Monday, August 29, 2011

Rafting Idaho's Salmon River: A Road Scholar Program

This Road Scholar/Elderhostel program was hosted by Oregon River Experiences and took us six days and 62 miles down the famed “River of No Return” in western Idaho. At 425 miles in length, the Salmon is the longest free-flowing, un-dammed river in the lower 48 states.  We put in at White Bird, Idaho, and after 52 miles, we reached the Snake River, home of Hell’s Canyon, the deepest canyon in the United States, named for its sweltering 130 degree summer temperatures.

The scenery typified high desert and magnificent vistas were revealed with each bend of the river. 

The amazing geology we were traversing was explained to us daily in stimulating talks by geologist and environmental scientist par excellence, Sheree Stewart, who explained that just like water has a cycle from ocean to cloud to rain to river to ocean, the earth also recycles from magma to rocks to erosion to transport by wind and water to re-deposition and burial and melting and back to magma (though at a geologically slower pace than the water cycle.)

Of course, the rapids were the reason we were really there, and the three dozen or so rapids included many class 2 and 3s, as well as a few class 4 monsters.

The temperatures each day were a blistering 95 degrees, but fortunately the waves consistently crashing over the rafts cooled us. We also swam in the calmer pools between rapids. At Cottonwood rapid, the five guides yelled ‘abandon ship” and dove in with us following, and we swam and body surfed the wave train of a dozen-plus huge four foot high waves, all of us bobbing like corks, unable to do anything but try to grab breaths of air in the trough between the waves breaking over us.  This was a highlight of the trip!

Hikes took us to see a series of these Nez Perce tribe pictographs, red drawings made by grinding ochre, an oxide with oil or grease and resin.  There is no known interpretation of the meaning of these designs, but they are interesting to observe nonetheless.

Another hike was at the beginning of Cougar Canyon where we hiked to a high overlook to peer down at the magnificent canyon stretched out before us…

Other hikes led us to ruins of stone dwellings constructed by Chinese miners who came here in the 1860s during the Salmon River gold rush to make their fortune…

If you can't envision the ferocity of class 4 rapids, see what Snow Hole Rapid did to Allison in the photo below.  Look closely and you’ll see her in the blue helmet to the left of the kayak (click to enlarge photo)...

 Here's the entire intrepid group of adventurous Road Scholars...

(L to R) kneeling/sitting:  Nancy, Sharon, Allison, and Sheree
Standing next to+those sitting: Holly, Amy, Lois and Joan
Standing in back: Simone, Claudia, Chuck, Karen, Mary, Roger, Sue, Paul, and Ron

Our journey was enhanced by the the professionalism of our five guides, but in addition to keeping us safe, feeding us, and cleaning up after meals, their youthful exuberance and antics kept us smiling and laughing and entertained, but also infected us and turned us into kids again!  Activities they led included the name game the first night to get acquainted, and later a cartwheel competition, a talent show for all to participate in, epic water fights between the rafts, a cookie challenge where a cookie is plastered to your forehead with jelly and then you make it slide down over your nose and into your mouth, a whipped cream contest where you make a blob of whipped cream jump from your elbow to your mouth (or elsewhere on your face), the hokey pokey, raft dancing, and a face painting night using leftover chocolate sauce.

(l to r): Jessica, Ted, Angie, Megan, and Travis

All of our activities on the water and ashore, as well as some of the highlights from the best rapids, are documented in the following video which documents most of the events of our trip. (Double click to enlarge)

Additonal photos can be viewed and downloaded from my gallery here.

Videos of my other adventures can be found on YouTube here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dang I'm am so impressed, the scenery is awesome and the Salmon River really looks like great fun. How do you go to sleep at night after so much blood churning excitment. It must take hours to come down from such a great high. Thanks for such detailed info on ecology background and pics. I know you're having great just hold on to that tiger's tail ! See ya Ellen