Zach Urness had been bugging me about getting back on the North Fork of the Smith. We had low flows but beautiful weather. The gauge above shows flows at Jed Smith, which are reported in CFS and Feet. This is a different gauge than the one Bearfoot Brad reports (which is at the actual confluence of the NF and MF Smiths) but the one above is the official USGS gauge. The gauge at the mouth of the NF is a foot gauge that is meant to correlate with the USGS gauge at Jed Smith. However, isolated weather events can throw this correlation off, in which case it’s best to use Brad’s gauge.
The level was 3.69 Ft. Guides from the Middle Fork of the Salmon River decided to check out the other side of the Frank Church. Andrew Wilkin, Kevin Widerman, Colin Hughes, and Josh Edmunson. We did a 3 day, 2 night raft trip. First night we Camped at mile 14.7 on river left, above Mule Kick. Second night at the confluence of the Main Salmon. 14ft boats are a perfect size raft for this level. Enjoy the report below!
For Oregon Boaters, I would compare the SF Salmon to the Illinois. It’s a run I’d describe as “land of the giants,” big holes lurking, huge horizon lines, and long continuous rapids with necessary moves. Similar to the logistics of the Illinois, the remoteness, shuttle, and changing flows make it difficult, but very doable for those who are motivated!
I would recommend 2.5ft to 3.7ft. Anything above 3.7, be careful.
Once you have the gauge figured out, then you should organize a shuttle. Google the shuttle companies in the area, or call a friend from McCall.
I like to break the SF into 3 sections. The first section is the put-in (confluence of the Secesh river) to Mule Kick rapid (mile 15). Second section, Mule Kick (Mile 15) to the Saw Mill (Mile 23), then the Saw Mill (mile 23) to Fall Creek rapid (Mile 32), the last big rapid on the South Fork.
Section 1: From the put-in to Devils creek, be on your toes, lots of fun class III-IV boogie water. In no time you’ll be at Devils Creek, the first significant rapid at Mile 9. Scout on the left. Devils creek is a tricky rapid, which has a history of wood being stuck in it. Make sure you scout and really inspect the last part of the drop. After Devils Creek, is a continuous set of read and run class III-IV. Be alert and ready to make moves, some rapids you will just have to just square and push through the big hits. Around mile 14ish is a stretch of sand bar camps on river left. Nice spot to stay, above the next set of rapids.
The second section: Mule Kick (mile 15) to the Saw Mill (mile 23). It’s tough for me to remember all the names of the rapids, just know there’s a plethora of rapids. I would recommend scouting most, if not all of them. Scout Mule Kick on the left, there’s a big pool above. Make sure to look for an eddy on river left below the rapid, Elk Creek is around the corner. Below Elk Creek is a spicy noodle plate of rapids. Be careful, hit em straight.
The third section, the Lumber Mill (mile 25ish) to the Confluence (mile 36.2). As the river begins to mellow, below Grouse Creek, you’ll notice a huge sawdust burner [note: we originally called this a “steam boiler” (see Ken’s comment at bottom of page)] on river left. Awesome structure to explore and check out. Note, the first rapid below the lumber mill is a technical class IV-V rapid. Far left is a undercut. No Bueno. Go center. After a couple more fun rapids the canyon will begin to narrow and you’ll be entering the last big section of the SF, buckle up!
Once you enter the canyon the gradient will increase significantly. Lots of rapids. Near the end of the stretch, is Monumental rapid (mile 31). Run hey diddle diddle right down the middle, some big hits to be had. This is a key rapid to note. Below monumental rapid is the scout eddy for Fall Creek. The scout is on the right, there’s small sandbar with a noticeable trail.
Fall creek is a 3 part rapid. You will want to scout all the drops. Once you push off in your boat it can be difficult to stop above the last drop. The Main Salmon confluence is at mile 36.4. You can spend the night at the confluence, and then float out the next day. Note, you’re not allowed to camp on the Main Salmon. From the confluence to the Main Salmon take-out is 23 miles. Drink beers and celebrate good times!
For the boatmen, for the thrills, but really just for the rivers