Middle Fork Dreaming in December

It’s December. I’m sitting at my desk, looking out my office window which overlooks the Salmon River. It’s snowing. I keep telling myself that this is a good thing: all those flakes are adding up to a few more drops of water for next summer’s river season.

This time of year, when all this snowing is falling down and the river is iced up,  I find myself wishing it was river season instead. I’ve used a little mental escape mechanism for years that gets me through winter: I close my eyes and picture myself back on the Middle Fork, running a big rapid, catching a nice cutthroat trout, or gazing up at the starry night sky from my sleeping bag. This used to really come in handy while sitting through long, windy college lectures.

I was driving home the other day, and this was my view from the car window (yes, I did STOP the car and get out to take the picture!):

Icy Salmon River
Ice beginning to build up on Salmon River, Idaho.

Here’s what I WISHED I could see:

Velvet Falls Middle Fork
Aggipah boats line up and run Velvet Falls on the Middle Fork.

But since the only way I can see this sight is in my mind, how about we do just that. Let’s take a summertime journey down the Middle Fork in the middle of winter. Buckle up your lifejackets, this boat is leaving the ramp…

I take a last look around: three folks are sitting in front, as ready to shove off as I am. Lifejackets buckled? Check. Gear stowed and latches locked? Check. Sunscreen applied and sunglasses adjusted? Check.

I push off, tuck the rope in and jump into my seat. We’re off! The Middle Fork doesn’t wait for me to warm up: she drops us off the edge of First Bend Rapid into champagne froth and leaping waves. A few quick, shallow adjustments and we’re on to the next rapid-they don’t give my arms much of a break!

We run several little guys and a few bigger rapids,  and before we know it, we’re in the quiet before the storm that is Sulphur Slide Rapid. We creep around the corner. I’m pulling back, slowing down, using those quick shallow strokes again. We don’t want to get into this with too much speed. Finally there’s no more pulling, just adjustments being made as we shoot through the chute on river left and out toward the center of the river. Whoops and hollers vaguely reach my ears, but my mind is still on this rapid. We sail past the round, blonde rock in the middle, just off to her left, squish over a couple of scrub rocks and we’re through. We pull over, watch the paddlers rocket through-their team work has improved greatly since leaving Boundary Creek. Their guide yells out a command, “Left BACK! Right FORWARD! STOP!… ALL FORWARD!” It’s a churning whirl of water and paddles.

We run a few more big ones: Ramshorn, the crazy, busy stuff above Velvet Falls, and finally the Falls itself. They all slip away behind us at a drop rate of 42 feet per mile.

I’m hungry. Quick check of my watch: 1pm. Feels like lunchtime, and there’s a nice-looking sandbar on the right. Let’s get some lunch put together.

Middle Fork lunch
Aggipah guides Greg, Russ and John prepare lunch on the Middle Fork.

“Well, we’re here,” says boss Bill Bernt. We just ran some of the toughest whitewater of the whole trip, and all 23 of us are here safely. We’re setting out lunch. Today’s fare is deli sandwiches, fresh peaches and grapes, plenty of chips, cookies and chocolaty treats, with some icy lemonade to top it all off. And a cold beer for those who’d rather…

Wait, what’s that I hear? Oh, yes. My three year old has just woken up from his nap. Here’s how he looks (again, we’re summertime dreamin’!):

River nap time
Future river guide, Wesley, taking a little river snooze.

Switching gears from river guide to mommy.  My Middle Fork dreaming in December is suddenly…postponed…

Let’s pick this up again tomorrow-we’ve still got 95 miles of Middle Fork to run!

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