South Fork of the Salmon Wild and Free
An On-line Book by Jerry Dixon
Published by the Idaho State University Outdoor Program. Designed & edited by Ron Watters.
Opinions expressed herein are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.
Text and photographs © 2001 Jerry Dixon and used by permission (see permission notes).
THE SOUTH FORK TURNS left and runs into a cliff at Fall Creek. From the seat of my kayak, I look ahead and see the river boiling, plunging through large granite boulders and colliding against a cliff. Pete and Dana are alert and looking ahead. They know there's something big up there.
Four feet (4.0 ft.) on the Krassel Gage is the best level for kayaking the South Fork of the Salmon. It's get trickier in lower or higher levels. Especially Fall Creek. Boaters like George Wade have been caught in recirculating holes here. The Whitehead brothers lost both their boats at Fall Creek in 1978. In 1982 I ran it at 5.0 ft. and I have to admit, it was exciting.
In August of 1986 I challenged Liam Guiler to run it at night. He declined, and I wised up. This time we drop into pools and ferry across the river just above the entrance to the rapid. There are pour overs, five foot falls that cause me to hesitate. Pete runs it, then Dana. Watching them I decide to try. My luck on the river holds and it lets me through.
We do a short portage and have lunch. Incredibly we have spent three days on the river and had it to ourselves. There are 30 applicants for the Main, 70 for the Middle Fork and 170 for the Selway every summer day. Yet here in 1999 we have the Crystal River to ourselves. We make camp just below and voici le deluge.
Well, we just about have it to ourselves. Nineteen kayakers and rafters stream in a line after us. Half of the boaters float down the river after running Fall Creek, and there are still two camps on both sides. Most boated here in one day running everything in "play boats." Now some of them will eat a powerbar and shiver through the night wrapped in a space blanket, the only item of extra clothing they brought. Good thing they are floating an Idaho River and not one in Alaska.
From just above our camp below Fall Creek (which is the spot where the Sheepeater War started in 1879 with a homesteader massacre) I can see the ridge west of the confluence of the South Fork and Main Salmon.
I jumped there on my 26th birthday, August 1974. It was a classic jumper fire: good landing spot, nobody injured, caught the fire and enjoyed the company. "Wild Bill" Yensen even brought his camera and a segment of it made the video, Firefighters from the Sky. I had yet to run the South Fork and remember looking at this spot below Round Mountain and thinking that someday I would.
Golden-throned dawn in the
Years later when camped on the South Fork I tried to find that jump spot and couldn't. What was wild country below it at the confluence now has summer homes and much of the solitude is gone.
In Wild and Free, as well as the Idaho Conservation Newsletter and a 1990 Idaho Statesman interview I said that we needed to protect habitat on the South Fork and make all roadless areas wilderness. I also said that we needed to start removing dams from the Snake River. This last idea was considered blasphemy, especially in the mid 1970's when the dams had just been completed, but many fish biologists now believe it's the only way to truly save the salmon runs.
I was blasted, of course, for my ideas on salmon and water quality, but the passage of years hasn't changed my mind. It is my sincere hope that salmon will once again return here in viable numbers--not hatchery salmon--but the wild salmon of America's youth.
Presently I live on a fjord in Alaska surrounded by mountains, the vast majority of which have never seen the tracks of a ski. Glaciers here flow to the sea and clear streams rush past on both sides of our home. The salmon fishing is spectacular, moose are ubiquitous, and my boys have treed a black bear in our yard. Brown bears cross nearby to feed on salmon.
Above the fjord where we live I can put up new ski routes in the Chugach Range where only mountain goats climb. Sometimes returning I find fresh wolf tracks on top of mine. I live where there are still unclimbed mountains and unrun rivers, like the Kenai River, one of the world's great salmon streams, that was just kayaked source to sea for the first time in 1999.
So why is it, my friends want to know, that I
take my family so often to Idaho's Salmon River country? Because, I confess,
central Idaho is special place like no other--and it is in my blood.
I'm drawn to its rivers which flow clear as gin over granite boulders,
to its canyons with yellowpines marching up steep breaks, and to its special
places full of memories. And I'm drawn by an abiding hope: sitting
here today beside the South Fork and watching the sunlight shining through
a rising mist, I know one day wild salmon shall return.
End of first Installment. Watch for the next Installment.
go to the previous chapter: Chapter4
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