Now, I don’t fish. Or, more correctly, I don’t currently fish, much. But I love to boat. So recently, when my boatin’ buddy Tyler, the NRS Mountain West Wholesale Account Rep, invited me on a Lower Salmon trip and said I should take a GigBob, I couldn’t say no.
There were only going to be four of us. We were taking my E-150 raft, but Tyler wanted to row it. The reason? The other two trip members were a pair of attractive young women, who would be spending time on the raft. Dashing Bachelor-Man wanted to be there with the ladies.
I did have some qualms about GigBobbing it. I’d had a couple of days on the GigBob during our May Lower Owyhee trip but I knew the whitewater on the Lower Salmon was more challenging than anything I’d rowed there. However, I knew it could be done because I’d seen Tyler do it last October. So I had to reply, “count me in, I’ll give it a go!”
Ty and I got to the Hammer Creek launch site shortly before dark. The ramp and apron were full of boats, people and gear; August brings lots of traffic to the Lower. Everyone was generous and made room for me to back my truck down. We unloaded and used our Blast Pump to inflate the raft, GigBob and a MaverIK inflatable kayak.
We’d hardly gotten started when Liz, a boating friend, waltzed onto the ramp and gave us big hugs. She said she was part of a 17-member, all-women group that had been going to launch that day. However, running their shuttle took longer than anticipated, so they’d be pushing off with us the next day.
Liz, or maybe it was the river gods, brought the rain. Started with a sprinkle, graduated to a downpour. We used our headlamps while rigging boats, making room for late arrivals and moving gear around so it didn’t get mixed up with other folks stuff. I’m thinking, “This is sure a lot of fun. I didn’t even bring any HydroSkin and if this weather holds, the trip’s got uncomfortable written all over it.”
About the time we decided we’d done all it made sense to do in the dark and rain,
Adrienne and Jennie showed up. They’d been looking for us, had even traveled upriver
to another launch site, thinking maybe they had wrong directions. They had already
cornered a campsite, so we went up to join them…and stand in the rain. We could hear
the all-girl group whooping it up, so we went over and stood under their shelter for a
while. The party was in full swing, the music was going and dress-up and costumes
were had by most.
During a lull in the rain, Ty and I went back to put up tents. As I was setting mine up in the sprinkle, an attractive blonde loomed up out of the dark and announced, “Hi, I’m Hillary. Hmm, you’re not in our group. Maybe that’s them over there. Would you like a drink of my Malibu before I go?” It was that kind of scene, that kind of night.
Earlier, on the ramp, we’d met Jeremy Harris, one of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) river rangers. He and his wife, Jennifer, were doing a private trip. He came over to our campsite and we had a good conversation. It turned out he knows my good boating companions, Dave and Liz McConnell. I was interested in any plans BLM might have of going away from the self-issue permit system. Jeremy said that there were no such plans, that by and large they have been pleased with how well people have been taking care of the beaches and campsites on the Lower Salmon. They regularly run river patrols: checking camps, removing any trash they find and working to educate folks, all in an effort to protect the resources and keep this river section out of the lottery system.
One “burr under their saddle” is folks leaving rocks on the beaches. People remove them from their rightful places and use them to secure boats, tents, River Wings, etc. Then they get left on the sand when camp is broken. I know I’ve been guilty of it, thinking that the next group will just pack them out again. But I’m reformed; on all our beaches on this trip I was lugging the rocks back to their naturally placed brethren.
So, folks, if you value the great access to the Lower Salmon as much as I do, please work hard to protect the camps and beaches, pick up not only your trash but that of others and don’t leave rocks on the beach! BLM appreciates it, the next group will too and it’s a righteous thing to do. It’s major win-win.
Rain lulled us to sleep and we woke to wet camp and overcast. Walking to the camp toilet, I encountered Erin Clancey, a Team NRS member. She was with the all-women group, who were mostly from Montana. Erin spends her summers on the National Bison Range, near Charlo, Montana, studying pronghorns as part of her graduate work at the University of Idaho (psst: part of her work involves collecting pronghorn poop). She was also concerned about the comfort level on the trip. Expecting nice weather, she hadn’t even brought a tent. Tyler and I scrounged up an extra tarp for her and some of the other gals that also hadn’t brought tents.
For the GigBob we’d brought some prototype lower pontoons. They’re longer (10’ instead of eight) and wider. We’re thinking about offering them for folks who’re running bigger whitewater or may be carrying heavier loads.
|The larger pontoons are approximately two feet longer and four inches wider than the standard ones. © Clyde Nicely|
My fears about weather turned out to be mostly unfounded. We clocked off 20 miles pretty easily and camped earlier than we had to in order to dry out tents and sleeping gear. We put up the River Wing, but only got a few sprinkles throughout the evening and night. Adrienne whipped up a nice chicken/broccoli alfredo, with some yummy smoked chicken breast from her family’s butcher shop.
|The ladies were good river companions. While neither had done a lot of boating, they are both very outdoorsy types. Adrienne is the Program Coordinator for the McCall Outdoor Science School, where school classes come for a week of science education that includes backpacking and other outdoor pursuits. Jennie had previously worked for Adrienne at the school and was just finishing a summer of doing Leave No Trace education for the Forest Service in Idaho’s Sawtooth Range. They provided a lot of entertainment with their razing of each other, singing and storytelling.|
Adrienne and Jennie gooning for the camera. © Clyde Nicely
Our second day brought some of the bigger rapids, including Snowhole and China. The GigBob handled it all with aplomb. I’ve spent so many years pushing a big heavily laden raft down rivers that it’s a real treat to run a nimble play boat. The larger pontoons worked great. Their greater surface area does offer a bit more resistance but the boat is still easy to row, maneuverable and speedy over the water.
A funny thing happened in the flat sections down in the Eagle Creek area. We had brought along an electric trolling motor, to ease our way in the slow stretches and to try out a different idea for a raft motor mount. As we were floating along while rigging the motor, we drifted near a group of boaters who’d already camped. Several were sitting on the boats and cooling off in the water. They hollered at us to give them a closer look at the GigBob, so we pulled over to them.
|The prototype motor mount. Set up this way it gives a comfortable seat while operating the motor. Even without the seat, it extends the transom plate out away from the raft tube. © Clyde Nicely|
They’d seen the boat in the catalog and were intrigued with a close up look. As we chatted and exchanged info and stories, one of them called out, “Would you like some Toad Juice?” Or, at least that’s what I thought he said. I said, “Toad Juice?!” And he said, “Yeah, have you ever heard of it?” To which I replied, “Heard of it! Hell, I brought it to the river!”
Now for a bit of personal history. Years ago, even before I started boating, I visited my old college buddy Jim, in Hawaii. He fixed me this tasty concoction of lemonade, limeade and vodka. When I did start rafting, now over 30 years ago, I remembered the drink and started mixing it up, freezing it and bringing it along for a camp time libation. And since Jim’s nickname in college was “Toad” and the mixture is light green, I called it Toad Juice.
Over the years, boating with different folks, I’ve run into it made by new people to me. Sometimes it’s called Toad Juice, or occasionally Frog Juice. Usually if we delve back in their boating history, we can identify a mutual boating companion, who got the recipe from me. It’s like the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game.
In this case, the fellow who’d shared it with their group wasn’t a name I recognized and he wasn’t along. They’d also altered the recipe to include other juice concentrates. But the funniest part was when we pulled a jug out of the cooler to give them a taste of the Old Original. I’d written “Toad Juice” on the plastic milk jug (the traditional container). They said, “Toad Juice? We’ve always had it called Toe Juice.” I exclaimed, “It’s Toe JAM, but it’s Toad Juice!” We all had a good laugh and a good visit. We had to cut it short because we were still looking for camp. It was good to meet up with these fine people; river folk are great folk, aren’t we?
We’d checked off about 25 miles when a nice sandy beach appeared. We debated about keeping going, but knew there were other groups ahead of us and the campsites get scarce around Blue Canyon.
Relaxing after a long day of boating on the beautiful Salmon.
© Clyde Nicely
Adrienne to the rescue again with supper. Cheesy Jalapeño Brats grilled over the driftwood coals in the Firepan, mashed potatoes and veggies. Yummy. Say what you may about the male fantasy of a woman who owns a liquor store, I think having the family own a butcher shop is an even greater plus. If you’re ever passing through Moscow, look up C&L Lockers. All kinds of fresh and smoked meats and sausages, jerky, even smoked prime rib. And be sure to pick up some Cheesy Jalapeño Brats.
The clouds had fled, so we didn’t bother with the Wing. We spent a long evening visiting around the fire and admiring the almost full moon.
Our third day led us quickly to Blue Canyon; a favorite section of the river. Shiny silt-polished rock walls close in and you’re floating through a cathedral of stone. About four miles from the mouth of the Salmon, a rockslide of huge boulders has really narrowed the river channel. At high flows, Slide Rapid becomes a monster that prevents most folks from attempting it until the flow drops to around 20,000 cfs. At our ~9,000 cfs, there was just a little wavy chop. There were some dandy rapids in the Canyon; the last one, Eye of the Needle, slapped me around and raised a pontoon, the only time I had a brief “Uh Oh” moment on the trip.
After the Salmon confluences with the Snake River, the going gets slower. While there’s lots more water, the Snake is much wider. The motor mount prototype worked fine, but the electric trolling motor battery gave out after a few miles, so it was back to the oars again. And the wind! It can really blow upstream on the Snake…and it did, with a vengeance.
After a heavy workout on the oars, we made it to the takeout at Heller Bar. A short trip, but a merry one. We’d packed a lot of laughs into those few days. I always hate to see a trip end. It’s a lot of work to get ready, and once I’m there, I don’t want to quit.
|Kudos again to the GigBob! I continue to be impressed with its stability, agility and adaptability. And it has a major Fun Factor that’s hard to beat. I look forward to many more days of piloting that little sport boat along the rivers and streams of our magnificent West.|
Gig, GigBobbing along on the mighty Salmon. © Tyler Harris
How about you…do you GigBob?
NRS e-News Editor