Stanley Idaho & Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Stanley Idaho has a permanent population of 65 people, give or take a few. Surrounded by the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, winter temperatures hover in Fahrenheit sub-zeros. During summer, the days are hot and nights pleasantly chilly. Stanley is notable as a jumping off point for all season recreation. Summers accommodate fishing, camping, whitewater river rafting, and mountain biking. Winters usher in ample snow for cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. The town even has an ice skating rink.

If you like burgers, pizza and beer, options abound. In spite of its small size, the town has a high quality outdoor clothing store and a very good bakery. Our reason for being there? Rafting the middle fork of the Salmon River.

We met up with our river outfitter and fellow travelers to learn the ropes. We were a party of three (Conde, our friend Don & me) tagged on to a large group comprised of many retired military folks, (including four army colonels) with their friends & partners.Talk about efficiency! They were “up and at ’em” before “up and at ’em” existed. On the dot of the appointed hour, with gear properly stowed, we boarded a yellow school bus for a 3-mile journey to the Stanley airfield.

Airport, including shuttle bus

Six small planes were waiting. We were assigned a seat based on cumulative weigh and balance. Once aboard we lifted off for a gorgeous 45-minute flight to the Salmon River launch area.

It was fun to mill around and watch the activity at the launch site. There were even a couple of dogs to cavort with. Lots of organizing and gear. Idaho River Journeys had it down pat. A first class act.

And we were off – four glorious days and four nights on the river
Our group consisted of a handful of oar boats, a paddle boat, a hand full of kayaks and a huge gear boat.

Full disclosure time! Lordy, I hate that phrase … While packing during the early morning hours on D-day, I separated “take with” from “leave at the hotel.” In a bleary-eyed caffeine deficient moment I put my extra camera batteries in the bag to be stored at the hotel. A day into the float, after a confident flagrant over-usage of battery time, I discovered the error of my wicked ways.

Fly fishing was the activity de jour on our fully outfitted raft. I shared the space with Conde, Don, one of the skilled Idaho River Outfitters guides assigned to our trip. I used to enjoy fly fishing and, truth be told, miss it. But, like a love affair with double chocolate ice cream, I quit. A few years back, while reeling in an innocent fish for personal pleasure, I was overwhelmed with guilt. Fish torture. The guilt overrode the pleasure. So, I don’t catch and release any more. I will fish for food. Once my camera died, I became the self appointed official cheer leader and coach for Don & Conde. They were good natured with my unsolicited advice. I envision myself as a fly fishing voyeur. The river is filled with beautiful trout and the guides (we shared space with 3 different ones across the course of 4 days) ensured only small lulls between the guys hauling in “the big ones.” It was a blast.

I loved riding with Drew. He is a wonderful guide
Fellow rafters enjoying the scene under Dillon’s skillful rowing

These two photos are of note — just pretend you are looking at sonograms of your first born grandchild. Don had a trout on hook and was reeling ‘er in. All of a sudden, just like in Jaws, a big ominous looking black fish appeared on the trout’s rear, definitely intent on taking advantage of the helpless prey. I figure the trout was thinking, “should I be hauled in by the tricksters with fake food or be eaten by Jaws?” Don netted the trout in the nick of time, just as the black monster was closing in for the kill. Whoa! My heart was pounding.The evil one slinked off and the trout was released with a life’s lesson. Never take food from a stranger. It was super exciting and made for a great fish story.

We had choices on water travel mode. One could relax or fish on an oar boat. Paddle on the paddle boat, or shoot the rapids in an inflatable kayak. The paddle boat and kayaks traveled together, just like a mama duck and her little duckies, thus the coined term duckies for the kayaks. That tickled me. The guides moved around, each bringing a unique perspective to the adventure.

Our gear was carried on this monstrosity. It’s called a sweep boat. Loaded in the mornings, unloaded in the afternoons.

I’ve rafted multi-day trips on the Rogue and Colorado Rivers. I love both for different reasons. And, the middle fork of the Salmon River is special. Isolated. Clean.The river flow varies and is never boring. Scenes morph round every bend. Varied rock formations change with perspective and the prolific ponderosa pines are majestic with their jigsaw puzzle bark. Large swaths from natural burns evidence the power of mother nature. She is surround sound.

Our guides set us up with four square meals a day with snacks. Both adult and non-adult beverages were plentiful. We stopped for interesting sites. Of note, is a beautifully preserved cave opening with distinct Indian hieroglyphics. A small waterfall cascades from above the cave opening, acting as an ancient version of A/C with a built in shower. The Frank Church wilderness area is rich with the history of Native Americans, and the tragedies accompanying their near eradication.There are hot sulphur springs. On the days we were there, it was too hot for the springs. In contrast, the river water was perfect for fully clothed dunking.

For all you Geezers On The Go – Keep on Keeping On!

Thanks so much for for joining me as I catch up on posts. This trip was from 10 months ago and I loved evoking the good memories. Stay safe and wear those masks!

6 Comments on “Stanley Idaho & Middle Fork of the Salmon River

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