The nice thing about rafting is anyone can do it regardless of physical shape. But it can be at times a little bit scary and requires a wee bit of courage.
I had suggested to my wife that we raft the Middle Fork of the Salmon River for honestly about 15 years. She will back me up on this. Because as she says, she wished I had shut up about it. But for my 50th birthday my wife, being the person she is, put aside her fears and said to me let's do this thing.
I was overjoyed and I was thinking about this on our first day as we stood on the banks of Boundary Creek (the put in for the Middle Fork) and received our safety lecture. I was trying to avoid my wife's glare, as the guides went into the dangers that could lurk. This was an intense lecture and a good one but I was hoping they would tone it down for my wife's sake. I could hear her heart beat from twenty feet away.
Spoiler alert? We had an absolutely amazing trip and my wife, who has had a few anxiety ridden moments in her life would tell you it was a piece of cake and she would do it again, in a second.
Okay, so what's so special about the Middle Fork.
After the Grand Canyon, I think most would agree it is the premier raft trip in America. The Middle Fork of the Salmon runs through the River of No Return Wilderness (did they have to call it that I thought when I handed the brochure to my wife) in Idaho.
100 rapids over 100 miles. 60 of which are class three or fours. Keep in mind rafting ratings go to 6. But since 6 means it's not runnable there are no class 6s on trips. So a lot of fun. But best of all, unlike some raft trips where you find your river traveling next to a road or even a highway, this trip is almost virtually in wilderness. You do pass the occasional ranch (they have to have their own airstrips for getting in and out) but for the most part it's you, the guides, clients and the river and surrounding wilderness. By the way, count on virtually no cell phone coverage for most of the trip. Which was just fine by me.
Why Mt. Travel Sobek? They are one of the premier adventure companies in the world. And they practically invented the rafting adventure trip. They do all kinds of trips around the world but they gained worldwide acclaim back in 1973 when they pioneered the first commercial rafting trip on Ethiopa's Omo River. Since then they have led first descents down rivers such as the Chile's Bio-Bio River, the Magoky in Madagascar, Namibia's Kuene River, Ethiopia's Blue Nile and China's Upper Mekong. The Middle Fork of the Salmon is a specialty of theirs and frankly, I was excited to talk to the guides at night and pick their brains about other trips. And they didn't disappoint.
So anyway, back to my wife giving me an eyeful. The safety talk was over and we were told to go to our raft. We headed out and within our first 15 minutes, a submerged rock took one of our guide's oars right out of the boat. It was amazing to see her regain control of the boat and get another oar. After that, we both knew we were in good hands.
Over the next few days, we had a choice of which rafts to be in. There are larger size oar boats (the equivalent of a Cadillac) that offer a smoother easier ride even in class fours. Here the guide does all of the paddling and you sit and simply gaze at the amazing scenery drift by. The second option is a smaller paddle boat that fits six clients. Here you and the others do the paddling with the guide of course. I liken this to the equivalent of a sports car, you feel the river and rapids more. And finally there are the "ducky" style kayaks which are a lot of fun and an exhilarating way to experience the river.
So what can you expect over the course of five days on the river. For one thing the river and landscape are anything but constant. You quite literally drop in elevation over the course of those five days, descending from alpine forest down through seven ecological zones to an arid climate at put out.
Most days after a great breakfast, you will spend about 20 miles on the river going through some of the country's legendary rapids: Velvet Falls, Sulphur Slide, Tappan Falls, Pistol Creek and Powerhouse. You will pull in to shore for lunch and maybe a trip to look at Native American pictographs and a side trip to a natural springs.
Late in the afternoon, you'll pull in to your campsite which are magnificent. Most are sandy beaches along the river. There your tent is already set up and as the guides starting cooking dinner all you have to do is unroll your sleeping bag.
After you unroll your sleeping bag in your tent, people meet for cocktails and appetizers and discuss the day's sights and rapids.
Dinners are simple but wonderful. And after dinner was one of my favorite times. People would get together and talk with the guides and hear some of their experiences and trips they've led. But there were also hilarious charade games and mystery clue games with teams pitted against one another.
In terms of comfort, you're in the sun all day getting splashed by some of the country's cleanest, freshest water. Not bad. But for those who want to shower at some point, there are sun showers set up like the one below.
All in all, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River is a wonderful way to encounter wilderness with little effort on your part. It's one of the reasons why I believe anyone can enjoy adventure travel.
You just need to have a tiny bit of adventure in you.