Thursday, October 13, 2016

Idaho Calling : Hells Canyon Snake River

This time of year gives us pro trout bums the freedom to get some days away from home waters and push the edge of the known horizon. Learn a new drainage, crack a few cold ones, entertain the girlfriends, catch a delicious bass, etc. And in this case tackle some more serious whitewater, more then I get to row even in the highest spring runoff around western Montana. Add the requisite sleeping under the stars, eating dutchoven style ever night , and drunkenly stumbling through camp waking up your fellow campers and you have the essentials of an excellent trip.

We got some insight into our upcoming adventure from a brewery regular the night before departure. The only part that stood out through the music and pub chatter was "rig to flip" and "how many throwbags do you have?" With these questions becoming a regular part of the mantra I began to wonder what kind of death defying adventure we had signed up for. So you fancy a little whitewater, Eh?? After a leisurely drive down Hwy 12 through Lochsa country we rendezvous with our crew after dark at the quaint bar in Whitbird, ID. Our crew assembled from across Montana, Idaho, Utah and even far off Colorado, nine strong and ready for a long chill weekend on the Snake. Some of our lot had run the canyon as many as four times. For most of us this was first row through it. This group had immediate chemistry

Day one saw us row only a few miles after meandering our way to the put-in and assemble all the boats. From guiding I expect to show up and the ramp and launch almost immediately. Not too often do I get to build up my raft from deflated to whitewater-ready. All I can say is that I used every strap I had and my boat was definitely the "experimental" boat compared to the fully rigged gear boats. Day two was when the real fun happened. Barely a quarter mile from camp waited the first major rapid of the trip. The roar of Wild Sheep shook whatever lingering sleepiness right out of me in a heartbeat. I don't like sheep, never trust em with those eyes and the un-earthly bleeting. A rapid named after one can't be that much fun either. I like rowing whitewater when it hits the upper Bitterroot and Alberton Gorge in high-water season, but set-your-watch-by-it class four rapid makes even the most confident stand at attention.

Following quickly after Wild Sheep was Granite Rapid, a monster compression wave that threatens to capsize a light boat or any boat that misses the opening tongue. After a good scouting from above we filed out towards the roar and unsettling fake horizon of foam, the kayakers goading each other until they all finally settled on taking the more intense right line through a pile of giant boulder eddies. Jackets on, knives out as the saying goes (is that a saying??).  I haven't done any whitewater like this since I was a teenager in Colorado so a little bit of rust has definitely settled in. Everyone's lines were good this time around and all made it through unscathed. The waves might have come over the bow a little bit but couldn't get a good grip for the flip. Whew!

With the major whitewater behind us we breathed a collective sigh of relief and got into full floating-party-wagon mode: If you want the wine, you gotta slap the bag. Good rule if you ask me. With confidence riding high the remaining class threes were tackled after a few beers were put under the belt and camp was drawing near. Marinara pasta, hummus, bag wine and strong whiskey cocktails ruled camp til the milky way came out in full and we howled at shooting stars. A bottled made the rounds and finally the patented bacon bomb was set off well after dark. Gotta keep your sunglasses close even at night around our crew. I might have crawled into the wrong sleeping bag at some point. Who knows for sure! Not all the evidence can be trusted and my recollection is foggy at best. Theres no pictures to speak of just like theres no pictures of all the smallmouth I caught. All and all a great trip down Hells and sure to not be the last one for me. Somewhere out over Hwy 12 the Snake River is calling my name.

Granite Rapid

Wild Sheep


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