On the way over to the Salmon, our much-coveted California spring sunshine melted away behind a wall of ominous-looking gray clouds. Going over the pass from the Trinity drainage, we stared in disbelief as the snow started to fall in earnest. "Aw, man, you gotta be kidding me!" I said. "What state are we in, anyway?"
Well, our great weather had headed north with Gabe and Dan, and we were stuck the rest of the trip with wet, Oregon-esqe weather. Of course, the worst day of boating is better than the best day of anything else, so we didn't really have much to complain about.
The South Fork rolls along through a steady barrage of pool-drop rapids in a granite-lined gorge with a few powerful holes to watch out for. The greater South Fork canyon towers overhead, with thickly forested slopes that reinforce the impression of being just a few miles south of the middle of nowhere. The single-lane access road teeters along the rim of the gorge high overhead, and the shuttle is not for the faint-hearted. The take-out is a very nice free campground overlooking the river, so this run is ideally suited for road-tripping boaters looking for a little adventure.
Pete was already getting into his boat on the other side of the river, and I assumed that he was going to boof left too, but he lined up on the right side. "Um, he's going right." I said to Josh. "Uh oh..." Josh started scrambling down to his boat while I watched..
Sure enough, Pete rounded the corner and was slowed down by the feeder wavehole just above the main hydraulic. He broke through it, but the damage was done. He hit the hole, broke through, surfaced on the pile, started to take a stroke, and fell back into the hole. "Pete's getting WORKED!!" I yelled. Josh leaped into his boat, and while he was getting ready I shot one more photo and scrambled down to move my boat into place as Josh vacated the eddy. We both ran the left side, boofing left and scrambling down the left wall past the bottom boulder, no worries..
Meanwhile, Pete was getting worked HARD; oh yes, it was a frickin' mosh-pit in there.. He cartwheeled, sidesurfed, tried to ender out, said the secret word, to no avail.. Eventually he swam, and luckily we were able to recover all of his gear except for one floatbag which the hole sucked out of his boat, and we headed downstream.
Soon four paddlers in creekboats rounded the corner. Almost immediately I could see that one was the leader, very confident, and the other three were less sure of themselves, probably their first time on the river. Sure enough, they eddied out on the left and the leader climbed up on the cliff to scout.
"I wonder if we should say anything." I said to Pete.
"Nah, let them figure it out." Pete replied. "How would you feel if some guy started yelling at you from the top of a gorge while you were scouting a drop?"
"Good point." I said. "I just hope I don't get a chance to use my camera any more today, but if they go right, I think I will."
Almost as soon as the words left my mouth the leader signaled to go right.
"Here we go." I said, picking up my camera and getting settled.
The leader climbed down and got into his boat, peeled out, and charged downstream, very smooth. He punched the tricky feeder wavehole just above the main hole, and melted through with lots of speed.
"Nice!" I said. "But he made it look too easy.."
Sure enough, the next guy peeled out and almost from the second he entered the drop I knew he wasn't going to make it. He hit the feeder hole, got surfed to the right, and dropped in with no speed. He surfaced upside-down against the right wall, and the hole started greedily pulling him back upstream. "C'mon man!" I said to myself. "Get UP!"
But he had other plans. As soon as he felt the wall on his right the boater latched onto it and hung on like grim death. His buddies across the river were frantically scrambling around, vainly trying to get downstream, while the leader started trying to ferry across the river. Slowly, the boater started pulling himself along the wall, inching his way downstream until he ran out of handholds. He let go, and tried to roll but didn't quite make it, so he dropped his paddle and started tapping the bottom of his boat. The leader gave chase, and both of them disappeared around the corner.
"Ummm. Ok." I said.
So now there were two paddlers left on the river-left wall, and they stared and stared and stared at that hole. Finally I couldn't stand it anymore, and I yelled "HEY!!!" They looked up, startled. "BOOF LEFT! IT'S NO PROBLEM!!!"
Man, you should've seen these guys go. They scrambled down, hopped in their boats, and bombed over the left side.. The last we saw, they were charging around the corner to help their buddy..
"I couldn't stand it." I said to Pete with a grin. "I had to say something.."