Day 1 - On the way
The truck pulls into Hammer Creek around 3, lots of time to have a beer, prep the boats and eat dinner. A small hill on the edge of camp is the perfect spot for our tent.
Day 2 - Pictographs
In the morning Mike’s prepared some breakfast burritos. The team assembles on the shore to secure the last of our bags. 18 miles lay ahead, an ambitious first day. Before the ramp gets too crowded we push off.
10 miles later we stop to explore some pictographs on a cliff face.
8 miles later we scout for camp, settling on a small beach. We set up camp in some bushes out of the way. Antsy Clara and I scramble up a cliff to get a look over camp and down river. One wrong step I reach to catch myself, smashing my hand squarely onto a cactus, filling it with barbs. Clara helps me back to camp and we start extracting barbs as a storm rolls in. Epic winds nearly suck our tent out into the river. Clara grabs it last minute and we jump inside. Tucked under the vestibule to take turns working on my hand by headlamp.
The storm passes as fast as it came. Everyone reconvenes in camp and Janice makes pulled pork burritos with cole slaw for dinner. After the sunset, we're presented with a stunning display of stars overhead. With the sky completely clear and the lack of artificial light the Milky Way comes into focus.
Day 3 - Class 4 Rapids
Groggy from a long day rafting Clara and I drag ourselves out of our tent. Janice has prepared sausage and gravy for breakfast.
The river is dotted with class III rapids, the heavily loaded raft has no troubles powering through the rapids but Andy in the kayak takes a swim three times. The second to last rapid of the day is our first class IV rapids of the trip, Bodacious Bounce. Our expert guides navigate us through with only a few huge waves over the front of the boat.
Camp is made early, the beach is to hot to even stand on so Clara and I take turns in the kayak running The Gobbler, a class II rapid near camp.
It’s our night to cook. We replicate a favorite from home; peppers, tomatoes, and sausage over orzo with a few slices of mozzarella go on top. It’s on the lighter side, but filling. We try to slow cook artichokes over the fire, but it doesn’t go according to plan, something we need to try again in the future.
Day 4 - Cater-raft
Over breakfast the group discusses switching boats. Clara and I climb aboard the cater-raft this time. I’m at the helm as we come upon our second class IV, China. Any nerves I have about running my first class IV rapid are suddenly amplified as we turn the corner. In-front of us is a charter group's guide raft is wrapped around a rock (the boat is perpendicular to the water around a rock) in the middle of the rapid. It’s gear dumped everywhere, with the three guides diligently attaching ropes to break the raft free.
“Oh man that’s the worst case scenario right there. I’ve only done that once in my 30 years of boating. Alright, you ready we can just sneak by them on the left.” - Mike
A few twists, a 180, some hard back strokes and we wiggle our way through, as in we go through the rapid backwards with Clara yelling at me. We avoid the hole that flipped the guide boat. We read the river together, calling out strokes and direction, making our way through several more class III and IV rapids.
As the sun creeps higher in the sky the temp soars, reaching 106. Everyone is drinking water as fast as they can, dipping hats and shirts in the river to bring some relief from the heat. A massive wave over the front of the raft would be welcome now.
At camp a strong wind picks up as we all stand waist deep in the river drinking a cold beer to decompress and cool down. Clara and I set up camp on the far end of the beach hoping to catch the breeze for a comfortable night. Mike cooks an amazing marinated salmon with alfredo pasta. We drink wine as an incredible sunset fade on the horizon.
Day 5 - Blue Canyon
We swap boats again, Clara takes the kayak and I jump back onboard the raft. Clara is a natural and flows through several class 3 and 4 rapids without trouble. I switch into the kayak just as the water calms and we enter the Blue Canyon, filled with the most breathtaking views of the trip. Drifting down the river an otter pops his head up right in front of us. I maneuver over to him inside a cave, he’s holding a huge fish. I call to him like I do with Kleine, and he whistles back after each call. We chat for awhile before I move on and he goes back to lunch.
The Salmon River converges into the Snake River, a sign we’re nearing the final leg of the trip. We make camp in Oregon on a boulder covered beach. Andy cooks a fantastic dinner of tacos topped with homemade hot sauce. After dinner actives involve Mike and Andy testing the mount of the small outboard motor that’ll putt us along on the near still Snake River.
Day 6 - The final day
The cool night air gives us a restful final night. Andy makes sausage grits and scrambled eggs in the morning. Everyone slowly packs up camp, savoring this last morning in nature.
We push off the shore and once in the middle of the river try our first docking maneuver. Since we have one motor for two boats, the boats need to dock and strap together. The raft and cater-raft pull along side each other, everyone grabs straps and attach the two together. The outboard motor revs up and we skim down the river. But our balance is off, the raft is providing to much drag and Andy can’t counter act the pull with an oar for 20 miles. The boats detach, and align back to front. Clara, sitting atop a mound of gear, straps them together and pulls the cater-rafts pontoons up on-top of the raft. The motor fires up and we’re gliding down the river at 8 mph. When the river becomes shallow the motor comes up and two rafts row in unison like some modern viking boat. As we approach the rapids the team scrambles to separate the flotilla and each raft tackles the rapid, before linking up on the other side.
We make good time, reaching take out at Heller Bar ahead of schedule. Come ashore everyone jumps out and strips down the raft. Janice gets the trailer and like that we’re off the water and headed back to Montana.