The 10 of us had been planning our trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River for over 18 months before we finally set out on the rafts. We’d seen pictures, slideshows, and heard lots of tales of the Middle Fork. Nothing could prepare us for the fun, scenery, or sadness we felt on the river.
Like I said, we’d been planning this trip for what seemed like years. We had been texting, calling, and meeting up about this trip for months! The anticipation and excitement were high for everyone! We were so excited to get to have this trip of a lifetime together!
We all had to make sure our kids were taken care of — 14 children between us, gear was ordered, and our flights were booked with plenty of buffer. It’s a good thing we planned the buffer because flights were delayed and a few of our party had to spend the night in Salt Lake City.
Neil, Jill, and Kenneth and I went up two days before everyone else. We wanted to get a jump start on the relaxation, mountain air, and temps less than 100 degrees! We started our vacation in Boise (we learned that it’s pronounced BOY-C) with a fun dinner, a little bit of Boise downtown, and trip to the store for our river adult beverages. On our way to the tiny town of Stanley, Idaho (population 67), we stopped in the resort town of Sun Valley, Idaho. This fancy little ski town is home to mountain biking trails, cute restaurants, and fabulous shopping. Neil and Kenneth really wanted to go mountain biking, so Jill and I decided to shop, eat lunch, and sight see. We wrote postcards to the kids and to friends and just had a nice, little afternoon while our husbands biked. We had just found a scenic lake when we got the text.
The text came from an unknown number since Jill and I had our husbands’ phones. It said “It’s Neil. We are at the bike shop — Kenneth cut his leg.”
We rushed over to the bike shop to check out the damage not knowing that we would find a shirtless Kenneth with blood running down his leg and his calf tied up with his shirt. Oh goodness. Neil and I went to get the car, we tracked down the ER and headed that way. Kenneth hobbled inside and with one look by the ER nurse he knew it was bad.
She raised his homemade t-shirt bandage and said, “Ohhhhh.” The ER doctor had to consult with a surgeon to see if he needed surgery, and just like that, the river trip that we had been planning was over for them. It was like a shot to the heart for all of us to hear that news. Our sweet friends were going to be going home after we had planned all this time for memories that would last forever.
After the ER and a stop at the pharmacy, we headed to Stanley, Idaho, the site of the Idaho River Journeys meeting. We had magnificent views in Stanley! The Mountain Village resort motel where we stayed was the only place to stay in Stanley. This tiny town had so much charm. From the Merc to the Stanley Bakery and mountains everywhere we looked — we felt like we could stay there forever.
The other three couples arrived to a relaxing evening bonfire. We enjoyed the company and tried to make the best of Jill and Kenneth not being able to go on the river. We went to dinner with 14 of the 21 people going on the trip. That’s where we met Roland and Patti. Stay tuned for more of Roland and Patti.
After dinner, we had a trip meeting where we received our dry bags, mugs, life vests, wet suits, and lots of instructions. We were so excited to get back to the motel rooms to pack! After everything was set, we headed back to the bonfire and that’s when Roland and Patti stopped in. They hung out with us for a little while just chatting and getting to know us. Patti sat next to me and I told her what happened to Kenneth. She was sad for us but headed to her room. A little while later Roland came back to the fire to offer their home in Sun Valley, Idaho, to Jill and Kenneth! We were so humbled by their generosity! This truly set the tone for the entire river tip.
The next morning, we loaded up, said our tearful goodbyes to Jill and Kenneth, and headed to the river.
We were told there were three types of rafts. There’s the oar boat: luxury Cadillac-type boat where you barely get wet and you don’t paddle. Princess style. There’s the paddle boat: 1 guide who “steers” and 6 paddlers and you get wet! And then the “ducky:” an inflatable kayak that is only for the single paddler. I knew right off the bat I was going on the oar boat. I surprised myself when, by the end of the week I did the paddle boat and even did the ducky for 10 miles down the river!
Our first night to camp was simply impressive. We rolled up to camp to see every tent set up, a dining table (with table cloths) and chairs, a drink station, hand-washing stations, and the ever-so-important “groover” (the toilet). Wow! We were so impressed. I couldn’t decide what I liked more — the river or camp!
The food was spectacular! We couldn’t believe how gourmet it was — all cooked outdoors. We had three, three-course meals per day. Our favorites were the Elevation Coffee Cake and the Ponderosa Plum Torte. We are still having dreams about the camp food.
The safety we felt on the river was impressive. The guides knew the river like the backs of their hands, and you could tell they truly loved their jobs. The sights we saw down 100 miles of river are memories I will never forget. From seeing ancient native American pictographs, Veil falls, and countless waterfalls –the views were astounding. One of our favorite things to do was to fill up our water bottles from fresh cold springs. The most delicious water I’ve ever tasted.
We had tons on fun! The wives had been plotting for months to sneak silly bathing suits in for the husbands. We settled on cat/taco/pizza suits and they were the hit of the night. Our guys came up with all sorts of “camp games” that we played in the evenings. The guides said they had never had any sort of competition! We started first with tent building. My husband challenged two guides who set up 60 tents each per week to a tent-building contest. He had never even built these tents. Next night was the 40-yard dash, and we finished with feats of strength — a giant rock-throwing contest. These Idaho folks didn’t know what hit them with these native Louisianans.
One of my favorite memories from the trip was when we “lazy rivered” on the last night. This camp had a slowish flow, so we were able to jump in and float down to camp. We did this while singing “Louisiana Saturday Night” in the middle of the canyon!
All of us would highly recommend this river trip. Take a group of friends and enjoy being unplugged and immersed in nature!
Elevation Coffee Cake
Boundary Creek is at 5800 ft. The gradient in 1st 25 miles is 47ft per mile. The average gradient is 28.3 ft per mile. Indian Creek is at 4650 ft.
Dry Cake Mix (prepared at home) :
- 1 ¼ cups sugar
- 2 ½ cups unbleached ﬂour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Pour dry mix into a large bowl. Add wet ingredients.
- Wet Ingredients (prepared on the river) :
- 1/2 cup (1 stick butter) melted
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup sour cream
Topping : Add topping 5 to 10 minutes before you take the coals oﬀ the dutch oven, this will create a nice golden brown texture on top.
In a separate small bowl, melt ¾ stick butter and mix with topping ingredients in small Ziploc:
- Small Ziploc (prepared at home)
- 1 cup golden brown sugar
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon.
Notes: The cake can take 30-45 minutes to bake. Put coals on the dutch oven as soon as possible to ensure enough time to bake.
Ponderosa Plum Torte
When the tree reaches 110 to 120 years old (a mere teenager for a Ponderosa pine), it begins to shed its black bark and reveal an inner bark of yellow, “yellow pine.” Look at a stump of an old Ponderosa and you’ll see a massive swath of yellow. Scientists don’t know why a closely sniffed Ponderosa smells like vanilla. The aroma may arise from a chemical in the sap being warmed by the sun.
- 12” Dutch Oven
- Dry Cake Mix (prepared at home) :
- 2 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ Cups of sugar
- Wet Ingredients (prepared on the river)
- To make batter: When you arrive at camp get 4 cubes of butter (one pound of butter) out of the cooler, unwrap and place in a mixing bowl to soften. Four cubes for two mixes (2, 12” Dutch), two cubes for one mix. The softer the butter, the easier to cream with the sugar.
- For each mix cream 2 cubes of butter with 1 ½ Cups of sugar. Sugar will be measured in torte ziplock.
- Add 2 eggs for each mix to creamed butter and sugar.
- Add the flour mixture to above and beat well.
- Spoon the batter into a well oiled (canola) Dutch Oven.
- For each Dutch Oven slice plums in half removing pit.
- Lightly place the plum halves skin side up on top of the batter.
- Sprinkle lightly with the juice from half a lemon. Then lightly sprinkle with sugar and a bit of cinnamon.
- Bake for 40 to 50 minutes in a Dutch Oven or in a pre-heated 350° conventional oven.
Recipes by Mary Papale with help from the Idaho River Journeys crew
Established in 1978, Idaho River Journeys is proud to be one of the most respected Middle Fork of the Salmon River outfitters, enjoying a reputation for running top-quality, bucket-list trips with exceptional fishing and rafting guides. We are a family-run business based in Salmon, Idaho.