THE LOWER SALMON

 This is a fine trip in Idaho, 72 miles total, which makes for about five days.

You launch at Hammer Creek near White Bird, ID, which is 28 miles north (downstream) of Riggins. Your last twenty miles is on the Snake River, and the takeout is Heller Bar, just beyond the mouth of the Grande Ronde River on river-left. You get to the takeout from Lewiston, ID.

The river traverses four short canyons, where the rock looks ancient and black, not unlike the inner gorge of the Grand Canyon. In between the canyons, the terrain is still steep but far more rolling. You can look up and see large barns on the high hills.

Between canyons on the Lower Salmon

There are a number of rapids, none more than intermediate in difficulty. Lots of them are rocky, so it's good to know how to handle that. Like all rapids, knowing where to go and being there is of utmost importance. Snow Hole rapid is probably the wildest. It will look like you're going to hit a black, pointed rock on the right, but if you have faith, enter just where you've seen you should, the water will take you safely by. You scout Snow Hole on the left, but the run is essentially down the right side.

Snow Hole Rapid at about 5500 cfs. You go right of these rocks.

Richard Smith running Snow Hole at about 4000 cfs.

There are many camps as nice as this one

Richard and Nancy Smith run China Rapid, a little below Snow Hole.

River guides are available from the managing agency, the Bureau of Land Management in Cottonwood, ID, RR3 Box 181, Cottonwood, ID 83522, 208-962-3245. No advance permit is needed, though at Hammer Creek you'll need to get a self-issuing permit by pulling one out of a box and filling it out.

You can drive to the Salmon River at two places enroute. The first is at Pine Bar, 11 miles down from Hammer Creek where there's a drive-in camp. In that area, you can cross the river at the Rice Creek Bridge, across which there are ranches on river-left. A rough road comes down to the river at Eagle Creek. There are a couple jet-boat camps in the Eagle Creek area, and that road parallels the river for five miles downstream. Desite this limited access, the Lower Salmon seems very isolated.

The Slide Rapid is said to be a certain flip at high water. It isn't even noticeable at 5500 cfs, which is as high as I've run this river. This makes the Lower Salmon a late-season river, since flows in May and June can be up around 90,000 cfs! I've recently learned from some folks on an Idaho whitewater mailing list that The Slide is just a good run at 15k, but much more difficult when the water gets up to 25K. One guy described a run at 28K. He said there was an unthinkably huge hole on the left, and even larger holes on the right. The wave train had a large hole, too. But by moving left at the appropriate point, he was able to miss all these. The run still produced adrenalin.

The BLM recommends flows between 2500 and 15,000 cfs. Flow information is available at 208-327-7865. You're interested in the Salmon River at White Bird gauge reading. (As I wrote this on July 4, 1997, the river was flowing 27,000 cfs.)

I've been told you have to portage Snow Hole at 2000 cfs. I cancelled a trip once because of low water, and postponed one because of high water. I've done the run at 5500, 4000, and 3000 cfs in August and September. There's an inconvenient rock in Snow Hole even at 3000 cfs.

The White Bird Store, in White Bird, ID, will run a car shuttle to Heller Bar for you. I understand from a mailing list member that the White Bird Store can also run a shuttle to a takeout at Eagle Creek, which is above The Slide.

The Salmon River confluences with the Snake twenty miles above Heller Bar. After the first few miles, "Lake Snake" slows way down except for a few easy rapids. After rowing all day against the ever-present upstream wind, I resolved to take my little 4 horsepower outboard motor next time, just for this stretch. I built a small frame with which to carry this motor across the front of my cataraft, and used it to motor out of the Grand Canyon across Lake Mead in 1997.

  

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