I finally got to run Salmon River Canyon this last weekend. It was everything anyone has said it was. Just as committing and full on, and the drops live up to and exceed the expectations I had going into the canyon.
My first trip down was under unusual circumstances. I was with an R2 team who had been wanting to run the drops of the SRC for some time now. Hiking the raft in the day before it was obvious why this doesn't get done. After the dolly broke Dan cam strapped the raft to his back and hiked it the next mile to the meadow turn off for split falls. At this point I gave him the backpack I was using for my kayak for him to use as the cam straps were destroying his shoulders. He went down the sliding bushwack/trail with it on his back until the last hundred yards were he sent it barrelling down the hill right at me! I hid behind a tree as the raft/missile came barrelling down, but stopped short of where I was. We made it to Split falls and pumped the raft a bit and started rigging it before heading back out.
After two days of hiking (Dan and Shane had hiked the raft the first half mile the day before), a river crossing, lots of pain, little water and food, we had a sense of accomplishment before even taking a stroek, Dan finally had his raft into the SRC. There was only one reasonable way to get that boat out now, paddling it downstream. We walked the trail back out and drove home anticipating the adventure waiting for us the next day.
The next day we hiked in from the bottom to avoid a shuttle at the end of the day with Luke Spencer as Dan's R2 partner and our trail group; Dans girlfriend Lydia, Shane Conrad and Christina. The hike was a long one that took its toll, sapping precious energy and taking time. We made it to Split falls and within half an hour I was in my boat and dropping over the falls, a fantastic put in!
I set safety and after a few minutes they came down. The raft didn't fit... We had figured this might be the case though so Luke jumped onto the bank right at the lip and pushed and yanked on the raft until it was only a little wedged. Then he jumped back in and they rocked the boat until they dropped over, a perfect line and they came out upright but the falls was landing right on them and ripped them out of the boat. They self rescued and we made quick work of the portage below.
After this I took off to catch the group ahead of us who had the climbing rope we were planning on using at Final Falls. I also wanted to catch them for safety reasons, as I had just found we only had one throw rope, and that was in my boat. So if we didn't catch the other group I was going to have to be mistake free. I arrived before too long and there was no trace of the other group. By my watch I had made it by the meeting time (which was interpreted differently by the different people in the two groups), so I must have missed them by less than five minutes.
I waited at the spot for Dan and Luke. When they arrived we had a short pow-wow. Were we going to try to catch the group ahead of us before Final Falls or hike out? We came to a draw because Dan and my vote was to keep going, but Luke counted as two votes in this situation since he had been there before and favored hiking out. In the end optimism prevailed and we set off in an attempt to catch the group ahead of us (who also had a raft).
Little Niagara went well and ended up being my favorite drop of the run. The raft went next and also executed the line we had picked out well.
In the throw and go around Vanishing falls Luke hit bottom and sprained his ankle. This was to be a factor the rest of the day. We regrouped and got ready to drop the next ledge, a boxed in 8 footer with a sticky hole. Luke remembered this drop as unscoutable/unportageable so gave me the beta, run it on the right and keep your nose up with a left stroke. It turned out to be easy to clear the hole if you hit the line and I signaled all good to the rafters while I set up the camera and safety. They had a good line and we headed downstream.
There was one more class 4 ledge drop, then Frustration falls presented itself after a narrow and calm alleyway. This drop was committing, which weighed especially heavy on me as having the only rope I would be going without safety.
While we were scouting Luke caught a glimpse of something unnaturally colored downstream, hoping it was the other team we headed down and could see them. They signaled for us to head down, we had made it! We were elated that we had done so and were going to be able to repel around Final Falls, but we had our work cut out for us first. There was a lot of discussion about how we were going to get passed Frustration Falls. The end result is what is important, so what we did was lower Dan down to a ledge right above the final 40 footer, then he counter the raft down to where he was. Because of Luke's sprained ankle, Dan would be R1ing the drop. We felt it was safer for Dan to R1 the drop than to risk Luke injuring his ankle further. Because Dan was R1, he would not be able to paddle away from the undercut all at the base of the drop. To deal with this I would go first and from a small ledge throw him a rope after he landed to get him free of the wall.
I put in below the first 20 which had some wood. The second drop is tricky. I had seen a number of blown lines there on video. It appeared people would boof, only to have their tail caught by a shelf part way down, sending them over the bars. My plan was to not attempt a boof, hoping that when my nosed dropped it would hit that shelf, bringing my nose back up. This did not work according to plan and I hit the weird shelf and went into a bit of a freewheel. I resurfaced upside down and trying to roll against the current, I did make it up and instead of being inside the bowl at the base of the ten footer, I was looking over the edge of the left side of the final drop! I modified the final part of my roll into a partial backstroke as this side of the falls drops into a pothole of sorts that Luke had mentioned earlier had a rock in the landing and no one had ever run before. The modified backstroke followed by another one kept me from dropping over. I stopped in the eddy created by the raft and set up for the bottom forty footer.
Instead of the reconnect line some people take, I used a little left angle off the kicker and free-fell into the pool below. I was tucked forward and felt a good impact, my left leg popped out of the brace, but I was upright so I put it back in and started paddling against the current pushing into the undercut. I brushed it at the end but then I was into the clear and setting up for footage and safety for Dan.
He took his time preparing, then I saw some yellow, then I didn't, then here he comes! He dropped over straight and dove for the back of the raft and hung on. Then he was below upright and elated. We were all so stoked that he had just cleaned this drop! He was pushed against the wall which wasn't such a big deal in a raft, but being an R1 he was unable to paddle away from it as we predicted so I through him the rope and reeled him in. Then Luke jumped in and they tried paddling out past the veil of water that blocks the exit. After 3 unsuccessful tries Luke hopped out with my rope and pulled Dan through as Dan paddled. This worked and we were then above "In Between", the final drop above Final Falls.
We pulled onto the shore and saw... no one. This was not the site we had hoped for. After commenting on how unpleasant this situation was we started figuring out what to do. Luke was certain the other group would not have left without at least leaving the rope and thought he might have seen it so I ran the twenty footer and eddied out above the 70 foot Final falls. I walked down to the repel point and there was no rope...
I signaled this back to the rafters and we discussed what to do. We regrouped again below the 20 and discussed our options. The last 4 people to jump the falls had all hit bottom, so that was iffy at best. Dan offered to lower us down on my throwbag and then jump, take the hit and just hope he didn't get injured to the point he couldn't hike out. In the end we decided to use Luke's plan and hike out on the left side, then cross the river when we could get back to it (it would take a couple hours of bushwhacking first), then climb up to the river right trail and hike out. Estimated arrival time at the take out bridge; 1am.
We geared down and started looking for a place to get up the cliffs. Luke thought he saw a draw that would go, but I wasn't really down with rock climbing and Dan was adamant that Luke was sure to hurt himself if he tried that. We looked around for another hour and finally came to the decision to head back to the river and have Dan lower us.
We were a bit solemn as we headed back and got geared up. When we got to the platform above Final I looked around for a better jumping spot and found a small perch closer to the falls than where people had jumped and hit bottom before. I thought that hopefully the scouring power of the falls would have made a deeper landing zone.
So Dan volunteered to jump first since he was going to jump anyway, and if he didn't hurt himself we would follow. As Dan lept into the air I pushed away the thought that if he hit bottom we would probably have no other option than to jump anyway. Luckily he didn't, we shoved the boats off then followed suit, all of us minimizing our depth into the pool by filling our dry suits with air and planing our bodies once we hit the water. This worked, and we were together at the bottom, a happy set of boaters. We took some time to eat and drink, then took off downstream. We ran a couple more boulder gardens, then portaged a couple sieves, then we were in the class 2-3 runout. It was a great feeling to have met the challenges. I took off ahead to let the people at the takeout know we were ok, the raft joined us half hour later, with an hour of daylight to spare.
In the end we were all ok, but we left with a sour feeling. We were definitely 3 unhappy people at the top of Final Falls, but I guess all that ends well is well.
800 cfs Sandy at Marmot