Life is a River Blog

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Salmon River–Idaho Rivers Yesterday and Today

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How deceptive the river was.  At first, near Warren, it had been only a faint rustle.  Then, gradually, as they descended the gorge, the rustling had become a rushing roar.  Now, at the water’s edge, she could see arcs of broken rainbows curving across falls, foam beads glittering like fiery opals, awesome in their colorful beauty.  But it was the sound the water made as it crashed against the huge rocks rising dark and treacherous from the Salmon’s depths that amazed Polly the most.

A few yards away, a creek, a mere silver streak winding through stands of firs and pines, broadened into shallows, then suddenly narrowed, gushing into the deep, boiling eddies of the Salmon.  Across the river, a second, larger creek did the same.  And the sound of all the tumbling, boiling water was mesmerizing, washing away any thought of the troubled world beyond the canyon walls.”

Around 1894, Polly Bemis took her first trip down to the banks of the Salmon River, an 18 mile ride by horseback from the town of Warren.  In a biographical novel about Polly’s life, Ruthanne Lum McCunn writes about her experiences, including this wild Salmon River canyon where Polly and her husband Charlie Bemis built their life together as a married couple, homesteading, and living off the land.

One thought that never leaves me as I spend so much time in these Idaho river canyons I love, rafting the Salmon River and nearby Snake River as well, is that the canyons are very much unchanged over so many hundreds of years.  What a treasure.  Polly Bemis shuffled through the same sand barefoot, caught salmon from the same river, and picked river cherries for preserves.  Native Americans walked the same river banks, stood on the same rock ledges looking out over many of the same rapids that we scout every trip.  It really amazes me that their eyes saw the same landscape and heard the same crashing water and gurgling eddie lines.  And even for us a few short days the river still does wash away all thoughts of the troubled world beyond the canyon walls.

Quotes taken from Thousand Pieces of Gold, by Ruthanne Lum McCunn

Posted in Salmon River Rafting, Salmon River/Snake River History

Rafting Hells Canyon Update-Big Eddies and Poison Ivy Forests

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Our first trip of the season nearly went off without a hitch!   Our Hells Canyon guests came from Oregon, California, and Nevada.  Two from the New York area were caught up in the United Air computer crash and unfortunately didn’t make the trip, but they will be joining a trip with some of you going out later this summer!  That was our only real hitch.

The water was projected to be about 48,000 cfs, but dropped to about 44,000 by the time we left the ramp.  As we drifted down river the spray seen from the Hells Canyon dam spill way was impressive.  A couple of our normal river side lunch spots were under water, which led to a stop just above Wild Sheep rapid at Battle Creek.  The water was high enough that bushes were the water and we didn’t have to hike far to set up our lunch table!

Brad & Brian are still happy even though trees are under water.

Guides around had great runs in Class V rapids Wild Sheep and Granite.  Big waves and fast current mean there is not much forgiveness in a rapid.  You have less time to make your move at the top before you are mid-rapid!  We tried to camp at Saddle Creek but  0 out of 3 boats made the eddie, and we were forced to drift on down and try Bernard.  The beach at Bernard Creek was completely underwater, and after trying to tie up in a poison ivy forest, we elected to keep floating.  We ran the rest of the Class III’s on day 1.  There was no rapid at Waterspout at all, and all the rocks at Rush Creek were underwater.  It is alway so amazing to see how different the river looks at different water levels!!!  Glad we’ve been around long enough to see it at about every level.  Ended up setting a beautiful camp at Sheep Creek!  The stream was running so high the bar was completely underwater and the trees were in the river.  Sheep Creek was solid white water.

Hells Canyon was a vibrant green.  It was gorgeous.  Wild flowers were out in force everywhere, including syringa bushes and some varieties I don’t remember seeing before.  The prickly pear were also in bloom every where.  Saw them in camp on Day 2 as well as on the hike to the horse and rider Indian pictograph site.

Prickly pear in bloom in Hells Canyon

We have been taking a lot of calls from private permit holders planning trips in Hells Canyon during the past and coming weeks.  We are happy to chat with all of you about the high water and what to expect.  Here are some things to think about as you prepare for a high water Hells Canyon trip:

  • Take your biggest boats!  We usually run our 18′ rafts for high water Snake River rafting trips and load them even, heavy, with a little more weight in the front if possible.
  • Wear high float pfd’s!  Most of the guide jackets that are sold now are great for most guides on the oars but we’ve heard a few first hand accounts from guides who have taken swims in big water in those vests that they don’t float you as well as type of jacket North Star clients wear on the river.
  • Expect faster current than you are used to.  Fast current means that you will get to camp quicker and even to big rapids much sooner than you would expect.
  • Strong eddie lines make stopping at camps and scouting spots more difficult.  You will work twice as hard to pull out of the current, in and out of eddies, etc.
  • Run rapids in groups so that if anyone has trouble you are grouped and ready to help.  Don’t run one boat trips, but if you have to, hang out with other groups on the river for big rapid sections.
  • Small rapids will be washed out, and many of the Class III rapids will be covered up, but many will have long roller coast waves in them or big tail waves and holes created by water pouring over rocks that would normally be sticking out of the water.

Be safe out there and stay tuned for more posts about North Star R.E. rafting adventures on the Snake River in Hells Canyon.

Life is a river……Prepare to get wet!


Posted in Hells Canyon Rafting, Snake River Water Levels, White Water

July Salmon River and Snake River/Hells Canyon Water Levels

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The Snake River in Hells Canyon water level continues to drop over time but we are expecting higher than average water levels for the month of July.  In the last few days the water has been as high as 40,000 cfs, but dropped to about 33,000 on the 4th of July and remained through out the July 4-6 Hells Canyon rafting trip we had on the water.  Today Idaho Power is reporting and significant drop to 24,000 cfs!  This is the lowest water we’ve seen in months!  Funny to be call mid 20K’s low water!  We are expecting Snake River levels to remain around 30,000 – 40,000 cfs for the remainder of July.  All our Hells Canyon rafting trips will be going as scheduled.  Jacob, myself, and our guide staff have many years experience at these water levels and are having a great time seeing the big waves!

The Lower Main Salmon river continues to be high and muddy flowing at 48,500 cfs.  All our Salmon River rafting trips will go as scheduled, and anyone that has called for an early July trip we have been able to accommodate over on the Snake River instead.  Most outfitters will not run the Lower Salmon river at flows above 20,000 cfs due to a rapid called the Slide that is considered unrunnable at those flows.  North Star Salmon River rafting trips will start the 3rd week of July and will be running as scheduled into the fall season.

For any questions about the Snake River or Salmon River water questions call us at 877-610-3200.   Life is a river…..Prepare to get wet!

Posted in Hells Canyon Rafting, Salmon River Rafting, Salmon River Water Levels, Snake River Water Levels, White Water

Idaho Chinook Salmon Fishing Season–North Star Update

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Well, after months of anticipation this winter, and weeks of watching salmon counts rise as they made their way past numerous Columbia River and Snake River dams via fish ladders, the spring Chinook Salmon are finally in the rivers of Idaho.

North Star owner, outfitter and guide Jacob Warren finally headed into Hells Canyon this last weekend and is currently stalking fish near Hells Canyon Dam on the Snake River.  His departure to Hells Canyon was delayed by the high water levels.  Water levels above 70,000 cfs make angling for salmon a challenge.  Water spray from the spill way makes the Idaho side of the river almost impossible to reach or fish, so Jacob had to spring for an Oregon fishing license and try fishing from the Oregon bank.  With the water so high, the fish don’t have as many places to hold given the surging water, strong eddy lines, and general lack of eddies (calm water).

We will keep you posted on Jacob’s progress!  We keep hoping that the priority for the water will turn to filling reservoirs rather than preparing for more rain and snow melt.  If that happens the Snake River water levels will come down, the fish will be easier to find, and the fishermen will be there waiting and ready!!

Posted in Hunting and Fishing Trips, Salmon Fishing

Chukar Hunting Idaho Season 2011

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Idaho Chukar hunting seasons along the Snake River in Hells Canyon have been updated.  In the past, the Snake River chukar hunting season has started around mid-September but this year the Hells Canyon season is starting later , opening October 1st.

Posted in Chukar Hunting, Hells Canyon Rafting, Hunting and Fishing Trips

Idaho Salmon Numbers Update

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Chinook Salmon adults and jacks are making their way back up the Columbia to the Snake River and Salmon River.  Salmon are later than expected, Fish and Game cited their concern that the numbers were not going to be what they had predicted but now see numbers that are meeting or exceeding expectations.  Cool spring weather has more than likely delayed the run. We are getting excited for the spring fishing season and hope you will join us on a Salmon River fishing or Snake River fishing trip.

Salmon are coming over Columbia and Snake River dams in droves now, with 2000 adult Chinooks a day coming over Lower Granite the last couple days.  As of May 10th, 125,545 adult Chinook salmon and 12,649 jacks have crossed Bonneville dam.  More jacks are returning this year, 10% of the total number of the fish compared to only 3% in previous years.  Fish and Game officials are expecting more 3 & 4 year old fish, which means we may see more fish this year that are as much as 10 lbs heavier than in previous years.

We like to watch salmon numbers coming over Lower Granite dam on the Snake River, as it gives us a closer estimation of when the bulk of the fish will be arriving at our favorite fishing holes.  As of May 10th, 6,178 adult Chinook salmon crossed along with 143 jacks.  Fish will be arriving soon with the bulk of the fish arriving in Hells Canyon and on the Lower Main Salmon down river from Hammer Creek around May 20th. For more info on Idaho fishing trips visit our website.

Posted in Hunting and Fishing Trips, Salmon Fishing

Idaho River Water Levels–Part II

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If you missed Part I of this post, make sure you go back and read it as well.  It covered water levels last week on the Snake River in Hells Canyon and on the Lower Main Salmon, detailed our expectations for how the spring and early rafting season would be affected by water levels.

May 6th Snake River in Hells Canyon is running 44,000 cubic feet/second, which is down from 49,000 over the previous 3 days.

Lower Main section of the Salmon River is running about 11,000 cfs, slowly climbing over the last 3 days.

Both the Lower Main Salmon River section and the Snake River in Hells Canyon are considered large volume rivers, much like the Colorado River.  Big rivers sport a pool and drop style of rafting.  Instead of constant rock dodging and smaller waves, you have stretches of calm or flatwater, interspersed with large rapids with huge ocean size waves, turbulent holes, and direction changing current (eddies) separated by eddie lines.  This translates into lots of big water fun, with time in between rapids to regroup.  If you take a swim out of a boat, it is easier to reunite with your boat or group in the calmer water at the bottom of the rapid, take a breather, and get ready for the next one!

Rapids are caused by a couple of different features along the river corridor and bottom of the river.  Additional rocks and debris along the river bottom create rapids, as well as the constriction of the river in a narrow place in the canyon or around a bend in the river.  High water levels affect Class IV and Class V whitewater in unique ways.  Some features get covered up, but most of the time waves that are created get larger the higher the water level.  However, sometimes smaller rapids (Class II or III) have so much water passing over the feature that normally creates the rapid, that the rapid gets “washed out”, which means it completely disappears.

The Lower Salmon River has a rapid on it called The Slide.  Rightly named, it was created by a giant rock slide into the river, constricting the path of the river at that point. In average and low water levels there is no rapid at all.  But the higher the water gets, giant waves form at the edges of the river bank, and get larger, moving farther out across the river the higher the water gets.  North Star R.E. and many other outfitters only run commercial trips on that section of the river after the water level drops under 20,000 cfs because of that rapid.

The Snake River in Hells Canyon has two Class IV rapids, Wild Sheep and Granite, that become Class V rapids as water levels climb above 30,000 cfs.  It also sports a number of Class III rapids that also get larger waves in high water, and a number of smaller rapids that get washed out completely.  High water means fast water.  Swift water flows make it easy to make miles each day, which provides more time for side hikes and time in camp.  Sometimes we can do a longer stretch of river on a 4 day trip than usual.  Usually our 4 day Hells Canyon rafting trip covers 32 miles, but with high water levels in the past we have covered 82 miles, the entirety of Hells Canyon.

We are expecting higher than average water levels on both the Snake River in Hells Canyon and the Lower Main Salmon well into June, and possibly into early July depending on the weather over the next month and a half.  Call our office with any questions you may have about water levels and how they affect Hells Canyon rafting trips, Hells Canyon fishing, and Salmon River white water! 1-877-610-3200

Posted in Hells Canyon Rafting, North Star Rafting, Salmon River Rafting, White Water

River Water Levels—How They Affect Idaho Whitewater Rafting, Part I

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The Idaho whitewater season is coming soon and in case any of you were curious where the water flows were hanging, here is an update.

Late snow in March, cool weather and additional snow and rain in the Idaho and Oregon mountains means the snow pack is not melting off very quickly.  Water levels are high and typical for spring, but we still have a lot of snow hanging in the mountains and are expecting rivers to remain high well into the beginning of the Hells Canyon rafting and Salmon River rafting seasons.  On large volume rivers that North Star R.E. runs—the Snake in Hells Canyon and the Lower Main section of the Salmon River—river flow/volume is measured in cubic feet per second (cfs).

Historically, the Snake River in Hells Canyon water levels tend to peak between April and May, and can continue to remain high (30,000 to 40,000 cfs) well into June when we have seasons like last winter’s snow and rain fall.  Currently the Snake River in Hells Canyon is running 49,500 cfs, down slightly from last weeks peak around 60,500 cfs. Brownlee Reservoir has been nearly empty in preparation for the expected spring melt.  Once the reservoirs are full the remaining snowmelt gets pushed through the spillways and turbines of 3 consecutive dams and on down into Hells Canyon.

High water (above 25,000 cfs) has an interesting affect on Snake River white water rapids.  Large Class rapids like Wild Sheep and Granite get bigger than big, sporting giant waves that will flip even a 20+ foot boat. The margin for error when running Idaho white water rafting trips becomes very slim.  Running the river with an Idaho outfitter licensed, permitted, and experienced on the river is recommended!

Salmon River water flows tend to peak later than they do on the Snake.  Since the Salmon River is a free flowing river, water levels are at the mercy of the melting snow pack and the weather.  Water levels begin to rise in March and April, but tend to peak in late May and June.  Currently the Lower Main Salmon River is running at 9500 cfs, measured at White Bird, which is slightly down from last weeks high around 12,000 cfs.

Salmon River rafting trips on the Lower Main Salmon start in early July and can some times be postponed later in the month if the river levels remain high later into the summer.  One Salmon River rapid called the Slide, which is no more than a riffle later in the summer becomes a Class VI rapid, virtually un-runnable in the spring and early summer.  Because of the Slide, when the river is running 20,000 cfs and higher, we do not run commercial trips on this section of river.  For this reason our Salmon River rafting season starts usually around July 9th and is sometimes postponed to later in July if the water remains high.

Posted in Hells Canyon Rafting, Salmon River Rafting

Snake River & Salmon River Spring Chinook Salmon Fishing Season

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Idaho Salmon Fishing season on the Snake River in Hells Canyon has been posted by the Idaho Fish and Game and will open April 23rd.  Salmon River salmon fishing also opens the same day on the Lower Main Salmon 200 yards down river from Hammer Creek launch site to Pine Bar.  Hells Canyon salmon fishing is open from Hells Canyon dam to the Dug Bar boat ramp.

We are very excited to be offering extended day and overnight salmon fishing trips this spring and fall on either the Snake in Hells Canyon or Lower Main Salmon rivers.  Please contact our office for information.  We do not post daily rates as most of our trips are at least overnight, if not multiple day.  If you want to spend some time in the great Idaho outdoors, these guided salmon fishing trips are perfect for you!  Visit our North Star Fishing page for more details.

This salmon season is based on forecasts that 20,500 Chinook will be returning to Idaho rivers and streams.  Hatchery specific forecasts estimate that 4200 fish will be returning to the Lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers; 800 salmon returning to the Snake River below Hells Canyon dam.  In the Snake River, Lower Salmon, and Little Salmon rivers the daily limit is four Chinook; only two may be adults. The possession limit would be 12; only six may be adults.  Statewide annual limit is 20 adult Chinook salmon.  All salmon anglers age 14 and older must have a valid Idaho fishing license and salmon permit.

Posted in Hunting and Fishing Trips

Spring Salmon Fishing Season

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Idaho Fish and Game is expecting more than 52,000 hatchery Chinook salmon and another 20,000 wild salmon to cross Lower Granite Dam this spring, most of those fish headed for Idaho, the Clearwater River, Snake River below HC Dam, the Lower Salmon River and it’s tributaries.  The total number of fish expected to be less than last year, but still the eighth best year since 1979.

The Snake River in Hells Canyon salmon fishery is expected to have 800 hatchery fish available for sport harvest, while the South Fork of the Salmon River is projected to have 3,200 hatchery salmon available for sport harvest.

ID Fish and Game fisheries manager Dale Allen ( is seeking angler input regarding fishing area locations, fishing days of the week, possession limits and other issues related to the upcoming season.  Listed below are dates for upcoming public meetings where anglers can give input and ask questions.  Public comments will be considered in an end of March F&G meeting where salmon fishing seasons will be set for the Snake River and Salmon River.

Tuesday, March 15, at Best Western Motel in Riggins, 6pm to 8pm.
Wednesday, March 16, at Fish & Game Office, McCall, 555 Deinhart Lane, 6pm-8pm.

Posted in Hells Canyon Rafting, Hunting and Fishing Trips, North Star Rafting, Salmon River Rafting
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