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Middle Fork of the Salmon

The Middle Fork Proper
After a big day of rigging and rowing down Marsh Creek, we arrived at the FS campground at Dagger Falls in the evening, and happily trudged our massive amounts of gear up to the campground. One of the other major hurdles of running Marsh Creek is Dagger Falls. Dagger used to be a pretty substantial vertical waterfall, but it was blasted many years ago, I think to provide fish passage. The result is a massive rapid that every group I have ever been with has portaged in the past. Portaging fully loaded rafts with 7 days worth of camping gear, food, and beer on them up a slope, along a road, and back down a steep slope for a total of 300-400 yards is a massive pain in the ass. We had lightened the load a bit by having some of the food and beer flown into the ranger station at Indian Creek to meet us on day 4, but it was still a lot of stuff to carry. We decided to leave the lifting of the rafts for the next day, and settled into camp.

The next morning, the scouting and talking began in earnest about Dagger Falls. Nobody in the group had ever run it, but we were loathe to carry 4 rafts and a cat around the rapid. Jesse and Jeb both decided to give it a go with light boats, saving us some lifting and giving them quite a thrill.

Trip leader Jesse Mitchell styling his first run of Dagger Falls.

Jeb Stogdell making it look easy with Tina riding up front.

After having a super sweet line, Jeb decided that Dagger wasn't so bad and agreed to run my boat through for me. Then he ran Andy's boat through, then Brian's, then some guy's cat from another group. All in all, Jeb ran Dagger 5 times, relieving us from having to portage and earning himself the MVP award for the trip!

The rest of that day provided the most difficult and continuous rafting of the trip, with lots of action had downstream. The bulk of the action came at Velvet Falls, where we couldn't get pictures or scout due to how fast the high water was moving. As I was dropping into the rapid, I saw Andy's raft go airborne and flip over at the hole at the bottom, and knew that I was likely next. I got too far left too soon to make the sneak, and had to square up and plug into the meat of a hole bigger than our van. When the raft hit the hole it launched past vertical and into the air, and Hudson and I tumbled out the back and into the maw of the hole. As I was riding the giant washing machine, I could feel Hudson bumping into me in there. We went deep, and came up a long way downstream right next to each other. I grabbed the handle on his CFD and steered him toward the left bank, while Andria - who had just run the meat in her kayak - came over and called him, leading him to shore. I turned around to look for my raft, and was shocked to see that it had somehow landed upright. I swam the 40-50 yards down to catch up to it, and crawled back on board, noticing as I did that Brian's raft was upside down and headed off downstream as well. I hit an eddy and collected Andy and Hudson, and headed off downstream to chase boats and gear.

Brian ended up somehow swimming his inverted gear boat to shore, and it was quickly flipped back over. Jeb and a crew of the kayakers recovered Andy's boat about 1.5 - 2 miles downstream, and flipped it with the help of a crew from Seattle that we had run into a couple of times already on the river. Ultimately, we got all of the gear back except for a couple of oars and a case of beer. I think almost every group on the river flipped at least one boat on the day below Dagger - Velvet is a huge rapid at 6+ feet!

We made our way down to camp at Sheepeater, a beautiful campsite with an excellent hot springs right near it. Jesse's cat had somehow blown a nipple and was sinking on one side, so we would have to spend a rough couple of nights patching his boat near the hot springs. Bummer.

Waiting for the glue to dry at Sheepeater hot springs.

Back on the water the next day, we had to navigate the hazards of Lake Creek and Pistol Creek rapids. Lake Creek is a tiny side creek that has flash flooded several times in recent years. When it floods, it farts out huge blobs of sediment and wood, creating a new rapid with a sizeable hole. The wood also tends to hang up in Pistol Creek rapid just below, causing a backup of hundreds of boaters a couple of years ago as they tried the lengthy portage, before the Forest Service was forced to dynamite the logjam so that the numerous people could pass. This happened the last two years, and we were hoping it wouldn't be clogged again this year. fortunately, the hole at Lake Creek was fairly easy to avoid, and Pistol Creek rapid was clear of logs.

Scouting Pistol Creek rapid.
This one was easier for rafts at high water, but really swirly and tricky for kayaks.

We headed on down to the ranger station to pick up our extra gear, and then floated down to camp at Marble Creek.

Floating below Indian Creek.

The river eases up for a long while after you get past Pistol Creek rapid.

Click to read the next part - life on the Middle Fork.