It was the
first nice day in March last year when John Bales and I leaned
up against his deck railing and hatched the low water Selway
trip over a couple of Hamms. Idaho’s Selway River has
proven to be one of the most difficult permits to obtain. It
has a short season and permits are required May 14th through
July 31st. Early season runs are difficult to coordinate as
the pass is usually covered with snow and the road to the put-in
is not plowed. Late season runs are possible, but the water
is usually only a trickle and you need to fly your gear in.
last trip with John in a small airplane flying into yet another
wilderness river, he was quick to perceive I was not too keen
on the flying part. To be fair, the flying part didn’t
bother me, it was the “full-flap drop into a nonexistent
hole with the hope that we’d clear the fog before we hit
the ground” part that made me a bit queasy.
John was quick to direct my attention to four glorious days of
sunshine, 16” trout and absolute solitude on an incredibly
beautiful river. After another beer, I was convinced and we set
the date for a mid-September launch.
invited two other folks on our trip- Mike Beiser and Travis Fulton. Mike
is the director of the Outdoor Program at the University of Idaho and
is as comfortable in the backcountry as a bear. I don’t think you
could find a more experienced outdoorsman in our area making him a man
of 1000 stories - great around a campfire. And of course my good friend
Travis of many, many years: a self-proclaimed novice to whitewater whose
only previous experience was a trip down the White Salmon in which he
claims to this date, that “I tried to kill him”. He had a
nice hike out of the Gorge as I recall.
A week before the
trip we gathered gear and checked the weather. It had been raining ‘bout
every day for the past two weeks. We watched the river gauge climb each
day and then recede just a fraction at night. We started to send e-mails
about the rising river and excluded Travis so he wouldn’t have to
think about me trying to kill him. We knew if we got him on the plane,
he would do just fine. As the rain continued the Selway was approaching
3000cfs (July flows), we realized the fishing was going to suck and the
whitewater was actually going to be pretty good. We definitely were not
going to tell Travis about this. As the launch date approached, we checked
the forecast one last time to see what the next four days would bring:
rain, rain rain, and more rain. Great.
||We hit the airport
in Moscow and talked to Doug at Interstate Aviation, who had flown
John and company in several times. As it turns out, it was forecasted
to rain and a front was currently moving in.
We loaded the Cessna
206 as we discussed the possibilities of actually getting into Moose Creek.
Once the plane was loaded and the sky was turning darker, we somehow decided
it was a nice day for a backcountry flight. Surprisingly enough, the flight
was gorgeous and the landing uneventful.
Important note - the Moose Creek landing strip is not close to the
river. Plan on hauling your gear down a long trail before getting
to the water.
As we watched the
plane bank out of sight it dawned on me we were about to take 4 brand
new untested prototype urethane inflatable kayaks and an inexperienced paddler on a wilderness river with no
road access that was approaching a 70-year high for September. Cool. Something
was going to happen, it was just a matter of when and what.
John mentioned at
the take out 4 days later that several “firsts” had taken
place on this trip. 1) He swam on the Selway. 2) He broke his fishing
pole. 3) While scouting a rapid, we watched his boat slip away and run
solo with his really nice camera and more importantly for the rest of
us, our food on board. 4) We woke up one morning as we checked the water
level, realized that it was high enough to be touching 3 of our boats
which we had pulled way up on the beach and Travis’ boat was gone.
5) He had never portaged a rapid on this “low water” stretch
To be continued!!