How to Run a Rapid
The Middle Fork of the Salmon River has been called the Disneyland of Whitewater. The waters here twist and churn for over a hundred miles in the mountain wilderness of Idaho. The rapids are fairly continuous and can be some of the most challenging of all the western rivers. Permits are applied for through the lottery in January. Private boaters have about a 1 in 30 chance to secure a permit and a whitewater trip of a lifetime.
RIVER DIFFICULTY RATINGS
The Middle Fork has a boat load of class II, III, and IV whitewater.
The difficulty of rivers in Idaho is rated on a scale of class one to five (I, II, III, IV, V). Class five (V) water is often life threatening, four (IV) is very difficult and often risks injury or loss of equipment, three (III) is moderately challenging to the experienced boater, two (II) usually indicates safe fun waves and easy maneuvering to avoid obstacles, and one (I) is fairly flat moving water.
RUNNING RAPIDS--GATHERING INFORMATION
RUNNING RAPIDS--KNOW WHAT'S AROUND THE BEND
Identify major drainages coming into the river and easily identifiable landmarks like historic buildings, trails, bridges and general land features. If you are technologically oriented, you could even use a GPS position locator. More practically, use you watch to determine your position. Time your first half hour and hour of travel. Note where you are and how far you have traveled each time. If you went 1.5 miles the first one half hour and another 1.5 the second half hour, you have a good estimate that your progress in similar water flow for the next hour will be 3 miles per hour. At a rate of three miles per hour, you'll be real close to Velvet falls (around mile five) in an hour and forty minutes from the start of your Middle Fork trip.
Plan your route through the rapid. One useful technique is to determine where you want to be at the end of the rapid and then back plan your route to the top and where you want to enter the rapid. Where you enter a rapid and how you position your craft at that point is often the critical moment in a successful run. If you start out poorly, things generally don't get any better for the rest of the run. Have your route through the rapid memorized. Visualize yourself going through the rapid making all the required moves to follow your planned route. Use landmarks that are readily identifiable from water level to note your progress through the rapid, or to identify when you have to make critical moves. If you can't quite figure out a safe route, odds are that if you wait a while someone else will come along and run the rapid before you and show you an acceptable route.
RUNNING RAPIDS--READY, AIM, FIRE
May the force be with you and may the river gods bless you with good luck and safe boating.
(Idaho river runner Jim Acee prepared this report on how to scout a rapid.)