Some adventures start innocently enough. We’d been to watch our buddy Brian Chaffin, former NRS Mountain West Wholesale Rep, defend his Master’s thesis. Afterward several of us were in a bar toasting Brian’s new status. Telly Evans was in attendance. You may remember him from Plan B – An Epic Journey – Part 1 and Part 2. He’s a long time river guide on Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River and good friend of Brian’s. At some time in the evening he turned to me and said, “Hey, some of us are running Hells Canyon next week. With my buddies that are coming, it should be epic. You ought to come.”
I have trouble saying “No” to river trips and some other things. Plus, I’d been suffering from rowing and river-camp deprivation, so by 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 5th, Telly and I were rolling south out of the Lewiston/Clarkston valley in his truck, pulling my trailer with our boats and gear. Down past Grangeville, we ran into a blinding snowstorm - visibility a couple of hundred yards. Great rafting weather. Before we got to Cambridge, Idaho we went through two more snow squalls. Great rafting weather.
|Outside Grangeville. Yep, great rafting weather © Clyde Nicely|
In Cambridge, we met up with Chris and Colin, who’d come up from south Idaho. Telly and Chris (otherwise known as Lunch Wagon) had gone to high school and college together. Colin and Telly met in college. The three of them also guided together on the Salmon’s Middle Fork. We decided fuel was in order so we retired to Mrs. G’s Café. Fish and chips and chicken fried steak and gravy. Rib-sticking home cooking.
Telly wanted a break, so I drove from Cambridge down into the Snake River canyon. Part way down we ran into another belt of snow. Great rafting weather. We got into the camp at Oxbow about midnight and were soon asleep.
In the morning, up to Scotty’s Hells Canyon Store to set up the shuttle. Diana greeted us with the paperwork and banter. She asked me what I thought of the new health care legislation. My answer was the wrong one so we got a thorough airing of her opinions on the subject, plus tales of small town Oregon. But by the time we left, there was a hug and laughter…all’s well that ends well. On the drive to the put-in we saw a mountain goat, only the second one I’ve seen down this low.
|We had the launch ramp below Hells Canyon Dam to ourselves, for just a little bit. Then, Idaho Power folks pulled up in a huge tanker truck with 200,000 fall Chinook salmon smolts and asked if they could cut in line. We pulled our gear out of the way so they could discharge their cargo of hatchery fish. Before they left, they checked the river temperature…52°F. Remember that.|
We got on the water by 12:30. Telly’s big goal was to catch a sturgeon, so we eddy hopped down the river, the three of them fishing for bait and me lazing and napping. We got rain, we got wind. We made a grand total of five miles, to Battle Creek Camp. As we neared camp, a golden eagle being pursued by crows whipped by 20 feet over our heads. Then we saw a bald eagle chasing a golden eagle and engaging in an aerial dogfight. Bad day for the goldens.
A silvery shower of 200,000 fall Chinook Salmon smolts pour into the Snake River below Hells Canyon Dam. © Telly Evans
One of Telly’s first duties was getting the sturgeon rod set up and bait rowed out into the eddy. Chairs were set out, drinks poured and relaxing took place. Chucker partridges were chuck, chuck, chuckering in their social manner and canyon wrens were defining territory with their melodic calls. Ah, this is what river camping is all about…good companions, magnificent views, river sounds, unwinding of urban tensions.
I was relaxed. Colin and Chris were relaxed. Telly was twitchy. He had a bell on the tip of the sturgeon rod and whenever he heard it tinkle, or thought he heard it tinkle, he dashed off to hover, touch the line, or do whatever it is fishermen do to commune with the fish (or whatever) on the other end of the line. Dignifiedly, we cheered him on from our camp chairs.
When it came to meals for the trip, Telly who’d purchased the food, announced that it was going to be “meat and taters” fare…simple stuff. And I can empathize with him. With many of the folks I’ve done trips with over the years, we usually divide up the dinners and each tries to prepare something to wow the group.
Colin bends to dinner prep, as Chris and Telly look on and supervise. © Telly Evans |However, Telly has worked for Rocky Mountain River Tours for many years. Sheila Mills, along with her husband, Dave, own Rocky. The gourmet-quality recipes in her Outdoor Dutch Oven Cookbook are the same ones served to their guests. And while the dishes are designed to be fixed on the river, they do require some prep work. So I can see why for Telly, no-muss, no-fuss meals on a private trip, are a great change of pace!
That being said, we ate well. Colin and Chris took over cooking chores. Colin boiled some brats in beer, then Chris grilled them over the coals. Colin made one-half pound hamburger patties. Carnivores Delight.
We bundled up in warm clothes and gathered around the firepan. Lordy, have I led a sheltered life! I wish I could repeat some of their stories, but “what’s said on the river, stays on the river.” I laughed and laughed and laughed. Telly and Chris obviously liked to argue, or maybe rather, hold intellectual discussion of differing opinions. Colin joined in too, until the argu-cussion turned to religion, at which point he shook his head and wandered from the fire.
As midnight approached, a weird (to me) dietary quirk of theirs surfaced: They decided on a midnight snack…of beef ramen noodles. Telly had brought a case of those little ten-for-a-dollar packets. Then ensued a culinary debate over the best way to prepare these delicacies – lots of broth, little broth, add the spice packet to the water, add the packet to the cooked noodles, time the cooking, eyeball the doneness, done when the noodles separate, add soy sauce, add Sriracha Hot Sauce, don’t add any other flavors. I swear it was like a group of snobby French chefs arguing over the best recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon!
At 12:30 I gave up and went to bed. The sky had cleared and was full of stars. Telly reeled in the sturgeon rod. Something had been chewing on the bait, but not a sturgeon.
I woke around 8:00, got up, made coffee and did the dishes. Others struggled out one-by-one, with various accusations of snoring intensity. We were totally lazy, drinking coffee, BS-ing. Eventually we got hungry. Telly produced a corned beef he’d prepared ahead, Chris sautéed thinly sliced potatoes and we had hash.
|It was almost 3:00 p.m. when we left camp. Only a mile down to Wild Sheep Rapid, the first Class IV. The center and right side are congested with rocks and holes. At some flows, paths can open up through there but typically the run is to avoid stuff near the left shore, pull back hard toward the center, then straighten out to squarely hit the large back curling waves halfway down the rapid. Pretty straight forward.|
I followed their boat, Chris rowing. Then I pulled a dumb rookie stunt, paying more attention to the boat ahead than to where I actually was on the water. I hit some of the left hand stuff, which killed my back pull momentum. Tried hard to get back to the middle but didn’t get straightened out in time.
The snow line wasn’t too far from the river.
© Telly Evans
At first I thought the wave had just flushed me out of the boat, but when the rear cargo net brushed across my face, I knew the ol’ E-150 was upside down. I grabbed hold of the netting and pulled myself out and up. My first few seconds out from under the boat were scary; I couldn’t breathe. Whether it was a true laryngospasm or not, I don’t know, but I was truly glad it didn’t last. I found myself on the downstream side of the raft as the tail waves continued to wash over me, so I quickly moved to get the boat between me and any obstacles. Then I heard the others calling to me from downstream, asking if I was alright…“I’m okay, nothing hurt but my pride!”
I worked my way around to their boat and Colin pulled me in. Telly was back at the oars, tugging mightily to get us into an eddy. Once he did, we worked to horse the upturned boat to the shore. It was a struggle because the gear kept snagging on submerged rocks. With one side snugged against the bank, we pulled out the flip lines and the four of us tried to pull it over. We could get it up to about a 40° angle but no further and were just contemplating trying to lighten the boat by pulling some gear out when a jetboat came idling up from downstream. They offered to help and with us pulling from shore and the jetboat nosing from the water, we did it! With our thanks echoing out to them, they pulled into the current and continued on their way. There have been conflicts between floaters and power boaters on the Snake, but I believe there are a small percentage of people on both sides that cause them. When we got home, I called the boat operator, Rusty Bentz, to thank him once again for his courtesy.
It took me a few minutes to rearrange the load, tighten straps and inventory. The only thing I lost was a pair of Maverick Gloves; I’d seen them floating beside the boat while I was in the water, but couldn’t reach them. Now, remember that 52° temperature that was measured six miles upstream? I was in the water about 10 minutes before being pulled out, then in the water several minutes more moving my boat around in the eddy. I was wearing a NRS Mission Drysuit, with a short sleeve wool shirt, WaveLite Pants and wool socks. My inner layers stayed dry and I never felt cold.
Two miles below Wild Sheep is the second major rapid, Granite Creek. Earlier, in March when I’d run the river, the dam was putting out a max 18,000-19,000 cfs and Granite had been a chaotic, no clear line kind of rapid. There’s a huge rock right in the middle of the river that forms the rapid. In lower summer-time flows, there are two clear choices – left or right; the center is an almost sure flipper. At today’s 22,000 cfs, the “greenroom” was open. At that flow, water crests over the rock and rushes down the backside in a long green slick. At the bottom of the trough, a V-wave, with point facing upstream, ebbed and pulsed. We decided that the point of the V was the target for a successful run. Plan A. Of course, this is all planned by looking down on the rapid from the cliff above. Much different view than from river level.
|A true “tailgater”; one where you just pull to shore and walk a few steps to set up the kitchen. A lazy boater’s delight. © Telly Evans |Back to the boats and into the current. Looking downstream, there’s just a smooth horizon line; the only target marker is a spouting spray plume from the V that we’d noted. The water speeds up and only at the lip can we see the V. Only time for a minor correction as we accelerate down the greenroom slick at 20+ miles per hour. There are big waves and No S#&t big waves. This one was the latter, towering over us. Bam, slam, riding the tail waves, shouting our relief and excitement.|
On down the river through Upper and Lower Bernard, Waterspout, Rush Creek rapids. All washed into wave trains at this flow, except the big hole in Rush Creek. I still vividly remember blundering into that hole in my first raft, the little 11-foot paddle boat. That chundering has always fixed in my mind, “Go right in Rush Creek!” Johnson Bar Camp, nine miles below Granite, was open. Nice big sandy tailgater.
Dinner was big thick pork chops, steamed baking potatoes and salad, well done, a la Chris. Another long evening of relaxing and storytelling. One story brought new details to one I’d heard before. In Part 2 of An Epic Journey, I recounted Telly’s story of a fall hunting trip along the Main Salmon where a huge black bear invaded the camp at night to raid the garbage. One member of the group was sleeping mere feet from the garbage sack and awoke starring into the eyes of the bear. He tried to get out of his sleeping bag but jammed the zipper and was flopping about on the sand like a big jumping bean, shouting “Bear, Bear!” Turns out the jumping bean was Colin. And what went on in that camp before and after the bear incident was definitely not something I can report on here!
|No sturgeon took the bait here either. It was another late night of stories and laughter around the fire. I’m not sure when I went to bed, but when I awoke to pee at 4:00 a.m. I could hear Telly and Colin talking. When the sun chased us out of our sleeping bags, the two of them looked like warmed over death. Needless to say, we were slow and not too serious about breaking camp. Eventually we chopped up the leftover pork chops and potatoes into a savory brunch. And again, ramen was prepared, with more nuanced preparation discussion.|The setting sun paints the canyon walls with a rich, early-spring glow. © Telly Evans
Finally on the water again, we floated down to a stop at the Kirkwood Historic Ranch, a well preserved early ranch site, maintained by the Forest Service and staffed by volunteers. Lots of day left as we drifted on down to Fish Trap Bar, another tailgater only a mile and a half above the take out. We were a little tamer group that night; the previous two evenings had taken their toll. Big ribeye steaks, potatoes and salad for dinner and it was pretty early to bed.
Sunday morning dawned clear and sunny, then later clouded over and tried to spit rain. We still sat and put off ending the trip. Finally, as noon approached, we gave up, packed up and coasted down the last few turns to Pittsburgh Landing. Broke down, loaded up, ate a sandwich or two and wound up the long and winding road to Pittsburgh Saddle and down to Highway 95. There it was handshakes, “great trip!”, “let’s do it again”, “drive safe”, then Colin and Chris turned south and Telly and I headed north.
The three musketeers, Telly, Colin and Chris. No, Colin isn’t really that tough; Telly and Chris have just been too lazy to get out of their drysuits! © Telly Evans |Another successful trip, full of laughter and a little drama. Everybody still has all their fingers and toes, maybe a few fewer brain cells, but who’s counting. When I’m not on a river trip I sometimes ask myself, “Why do I do this? Focus this much attention and energy and money and time?” But you know, when I’m out there I don’t question it. It just feels right. How many hundred riverside camps have I sat in and watched the water flow by and marveled that it just keeps on flowing. How often have I smiled at the voice of a canyon wren and whistled back an echo salute. Watched the sun paint a canyon wall and creep toward camp. Felt that heightened awareness as I drifted into a big rapid. Laughed deeply at a joke or story. Changed positions around the firepan as the smoke shifted.|
I write these little stories of trips I participate in for several reasons. I like stringing words together, painting pictures with them. Though I’m not the most skilled at the endeavor, I like the practice. Also, I hope some of you will read them. Those who share my love of this river life can perhaps shake your heads and say, “Yeah”. Occasionally some of you who haven’t gotten into the water world may read and say, “That sounds like fun, maybe I’ll give it a try.”
There are reasons I do what I do, why from my first season of whitewater boating I’ve been hooked on the life, why much of my vacation time for the past 30+ years has been spent floating down rivers here in the West. For me it’s a magical, mystical combination of dynamics – the river and its rapids are never the same. The land along the river and its plant and animal communities are never the same. My companions may be the same, but our interactions are different. And each time, I’m a different person, seeing things in a different way. It’s always different.
Did I mention that I like “different?”
Boat Often, Boat Safe,
Telly Scott Evans
July 25, 1974 – June 16, 2010
Just a little over a month after this trip and Telly is dead, by his own hand. Why? That’s a question those of us who know him are struggling with and for which we’ll never really have the answer.
The person his friends saw was this big guy with a distinctive booming laugh that loved the outdoors in all its facets – boating, fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, gazing at the night sky. He took life in big chunks, adventured fearlessly and gave generously to his friends. And Scottie, as we visited on this trip he spoke lovingly of you.
He was an intelligent, thoughtful person who could converse knowingly on many subjects. Peers sought his advice, employers praised his work. Telly had lots of friends, friends who loved, liked and admired him.
I didn’t know Telly nearly as long as Chris, Colin, Brian and others knew him. But I knew him and liked him and admired him and was proud to call him Friend. And I had planned on a friendship with him that would outlive me. And I feel a genuine loss of our relationship.
What demons dwelt in Telly to take him to that decision? I don’t know. As Brian and I talked about it and struggled to find answers, he used a phrase that really resonates with me. He said maybe it’s like he didn’t have on his “Life PFD”. That just like everyone who ventures out on the water needs to cinch up their life jacket; all of us need to guard ourselves against those “dark hours of the soul.” Somehow, Telly didn’t protect himself and the demons overwhelmed him.
There’s a lesson here for all of us. Make sure your loved ones, your friends, your buddies always have on their Life PFDs. Watch over each other, protect each other, reach out when you see someone in need, seek help when things seem overwhelming. Talk to one another; don’t be afraid to show vulnerability. I believe that’s especially important for us males; we’re all too prone to think we have to be tough, to suck it up, to gut it out. We can’t let the goddamn demons win. We’re too special, we’re too important to one another.
Telly, you’re missed. You’re truly, truly missed by your hundreds of friends in the river community.
Dear Friend, may all your clouds in heaven be tailgaters.