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Smith Creek Misadventures

At the tail end of our PacNW mini-trip, we heard that Smith Creek was running in the panhandle of Idaho. Smith was rumored to be the best creek in Idaho, with miles and miles of classic granite bedrock rapids. We pointed the van east and made a break for the goods.


Lower Smith Creek
We pulled in to Smith Creek late in the evening and camped at a great spot that serves as the takeout for the upper run. We awoke the next morning to find that the crew we were supposed to meet wasn't there, so we drove to the putin for the lower. The flow looked considerably lower than the 250 cfs dropping to 175 that the power plant had indicated we would have. Lower Smith Creek has a hydropower diversion which diverts 370 cfs around the gorge, generating almost 40 MW in a farily small plant due to the enormous amount of gradient that the water bypasses. For reference, Tuxedo Hydro on the Green in NC peaks out at about 8 megawatts when it's releasing 200%, which is about 432 cfs. After waiting a while, we drove toward the takeout, reaching cell service and getting the word that the rest of the crew would arrive there about the same time as us.

We met up with a crew from Missoula, consisting of Adam, Ben, and Nick. All were stoked to get a run on Smith, but a bit bummed to hear that the water was much lower than we had expected. We toured the plant where the operator, Pat, told us that we could expect a dip down to about 110 cfs at 1 pm, and the water should rise after that. We arrived at the putin about 1, and saw what looked like maybe 100 cfs at best flowing over the dam. Some of the group had done the creek at 130 the year before and still had a good time, and we had heard about a local who runs it down to 80. We deliberated, and most of us decided to put on and hope for the water to rise throughout the afternoon. Andria had been sick for a while, and opted out due to the high liklihood that this was going to get epic before it was all over. Nice call by her.

As we headed downstream, we bashed rocks. Then we bashed more rocks. Then we portaged some, and bashed some more rocks. All I can say is that the run was super beautiful in an exquisitely brutal sort of way. We took a few pics that show how nice this creek would probably be if it had about 150-200 cfs in it. Higher than that and it would be continuous class V+, with several miles of the run clocking in at 500+ feet per mile.


Looking down Smith as Adam runs about a 20 foot double slide rapid.


Ben in a tight spot - one of many at this low level.


Nick and Adam below the super gnar gorge that we portaged.

In the end, the water kept on dropping and dropping. We made it about 3.5 miles into the run before we decided to bag it and hike out when the level reached something like 50-60 cfs. It was about 500-600 vertical feet straight up and out of the gorge to the road, over uneven boulders and through brushy thickets. Good clean fun - about what I had expected. Lower Smith Creek is an amazing place - I hope to see it with some water one day!

Upper Smith Creek
That night more of the Missoula crew arrived, and we decided the next day to have a quick run on Upper Smith Creek. Upper Smith is class IV with a couple of V's, and most importantly is above the diversion, so it had about 300-400 cfs in it. We put on with a big crew and were instantly greeted with logjams, logjams, and more logjams. The first class V was off limits due to a terminal logjam in the runout, but we did run some good rapids in the middle section, and the final sequence was good to go.


John in a juicy rapid on Upper Smith.


Jesse Kodadek finishing off the last big sequence.

After that run, Andria and I were both beat down. That turned out to be the end of our boating in this area, and now we're chilling at an RV resort while Andria recovers from the illness that's been holding her back, and I rest a forearm tendon that I tweaked in a bizarre late night tire-changing incident (Who'd'a thunk that the Ford factory lug wrench wouldn't fit with the factory rims?). We should be back at it soon, though, and headed to Easten BC to look for more gradient and snowmelt. Stay tuned!