls. Fortunately, we kept cool by swimming in the river or resting underneath the shade provided by one ponderosa tree.
Unfortunately, the pesky yellow-jackets, wasps, and bees were still a factor at this campsite. Out of the eight people on this trip, seven of us got stung by something before the trip ended. 29.4 Mile Camp is where I personally met my demise and got stung by a wasp while cooking dinner.
Day 3 of the Lower Salmon ( 13.2 miles)
We paddled through Snow Hole Canyon on this day, which is one of my favorite canyons. It is full of fun rapids! We ran Bodacious Bounce, Half and Half, Snow Hole, and China Rapids. We scouted Half and Half Rapid because the picture in the map looked like the hole at the bottom could be big enough to eat paddleboarders or flip rafts. We also stopped and scouted Snow Hole Rapid.
Snow Hole Rapid
Honestly, coming into this trip, I knew I could SUP every rapid with the exception of Snow Hole. This rapid was full of rocks, which creeped me out both times I scouted it.
When I scouted Snow Hole, I hiked alongside the river to get a closer look, scrambled on boulder after boulder, trying to see where each and every rock was. As a paddle boarder, I have to have a plan on what to do if I swim, and it was likely I would swim in this nasty, whirlpool of water.
I hiked away from the group and studied the rapid in solitude. Numerous lines and scenarios went through my head while staring at this mess of boulders and current. The absolute worst scenario was the potential of getting pinned into a boulder, so I opted to take the line left of center; rather than traverse across the current like the rafts did. However, through all of the frothy chaos, I spotted something in my line that looked like a log or a boulder, just underneath the water enough to hide, but not deep enough where I wouldn't hit it if I were swimming. My nerves tightened up and I felt my adrenaline pump as I formulated my mantra to get me through this rapid, "Recover quickly."
Despite the hazard, I decided to go for it. As my group started pulling out of the scouting area, a commercial fleet of rafts pulled up. Usually I'm pretty friendly when people ask me questions or talk to me about river SUP, however, this time, I could hear them asking, "Are you really going to paddleboard that?!" and I couldn't bear to lose my focus. This was the most nervous I had been in a very long time to run a rapid and I couldn't let any form of doubt creep into my mind.
I was there. I was good enough. I was ready. It was my goal to run all of the IV's on this trip! I watched the rafts in the group descend into Snow Hole Rapid. I knew my line from every angle. I closed my eyes, rehearsed my line, and envisioned myself paddling through it; standing, styling, and clean.
Reality: I didn't quite paddle through it like my vision, but I'm proud of myself for doing it! I fought to stay standing throughout the entire rapid. My line was a little bit too conservative in the sense that I was in the boil line, which threw me off by killing my momentum and sucking the rail of my board down. I fell on my knee and fell off the board at one point because of the boil line, but I'm proud of myself for recovering from the fall quickly and getting back into the standing position by the end of the rapid.
Next time I run this rapid, I'll know what to expect. I'll know to stick to the current a little bit more and I'll be able to get it!
That night, we camped at Billy Creek Camp. The approach for it was tricky in the sense that you had to prepare to hit the eddy as you were rowing through Billy Creek Rapid. It was a huge campsite with an awesome cove that felt like our own private parking lot for our rafts. As soon as we pulled in, we had 20+ MPH winds, so we were grateful that we were off the river by that point. This was the only night we had to sleep in tents because it rained during the night.
Day 4 of the Lower Salmon (35.3 miles)
We woke up that morning with the intent to paddle to a campsite that was roughly 8 miles above the take-out. However, my dad, who had gotten stung by a yellow-jacket on his arm while rowing two days prior, woke up with his entire forearm swollen, hot, and tight. He took a Benadryl and we discussed possible game-plans. As the trip leader and the wilderness first responder in the group, I felt like it was my call on whether or not to take out a day early. We decided that we would monitor his arm and see if the swelling increased in surface area by lunchtime.
Sure enough, just before lunch, the swelling had increased up above my dad's elbow and there was a pocket of fluid that was the size of a baseball on his arm. I didn't really know what was going on with the sting, but I was concerned that the swelling would go to his core and affect vital organs, in case it was a sign and symptom of infection. I advocated that we should play it safe and make a big push to get to the take-out that evening.
We took Dad off the oars and I rowed for the rest of the day. We all rafted together and had a quick floating lunch. For the last three miles, we fought through heinous headwinds but made it to Hammer Creek by 6:00 PM. We packed up the rafts and started heading toward civilization that evening.
The InstaCare at the nearest town wasn't open, so we consulted with WebMD and saw that it was actually common for swelling to onset up to three days after a sting. We read that swelling of an entire appendage after a sting is common as well, which helped ease my concerns of anaphylaxis or septic infection. We decided to car camp along the way and just head home while monitoring my dad's arm. He ended up recovering completely a week or so after the trip, but I'm glad that we were in a position where we could have gone to a doctor if the symptoms got worse.
This was a great experience for me. I enjoyed monitoring my own progress as a paddleboarder, but also utilizing my strengths and developing my soft-skills as a trip leader. It was a lot of work to plan the trip and make sure that the group's needs were being met.
It was also eye-opening to see that as a trip leader, you can't please everyone because you are often placed in the position where you have the final say and you're the one that has to decide which person's suggestion wins. It's an uncomfortable position for me to be in, as I'd like to make everyone happy, but it was a good opportunity to practice leadership skills and leading a group with different values and skillsets. It was also a unique experience in the sense that I was also one of the youngest members of the group, so it required me to be humble about things I didn't know and hold steady in the decisions I did make. I'm glad to have had such a helpful, understanding, and wise group of river rats with me as I planned this adventure. I learned a lot.
Paddling on multi-day expeditions like this are the reason why I fell in love with whitewater stand up paddleboarding. This upcoming season, I hope to explore even more rivers via paddleboard!
Lastly, I wanted to shout out Altitude Paddleboards for providing me with a quality GoPro for this trip so I could get some high resolution videos of my travels! I worked for this shop this summer and recommend anyone living in the Front Range, Colorado area to visit the shop for their paddleboard needs.