North Fork of the Salmon (Upper)
|Stretch:||Idlewild Footbridge to Sawyer Bar|
|Flows:||750?-?000 cfs. Current Dreamflows (downstream-est) gauge|
|Gradient:||81 fpm average|
|Shuttle:||9 miles (2 on dirt) (20 minutes one way)|
|Season:||Spring and Summer from snowmelt|
The Salmon River is such a great drainage, I really wish it were closer so I could boat more on it. This is only the third stretch of the Salmon that I have done as the only two visits to the area have been Salmon Race weekends, which of course leads me to running Nordheimer. This year I even went up Friday in order to get on another new run… but due to some arrival consumption of beers I instead took a nap, damn that bubbly wonder of a cocktail.
So this stretch has been described as among the best class III runs in California. I will agree, the stretch from White’s Gulch Bridge down to Sawyers Bar is amazing, the rest though is eh. The river is pretty continuous, it isn’t until the final stretch that the 81 fpm gradient becomes evident even though the gradient is constant throughout the entire run. The run in my mind is broken up into 3 stretches, each spanning bridges. The first, down from Idlewild Foot Bridge has some nice class III- along with two harder rapids. Interspersed are some junky willow rapids that require some rock bashing and edge control. The second stretch was a lot of “flat” water though it had a strong current the entire time. Near the end of this stretch the river drops into a narrow gorge that from above looks to be a large horizon line. Further inspection reveals an easy class III- rapid.
The third and final stretch is what this run was all about. Almost immediately the river drops into a mini gorge with a rapid. From there, the rapids continue, there is a class II rapid in between the harder stuff making the rapids a unfriendly place for swimmers. You will see in the write up that although I do not rank any single rapid over IV- I still give the run in general a class IV- rating. This is because of the continuous nature. This river is not for someone who doesn’t not have a roll; if I am talking to you, I would consider running only the top two sections. Up there the rapids have more recovery time and a swim would not be as bad. With all that said, when I go back, I will be inclined to just do a lap or two on the lower third of the run, I will miss some of the scenery shots, but I will get nearly all of the good rapids. So anyways, if you are in the area and looking for something easier than Butler’s, try this run out, overall it is very worth it for its fine mix of scenery and whitewater.
- Rocky Willows (III-). Down downstream of the bridge is a rocky jumble, at our flow (~1,000) the best line was far left.
- Tree Duck (III-). A fun long rapid ended on a bend with a tree that was duckable on the right side. We all agreed with 300-400 cfs more this log would be a major concern. Apparently this run is notorious for wood jams, so be warned.
Chucky Chute (III+). The most fun drop in the upper section, the river drops through a narrow chute on the left shore. The best line is down the middle, erroring towards the right as the left has a junky rock. The river then makes a 90 degree left turn against the right wall. Good fun.
- Rooster Tail (III-). A small cascading drop with a huge rooster tail in the center. We all drove left across the rapid to avoid it. One guy went over it and was launch. He ended up swimming, but in hindsight I think it looked good to go, actually might have been a lot of fun to hit it.
- Mini Gorge (III-). A large looking rapid where all you see is the horizon line and closed in walls below turns out to be easier than expected. Run straight down the middle avoiding the rock center/right.
The Bridge at White’s Gulch comes over head at mile 5.44 and the river suddenly changes nature and gives you the most fun stretch of the river. Rapids are nearly continuous from here to the take out. The mileage is spread out evenly between the drops.
Mini Gorge (III+). A fun mini gorge has several moves. We ran down the entrance on the right side. The rapid seemed to just continue on and on, great fun.
Big Hole (III). A long lead in featuring a few smaller holes leads to a horizon line. The left side and middle are a large hole. The right side had a window at our flow which let you go right through. This drop is easily scoutable from the road.
Whole Lotta Holes (III). One of the more fun drops is just downstream. This rapid requires several moves around rocks and holes, some with teeth waiting for the unwary.
Two Long Ones (III- or so). There are two long rapids in this stretch. Nothing spectacular, but fun.
Junky Left Ledge (III+). A junky rapid gets junkier at the bottom. The cleanest line was on the left side which dropped you into a sizeable hole… still better than the rock beatings on the right.
Cushion Hole (III+). This is the biggest single move on the river, an easy lead in leads to a right to left drop into a very large hole backed up by a cushion. The right side was pretty burly, I think the left side might be better to drive onto the cushion. With that said, the right side was fun.
Takeout: From Forks of Salmon, drive 14 miles up the North Fork to Sawyers Bar. We parked at a bridge just upstream from the main part of town.
Put in: Continue up the road. When you see the sign for Idlewild, turn left onto the dirt road. Continue for about 2 miles. You can either put in at the footbridge or continue 100 yards further to the corral and put in there.
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