Plan B - An Epic Journey - Part 2

Rafting picture
Collin takes the spray, Jim leans into the oars and Telly stays dry. Seniority rules.
©Jenni Robinson

Cramer Creek Rapid formed in 2003 from a debris flow “blowout” on the creek. I think I was actually at Corn Creek, getting ready to launch on the Main when it happened. The water suddenly began to drop and we were scratching our heads on what was happening. Later, the water surged back up and turned chocolate brown. The Forest Service folks informed us that blowouts had dammed the river for a time.

We stopped to look at Cramer. I guess it has moderated some over time but it was still a respectable drop. The consensus was, as Telly proclaimed, “Hey diddle diddle, right down the middle.” Hit the vee, watch out for the left lateral surge. Jim lead, then me, etc and we all did fine.

Our lucky number
Our lucky number.
©David Blue
On to Corn Creek to get checked in for the Main. We did the paperwork and got our boat tags – number 004, only three parties ahead of us. We filled all of our water containers, used the fancy toilets and shoved off. A few rapids, none of great consequence, but fun – Killum, Gunbarrel, Rainier, Lantz, Devil’s Teeth. Starting to see broods of geese and mergansers – those baby mergansers are sure cute little skittering fluff balls!
Papa, Mama, Babies Four.
©Jenni Robinson
We stopped and checked out Lower Lantz Bar Camp. Small landing and an upper grassy bench. Telly said, “Let’s go on ‘til we find a ‘tailgater’.” “What the hell is a tailgater?” he was asked. He answered, “It’s a sandy beach that you can just pull up to and cook off the back of your boat!”, So, we went off in search of a tailgater. And we found a dandy in Lower Devil’s Teeth Camp – a huge sandy beach just below the rapid of the same name. Only 33 miles today – we’re turning into a bunch of slackers!
Lots of tent sites above the beach. There is also a large grassy meadow up behind the beach, which soon attracted Ali, Matt, Ryan, Tyler and others for Frisbee tossing. Later, Tyler brought out The Washers. In McCall, he’d hit the hardware store and bought these large (~3”) metal washers. He cut off a couple of plastic jugs, stuck them in the sand and instituted a game with rules similar to Cans – The Game.

From Matt's fingers, the beat goes on.
©Clyde Nicely
Matt, Ryan and Shane had dinner duty and turned out an outstanding meal. River Paella, green salad, bread and pineapple upside down cake. The paella was great. Shane’s “recipe” is: cube chicken breast, season and sauté for 8-10 minutes. Add sliced sausage (kielbasa-type) and sauté another 5-6 minutes. Add rice and chicken broth, simmer until the rice is done. Then sauté shrimp separately and add to the paella. Shane says cooking the shrimp in the dish will make them tough. Anyway, it tasted great. And Ryan’s Dutch oven cake was excellent – he even had maraschino cherries for the centers of the pineapple rings!

Washers, Frisbee, digesting dinner and sittin’ and chillin’ felt great. The feathery high cirrus clouds forecast a change in the weather, but for today, everything was perfection. At dusk, the fire got going and then the evening turned Magic! Jim had brought a guitar, Brian C his collection of harmonicas and Matt a djembe, an African hand drum.

Playing music
Brian wails, Jim strums and croons and Matt keeps
the beat.
©Clyde Nicely

I love music and for years I’ve lugged songbooks on trips and cajoled people into sing-alongs. In my 30-years of rafting, I’ve never experienced a more fun musical night than this one. Both Jim and Brian play guitar and sing, Brian can really wail on the harmonica and Matt could provide background rhythm to any tune. They passed the guitar back and forth, the drum throbbed and music flowed. Songs ranged from the ribald to the rocking to the sappy love ballad. On the familiar ones, the rest of us sang along.

Brian playing his guitar
“I’m too sexy for my camp chair, I’m too…” Jim sings
of love & heart break.
©Clyde Nicely

Brian has been in a band, Farm Special, and he cranked out some of their signature tunes. Jim has written some original songs, about life on the river and loves gained and lost. Refreshments flowed and the party went way into the night. One by one, we wore out, the circle dwindled and the river’s music was heard once again. It was truly a night to remember!


Brian playing his guitar.
Brian tells it like it is, to
Jenni and Tellys’ laughter.
©Clyde Nicely

We woke to a clear morning. Most of us had not repacked after we decided to change rivers. Drywear was too much for current conditions, so we scrounged in our bags for combinations of wetsuits, HydroSkin, splash wear and shorts. Even though we were feeling the effects of last night’s revelry, we still got away from the beach by 9:30. Tyler decided to run the river today in an NRS Bandit I IK we’d brought along. Brian H strapped his kayak on Rett and TJ’s cat and hopped on the raft to spell Ali with the rowing.

The river was mellow for several miles. Arthur and Brian changed places, so Arthur could experience rowing a cat. This gave me a good visit with Brian. Salmon Falls was pretty washed, just read and run. We made a point to stop at the hot spring. Most refer to it as “Barth Hot Springs,” but on the Forest Service map it’s “Bathtub Hot Springs.”

Indeed, years ago there was an old cast iron claw foot tub high up in the rocks. That’s been replaced by a cemented-in pool, with hoses of hot and cold spring water flowing into it. The temperature is great and there’s lots of room. We spent the better part of an hour soaking and yarning.

A half-mile down river is Hot Springs Creek and what is Barth Hot Springs on the map. The creek is hot, one of the old maps said 130-degrees and I believe it. Bailey Rapid had some fun waves and a big avoidable hole. Five Mile, Split Rock and Stinger Rapids were fun wave trains. Two deer, a doe and large fawn, swam across the river in front of us, quite close to the lead boats. Everything is so green! It is beautiful country. It clouded up and looked threatening, but cleared off later in the day.

Arthur at the oars.
Arthur at the oars.
©Clyde Nicely

We stopped at Lower Yellow Pine Camp for lunch. Afterwards we climbed the trail to look at distant Big Mallard Rapid. Another boating party was scouting on river left, above the rapid. From that far away we couldn’t tell if the left-hand sneak was open, but there was a run to the right. Arthur took the oars and we sailed through Mallard.

At Elkhorn, there was still a big set of elk antlers on a Ponderosa Pine, announcing the rapid. The huge hole was avoidable and the waves manageable. There was a big commercial group, OARS, out of Lewiston, Idaho, pulled in at Groundhog Camp. Whiplash Rapid was a non-event, too low for it to rear its ugly head. We stopped at Reed Creek Camp, but it was no tailgater, so we coasted on down to Rhett Creek Camp, a large beach and grassy flat just above the creek. A 34-mile day. Tyler had a fine day in the Bandit, running all the big stuff in style.

It was Arthur, Virginia and my day to cook. I had made ahead and frozen Shrimp Bisque, a recipe I got from my friend Jim “The Toad” Bartee. It’s a rich soup full of butter, half and half, onion, garlic, corn, Krab and, of course, shrimp. Ali does eat seafood and I’d checked ahead to make sure this was alright. Brian and Jenni had some leftover corn, so we cut it off the cob and added it to the pot. We’d brought fresh asparagus and pan fried it in oil and butter. Virginia brought several loaves of Ciabatta and I brought homemade whole wheat bread. Nobody went away hungry.

Then we brought out Virginia’s dynamite Dutch oven Fruit Cobbler. Fresh and frozen blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and canned apricots – covered in a thick piecrust. Rett and TJ still had some canned whipped cream. Now, Oh My, was that good, or what!

It was a mellower group that night. Telly entertained us with a story from camping at this same site on a fall hunting trip. One of the guys was sleeping in the kitchen, under the rain fly. Telly and others heard a noise and went to investigate. A large black bear was after the garbage sack. The guy sleeping in the kitchen wakes up staring into the face of the bear! He tried to unzip his mummy bag and in his haste, jammed the zipper. So, he’s screaming at the top of his lungs and flopping down the sloping beach like a huge jumping bean.

Telly and the other guys are making noise and throwing things at the bear and he’s just totally unimpressed. He growls at them and proceeds to drag the garbage up a little ways onto the bench and take his pick of the juicy parts, glaring at them and daring them to do something about it. After they got through laughing themselves silly, they finally rescued the jumping bean. Bear 1 – Hunters 0.

I, for one, was tired, feeling the effects of the previous late night. I think most others were in the same boat and we hit the sack pretty early.

The gateway to Buckskin Bill’s.
The gateway to Buckskin Bill’s.
©Jenni Robinson

Sunday morning came with dense, moisture holding clouds; our weather change had arrived. We took off under threatening skies and got drizzle off and on during the morning. TJ took over the Bandit and Tyler got back on the oars. We cruised down to Fivemile Bar, the former home of Sylvan Hart, aka Buckskin Bill. Bill was quite a character. He came to the river in the early 30s and lived a pretty self-sufficient life style – growing a big garden, hunting, fishing and making many of his own clothes, utensils and tools, including hand-crafted firearms. He died in 1980, before I first ran the river, but I did meet him earlier at a folklife festival.

The family still owns the land and maintains a museum of Bill’s stuff and a little store where you can buy ice cream, candy, t-shirts and miscellaneous truck. OARS was there ahead of us, so Barb was busy with their guests. After they left, I got to visit with her a bit, brag on their garden and ask her to tell Greg and Sue up at Indian Creek that I said hi and wouldn’t be able to stop and see them this trip. I scored candy bars for Arthur and me, good ol’ Snickers.

Polly Bemis Ranch
Polly’s Cabin.
©Jenni Robinson

Brian abandoned Jenni to ride with Telly, Jim and Collin and swap guide-lies, so Arthur rowed the cat. I rowed along solo, soaking up the views and sogging in the occasional shower. At Mackey Bar, another private inholding, OARS had pulled in. They were flying their guest out of there in the morning. Down past the confluence of the South Fork of the Salmon, on past Indian Creek.

Our next stop was at the Polly Bemis Ranch. Polly was a Chinese slave girl who married Charlie Bemis and moved to the river in the late 1800s. The book, Thousand Pieces of Gold and a movie of the same name present a somewhat novelized account of her life. The property is now a private resort, but they still maintain Polly and Charlie’s cabin as a museum and historical landmark and allow boaters to visit.

It’s five miles down to California Creek Camp, a huge sand beach, our stop after a 25-mile day. Dark clouds pressed in and it was sprinkling. We hurriedly unloaded the boats, pulled out all three River Wings and engaged the whole crew in putting up a masterful shelter! It was an engineering marvel of lines, ropes, throw bags, bowlines, oars, poles, anchor rocks and Wings. We threw it up in record time and got camp tables, kitchen gear and chairs under the big top.

California Creek Camp, with the three River Wing
Big Top.
©Clyde Nicely

No sooner than we got shelter erected, the sky opened up and it poured rain for about 15-minutes. After it got that out of its system, the clouds began to thin and we could erect tents. Arthur and I pulled out the last jug of Toad Juice to celebrate the weather change.

It was Telly, Jim and Collin’s night with the pots and pans. They concocted a gourmet quality outfitter meal for us. As I mentioned earlier, Jim and Telly work for Rocky Mountain River Tours, a top-notch company known for their gourmet fare. Dave and Sheila Mills are owners of Rocky, and Sheila has written a cookbook of their river recipes, The Outdoor Dutch Oven Cookbook.

For appetizers, they laid on meat, cheese, dips, crackers and a lethal libation they called Fog Cutter, which they mixed up in my empty five-gallon water jug. The boys served up Sheila’s Dutch Oven Spicy Pesto Lasagna, a Caesar salad, bread and bottles of wine. Delicious meal and lots of it! More Smores for dessert. (Click here for Sheila’s delicious lasagna recipe)

After dinner, Ali and I tried to help by starting the dishwashing process. Big Jim took umbrage, swooped in, picked up Ali and hauled her away from the Big Basins. Then he came back for me and we wrestled over the issue for a while. He finally let me win but I concurred with their position on the dishwashing and retired to my chair by the fire.

It was a good evening, our last one of the trip. Everybody was in a good mood; we’d become a tight group. Stories were spun and the guitar came back out. Jim sang an original song about a tender romance, punctuated by Telly relating the “true” details, roundly denied by Jim. We talked and laughed well into the night.

The group wound down until only Brian C, Telly and I were at the fire. After a while, our talk turned to more serious topics. Yes, Ladies, we do sometimes talk about things other than rapids, river running, our friends’ stupid mistakes…and you.

We talked of the cluelessness of many about the natural world and how it’s gotten worse over time. Telly shared that he’s been going back to school in the off-season and thinks he would like to teach when he decides to give up the guide’s life.

Talk turned to whether it would be wise to bring children into the world these days and the conversation veered back and forth. I contributed little to this discussion. Who am I to offer advice to them about such an important subject? In my day, we debated about whether to have children in a time of Cold War and possible nuclear holocaust, and still had kids. Today’s concerns include terrorism and global warming, very serious issues indeed.

Over the years, I’ve drawn solace from a book Jim Bartee gave me; a collection of cartoons, from the early 1900’s to World War II, by the editorial cartoonist, “Ding” Darling. The cartoons are full of images of pollution, over-utilization of natural resources, war, corrupt and inept politicians, greedy businessmen, etc. I think in every era there are problems and great issues and people of the day think we’re all “going to hell in a handbasket.” Unfortunately, it’s part of the human condition. We just have to learn to accept the era we’re dealt and each do our best to leave the planet better off than we found it.

I sat there thinking that if there’s anyone I’d like to see teaching and mentoring kids, at school and at home, it would be the likes of these two young men. Intelligent persons who like people, live life fully, respect the outdoor world and have great, full-blown, honest laughs, a trait I much admire in a person.

We solved the problems of the world, or at least thrashed them around a bit. Bidding each other good night, we retired to bed. As I lay there, head on pillow, the glow from the firepan was centered in the tent’s zippered mesh door. For quite a while, I stared at the orange dot and listened to the river.

Lots of thoughts drifted through my mind. It’s been a memorable trip – good group of people, fun whitewater, delicious food, excellent stories. I do love boating. Chuckled thinking how my reasons for boating have changed over the years. I’m no longer an adrenaline junkie, hunting for more and bigger rapids. I still enjoy the whitewater, but it’s not the driving force behind my boating. Primarily, I run rivers to spend quality time in beautiful country, with good people. Thought back to all the good times I’ve spent on these rivers with my two sons, as they grew to manhood. Peaceful images, accompanied by a river-music score, drifted in and out as my eyes slowly closed and sleep finally came.

Dawn arrived too early. The last morning of a trip brings mixed feelings. The trip’s almost over; we’ll soon be back in our day-to-day world, which has its pros and cons. We’ve only got 10-miles to go today. Cruising downstream, we saw more scurrying merganser broods. A bald eagle soared above the trees, getting dive bombed and harassed by the more maneuverable crows.

Dried Meat Rapid is washed. We stop to scout Chittam Rapid; it’s a dandy at this flow. Telly, Jim and Collin go first. We follow; I came in a bit far right and get lifted by the wave coming off the right shore. Telly and crew said we showed quite a bit of bottom. Vinegar Creek had some fun waves; too soon we were at the Carey Creek Boat Ramp, the end of the line.

We broke down the boats and loaded the vehicles. Time for a group photo and last minute goodbyes. “Let’s do it again next year!” “Yeah, let’s make it an annual event!” We’ll see, we’ll see. Why not? We scattered – Rett and Brian H headed back for Utah. Virginia, Shane, Matt, Tyler, Ali and Ryan to McCall to pick up vehicles.

The crew – Back: Virginia, Shane, Matt, Ryan, Collin, Telly, Jim, Brian H, Ali, Tyler.
Front: Jenni, Arthur, TJ, Clyde, Rett, Brian C.
 ©Jenni Robinson

Brian C, Jenni, TJ, Arthur and I rolled to Riggins. Brian and I took on the job of cleaning out the groovers, in the Scat Machine at Crump’s Chevron Service Station. It’s run by Steve Crump, who used to work here at NRS. If you’re passing through Riggins, stop and give them some business, they’re good people.

After we thoroughly washed and sanitized our hands, we walked next door to the Salmon River Inn to join the others. Telly, Jim and Collin were also there and food was ordered. Cheesy Rafts were a favorite; big slabs of bread dripping with cheese and other goodies. Back behind the bar, they’ve got lots of funny sayings pinned to the wall. I didn’t look to see if my all-time favorite was still there – “This ain’t Burger King, you’ll have the SOB my way or you won’t get it at all!” Refueled, we parted company, our group going north, the others headed south.

Tired, but happy, we ended our journey. It had been an event packed week. Now, Brian Chaffin has been known to be guilty of high-blown hyperbole (otherwise known as “high-flung BS”) but in this case, his pre-trip pronouncement, “It would be epic!” turned out to be understatement.

Plan B was a dandy! Thanks, Virginia for snagging the permit that got us started!

Clyde Nicely
e-News Editor

p.s. On July 7, 2007 (7/7/07) Jenni Robinson and Brian Chaffin tied the knot. And they did it up in fine river runner style! The wedding was held just outside Stanley, on the banks of the Salmon River, with a Sawtooth Mountains backdrop.

The happy couple.
The groom and groomsmen wore river sandals.
©Bob Watts, Enterprise Photos

Wedding Boat
They got a “boatload” of wedding gifts.
©Jenni Robinson

They had a big crowd of family, friends, river people and assorted crazies. Lots of us NRS folks made the trek. The service was very nice and mercifully short (because the minister forgot to tell us to sit down after Jenni’s parents, Zeke and Shauna, walked their lovely daughter down the aisle).

Wedding Revelry
And the beat goes on and on and…
©Jenni Robinson

The reception featured a big catered Dutch oven meal and lots of liquid refreshments. The ceremony was at 3:00 p.m. but the celebration, dancing and general merriment went on way into the night.

Congratulations, Jenni and Brian. May all the “rapids” in your life be runnable and all your “camps” be comfortable!