Running the White Froth
It's called the "Slammin' Salmon" for good reasons. Just minutes from the
put-in, our paddle raft had just cleared the day's first rapid, a Class IV
roller-coaster named Butler Creek Ledge. John McDermott, our guide, had directed us into an eddy just below the rapids. Seconds later the second raft exploded into view, briefly standing on its side before it flopped upside down, dumping its four paddlers and oarsman.
The "Slammin' Salmon," formally named the Cal Salmon to distinguish it from Idaho's Salmon River, thunders its way from the Marble and Salmon
mountains of far Northern California to the hamlet of Somes Bar, where it spills into the Klamath River.
The Cal Salmon is the stuff of legends. It's respected and revered for its scenic
remoteness as it passes through a choked, granite-walled gorge
sporadically splattered with cells of marble. Most of all, it's known for its series of rampaging Class IV and V rapids. Butler Creek is just a
warm-up for what follows. What followed over the next two days was better than promised.
|Two-day Cal Salmon trips typically begin at Butler Creek. On that first day our two
rafts less dramatically rattled through a series of rapids, including the Class III-plus
Woolly Bully, Class IV Double Move and The Fin, and Class IV-plus Gaping Maw.
A late start, along with the trip-beginning-flip, put us too far behind schedule to continue past Somes Bar and tackle a trio of Klamath River rapids: the Little, Super and Big Ikes.But long before we plotted that day's plans, we were retrieving bodies. Four of the five crew members at the Butler Creek uprising quickly swam to shore, but the river took the fifth on a thumpy ride down more rapids as we trailed behind, trying to catch the swimmer and still overturned raft. When we finally hauled her to shore, she was shaken and stirred and, understandably, ready to quit. She and her companion, guided by McDermott, struggled up the steep cliff to the narrow roadway that meanders high above the river.
||That night we regrouped at the Nordheimer Campground, devouring barbecued
salmon flavored with mango chutney, a salad made from fresh greens, delicious home-baked
breads and, for dessert, intoxicatingly sweet truffles.
Day Two began at the campground put-in. It was only a short paddle to the Class IV-plus Bloomer Falls, which is actually two quick boat-burying holes. Teaming with rafts from another rafting company, Turtle, the now five-raft flotilla continued along Class III-plus and IV-plus rapids, including The Maze, Lewis Creek Falls, Oh What A Feeling, Airplane, Chrysler, Portagee Falls to the Class V Cascade, where the choices included a 400-yard long boulder garden of a narrow 15-foot waterfall. Although no boats overturned, several paddlers made unplanned impromptu swims before being hauled back on board.
|Two Class IV-plus rapids followed quickly, Achilles Heel and Whirling
Dervish, before two fearsomely frothy Class Vs, Last Chance and Freight
Train, relished for their boat-sucking holes and spiraling hydraulics.
After lunch at Butler Creek, we zipped through rapids that created
goosebumps a day earlier. No one swam, no rafts overturned.
But, like one paddler who makes annual pilgrimages down the river, we all
flipped for the Slammin' Salmon.
When You Go
River companies that offer trips often set meeting places. Individual companies can
also provide information and maps on meeting places.
The nearest airports include Redding, California, and Klamath Falls and Medford, Oregon.
When to go:
The California Salmon River is best attempted during the spring and early summer. Most
companies have trips that require paddlers to
car camp. Because of its relative remoteness there are few lodging options along the Cal-Salmon. For more information contact various rafting
companies. My trip was through River Dancers Rafting & Kayaking Adventures, 302 Terry Lynn, Mt. Shasta City, CA 96067; toll-free
(800) 926-5002; email firstname.lastname@example.org. All companies limit the trip to experienced paddlers because of the river's difficulty.
Helpful books include "California Whitewater," by Jim Cassady and Fryar Calhoun; "The Best Whitewater in California," by Lars Holbek and Chuck
Useful WWW Links:
River Dancers Rafting & Kayaking Adventures: www.riverdancers.com
Noah's Outfitters: www.noahsfishing.com/calscott.htlm
Destination Wilderness: www.wildernesstrips.com/calsal.htm
Turtle River Trips: www.turtleriver.com/info.sa.htm
AO Rafting: www.AOrafting.com