When Meriwether Lewis and William Clark arrived in present-day Idaho, they could have traveled down what is called "The River of No Return." But Lewis decided not to attempt Idaho's Salmon River, after William Clark scouted the river and reported back. Instead, Lewis chose a land route which forced the Expedition to travel north more than 100 miles, back into Montana, before once again turning West, on the Lolo Trail.
"My take is that these guys were really boatmen at this point," says Idaho author and river guide Cort Conley. "They had covered 3000 miles of water, but all of it except the Ohio had been upstream against the current. So when they looked at the Salmon, they probably were a little nervous about it. There were cottonwood trees there to make the canoes and the river was not high, it was mid August, but it was different.
"If they had attempted the river, I suspect they would have had great difficulties. They would have had more game than they had going the way of the Bitterroots, but when they made those canoes to go down the Clearwater -- probably out of red cedar or white pine -- they wrecked promptly one of the canoes and they turned over twice on the Snake. And those stretches of both rivers are not nearly as technical as the main salmon is and would have been.
"On the Columbia they were running huge water, at the Dalles and the Cascades. They ran rapids that the Indians wouldn't even run, and they did it without turning over, without lining the boats.
"Lewis remarked that the Clatsop and Chinook Indians were the finest river navigators he had ever seen. So Lewis and Clark were no slouches. I take my hat off to them.
"Had they run the rapids of the Columbia before they encountered the Salmon, I think without question they would have said, let's go for it, we can handle this, it's nothing."
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