A Week in the Wilderness–SWA’s Middle Fork Salmon Trip

Our last night’s campsite–Ship Island.


As the years of my life tick by, I regretfully find myself spending more time staring at a computer screen and less time out and about in world.  The combination of running Small World Adventures, writing a book, keeping up with social media obligations, and keeping in touch with far-flung friends finds my butt firmly planted in a chair, fingers typing away for more hours per day than I care to admit.  Because of this, I treasure my time unconnected more deeply than I used to.  A week without my cell phones, my laptop and an internet connection is superlative.  To be able to focus on the person sitting right in front me, or to stare, unconcerned with whatever it is I should be getting done, at the scenery, makes me happy.

Karl soaks up the hot water cascading into the river from Sunflower hot springs while Ken waits his turn.


For this reason, among many others, SWA’s recent trip to the Middle Fork Salmon was awesome. We all unplugged and soaked in the experience.  The Middle Fork flows through the Frank Church Wilderness which is unparalleled in the lower 48 for its ruggedness.  The jagged, craggy mountains stretch on for miles and even hiking on trails is difficult in this unforgiving landscape.  The wilderness area encompasses 2.3 million acres of land that is home to bears, bighorn sheep, badgers, elk and much more.


Don discusses the best line through Pistol Creek Rapid with Cathy.

SWA chartered a 6-day trip with Wilderness River Outfitters, and we ended up with a great crew.  SWA filled half the spaces on the trip with people from Denver, Washington D.C/Australia, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.  The other half of the trip was filled with a raucous group of British paddlers from the Bristol Canoe Club come to celebrate Lisa’s “special birthday” (you can guess what number of years constitutes “special.”).  Both groups meshed well as did the patient and accommodating WRO guides.


View of the Middle Fork from a high point above Marble Camp.

Despite a lot of wondering leading up to the trip about whether levels would be too high, we ended up having a perfect water level—6 feet for our launch at Boundary Creek.  The waves were huge and the river continuous, but manageable.   For many paddlers on the trip, it was a quick introduction to big water paddling.  By the end of the week, everyone was surprising themselves with just how big a wave they could successfully crash through, and how those boils, which had seemed personally out to get them at the beginning of the week, felt much more benign after paddling one hundred miles of this style of whitewater.


Dave M. busting through the big breaking wave in Rubber Rapid.

We soaked in hot springs, went hiking, lounged around the camp fire and tried to identify Saturn in the night sky.  Then, all too abruptly, we hit the confluence with the Main Salmon signaling that the end of our trip was near. Reluctantly, we reached the dirt road leading back to civilization and said goodbye to the wilderness.


Janet, Robert and Cathy enjoy a mellow moment in the Impassable Canyon before the big rapids began.

To make myself feel better about the prospect of the next few months sitting behind my desk, I already booked SWA’s next Middle Fork trip. June 7th-12th, 2018. We hope you can join us for an unforgettable 100 mile trip down one of North America’s most iconic rivers.

The boys–Ken, Dave M., and Dave T.–relaxing at camp.

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