Local wisdom says the Main Salmon “washes out” at high water, leaving the rocks sufficiently buried to create a smooth linear flow. Having recently run the river at high water during my 2009 source to sea journey, I repeatedly affirmed this “washed out” assessment as the Cascade Adventures team and I approached the put-in with 56,800 cubic feet per second registering on the gauge. “Nothing to worry about except two rapids—Whiplash and Chittam,” was my cry. But memory fails. Now, just days after getting off the raucous river, my more enlightened assessment might sound something like, “There is nothing to worry about but Whiplash, and Chittam…and Killum, and Dried Meat, and the Little Five Mile – Split Rock corridor, and the eddy lines below Polly Bemis’, and how ‘bout that new rapid at Black Creek and….” It might be big and wide, but at high water, the Salmon still packs some punch.
Of course part of my re-assessment is due to the fact that I was rowing a raft this time around, rather than paddling my more maneuverable plastic kayak. Having the responsibility to look after a cadre of inflatable kayaks adds a new perspective too. The ducky paddlers did great, with only a handful of swims over the course of the high water week. Still, the small boats were rolled up and stashed away for the biggest water days, when we had challenge enough just keeping all four rafts in line.
Of course there were some people on the river that willingly sought the biggest of the big water, and we bumped into the all-stars at Barth Hot Springs. This was the Liquid Logic trip, on the water with Canyons Incorporated. Kayak designers Shane Benedict and Woody Callaway were taking a break from their North Carolina headquarters to test their wares on the giant fluffy waves of Idaho’s big water. I hadn’t seen Woody since completing Whitewater Classics, and seasons had passed since connecting with other friends who were on the Canyons trip as well. Like mountain men meeting at the annual rendezvous, river guides share the best of times when together, before continuing our personal journeys, never knowing where or when we might meet again.