Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wind River Exploratory

Several years ago while on a boating trip to Golden Canyon on the SF Clearwater and Golds Hole on the main Salmon I decided to hike up the Wind River and see what was up there. I found some pretty cool rapids and decided to hike up it the following day. Only to get stuffed under a rock, lose my paddle and hike out. Come to find out, McCall Idaho locals run that creek a few times a year, but at a little higher flows.

This last weekend on the Sunday after the film premiere in Boise. Seth Stonner and I decided to take an early morning hike up Wind River to check it out even though the water was low. We were joined by Alec Vorhees and Connor Jackson ( for the hike up to the regular put in at the foot bridge about 2 miles up the creek. What we saw looked fun, but it just needed more water. Alec and Connor decided to head back to surf Gold Hole while Seth and I opted to hike a little further up the trail in hopes to see the unexplored canyon upstream. What we found was drop after drop cascading down the hill side in a unrunnable cascade. But looking closer there were small pools between the bedrock 20-30 foot drops and very little wood. We kept hiking and bushwhacking our way up the canyon rim. Completely leaving the trail and crawling through brush and thorn bushes to see the creek. It all looked wood free and clean from what we could see.

At the top of the canyon we decided to go into the gorge and hike down, seeing if we really could go in with boats and pick it apart, running the drops that are runnable and walking anything we do not like.

Just before the creek starts dropping at the top of the canyon

The walking was difficult in the canyon but it was do-able. We decided to head down to the cars and come back Tuesday morning with a 3rd person and try to descend the canyon with our boats.
Monday night I got a call from Seth saying that he had homework to finish and couldn't go. Neither of us had been able to find a 3rd person to join us so it was looking like the attempt would not be made. I could not stop thinking about all the drops stacked up in this canyon and the runability of each of the drops. I started making phone calls and finally got ahold of Pat Riffe at 11:00 pm.
"Hey Pat, you want to go exploratory creeking tomorrow morning?"


"Ok, well we need to be leaving town at about 4:00 am so we can get to the Main Salmon Road before it closes for the day at 8:00 am"

"Ok well let me pack my stuff, that only gives me 5 hours to get ready and I've got to find a creek boat, by the way, what are we paddling?"

"Wind River, we've got to hike in and its 950 fpm, but I think its all walkable"


"Do you still want to go?"

*10-15 seconds of silence* "Yeah, sounds interesting"

"I'll see you at 3:30 am."

After only 3 hours of sleep, I go pick up Pat and we head off to Riggins. When we stop for gas in Cascade we get approached by a fox wondering what we are doing up so early with kayaks on our car.
Gas Station in Cascade
Fox at gas station in Cascade

While we are driving through McCall it starts to snow lightly on us and keeps snowing until we are almost to Riggins. The roads are a little icy, but we make it there just fine.

We race off to Riggins and get through the construction at 7:30 am. The road workers are setting up for the day and we pass on through, glad we made it up the road in time. It is just starting to get light and we can see the snow level has dropped down to about 1500 feet above us with fog and mist.

Once we get to the Wind River Bridge we began putting on our boating gear. It starts to rain pretty hard while we are putting on our dry gear and getting all of our safety equipment together for the haul in. We both realized we had our MP3 players with us and decided that they would be nice for the hike.
Hiking across Wind River Bridge

We started hiking at 9:00 am and made good time to the regular put in about 2 miles in. We rested there for a bit and kept pushing along the trail up the switchbacks to the top of the ridge and the head of the canyon. Once we finally got to the top we bushwhacked our way to the creek and geared up.
Hiking up the Wind River

Pat Riffie on the hike in
Mike Copeland stoked to be almost to the put in
Paddling down to the start of the gorge we ran 2 or 3 super fun class 4 drops before we got to our first portage where the creek went under a big river wide bolder pile. We portaged around it, then the 20 foot drop down stream with the small LZ (landing zone).
Needs more water
Next was this incredibly fun looking 4 tiered stacked drop that had a 8 foot ledge into a 10 foot boof into a pillow which then fell off another 15 foot drop into a moving pool which dropped into a 8' slot drop that would require a precise boof to clear. We looked at this for quite a while and decided the slot drop made things a bit too consequential to run with just two people. So we decided to portage to the semi large pool below.
Portaging the boats

We ferried across to the other side of the creek to scout the next series of drops downstream.
Another foot of water would of made this series sweet
The first one was a sweet looking 8 foot ledge that you'd want to boof hard followed up by a 18 foot multi slotted drop where you needed to drive past the first slot and hit the second slot to make the move into the pool. That was followed immediately by a 25 foot 2 tiered drop that needed a bit more water and a creative line to avoid crashing into the big boulder on the bottom right side of landing. The move would be to drive out and slide down the wall of the drop into the hole at the bottom and catch an eddy. We kept portaging.
Pat scopeing out the line of the beast

After dragging our boats down again we came to another set of drops followed by another set of them stacked on top of each other. There was a log across a drop we would of run if it hadn't been there somewhere in here, but the log was there so we kept walking.

Eventually we got to this super sweet looking drop that actually had a pool above and below it. It started off dropping down a 6' slide where it immediately dropped off a 8' ledge into a boil that pushed off a 25' near vertical slide that narrowed down at the bottom before dropping into a big hole and a pool. We were both in portage mode at this time and decided there was no need to start running things now.

A short series of ledges in a side channel we ran. The main channel was burly and no safety could be set.

The next section we actually ran about 50 feet of whitewater including some fun ledges before we had to get out and scout/portage the next horizon line. Another one that with more water and a creative line, it could be run. It looked like photos I've seen of Cherry Bomb Falls but with a house sized boulder blocking the right half of the LZ making the move drive hard to the left and try to avoid getting beat down in the walled in hole at the bottom. It would be very runnable though if you were feeling it.

Directly after that drop was a series of ledges of around 8-10' cascading down the canyon. Each is runnable, but stack them all together with moves involved and you've got yourself another burly series of drops. We continued to portage down the right.
Portaging at creek level

Just as we neared the end of the canyon we arrived at this series of drops that even in the beat down state that we were in, we decided to run. The main drop consisted of about a 8' ledge with a hole at the bottom that Pat got surfed in for a little bit. The next drop was a double drop with sticking looking hole at the bottom. We debated running it, but we were both exhausted and ready to be done. So we portaged it on the left to the pool below. We got back in our boats and enjoyed another 60 feet of fun easy class 4 boating to the bridge where we took out and portaged the bottom drop because of a bad crack and cave that you can see from downstream.

We both agreed that we were exhausted and we decided that descending the Upper Wind River Canyon was enough for us. We proceeded to drag the boats out of drainage along the trail, get into dry cloths and drive home. I got home and in bed at 2:00 am. It only took 23 hours to make it down 0.51 miles of creek. Not too bad if you ask me.

This creek IS runnable. It requires a high level of commitment to sticking your drops and a crew of 4 or 5 so adequate safety can be set. Also, another 50 - 100 cfs would clean things up a bit and I think the largest eddies would still be there. I will go back with more water and a larger group to pick it apart. I can see a line on almost every single drop. Maybe in June as the water starts to come down and we are all more tuned up.

Be safe out there and keep on exploring

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