East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River
The middle fifteen miles

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The East Fork of the South Fork Salmon is described in the Amaral guidebook as 'An outstanding whitewater run', and I couldn't agree more. This river is full of long, complex boulder gardens that keep you guessing the whole time, and the mountain scenery is second to none. It's a long drive to get to this river, but you won't regret it when you get there.

This run is also well known for it's holes, and again I will quote Amaral: "At most levels the river is full of big holes and even if you've scouted and planned out a line, you can count on falling into a couple of them over the course of the run; boat-scouting will put you in a lot more."

Brian and I would become intimately familiar with some of the aforementioned holes on this day, but more on that later..

A typical rapid on the East Fork of the South Fork.

This section of river feels very isolated, and a lot of that has to do with the drive. The road is gravel the whole way, and after twenty miles or so the drive feels like it is never going to end. That said, this is some of the most beautiful country in the lower forty-eight, so you have lots of nice scenery gaze at while you drive.

Our plan was to rendezvous with EJ Etherington in the tiny mountain hamlet of Yellowpine, which is located approximately thirty miles north of the middle of nowhere. We arrived at Yellowpine in the late afternoon, and wandered down to the general store to see what was going on. Luckly for us, the locals were having a fund-raising BBQ, so for a cash donation we were all treated to a buffet of local home cooking..

Yellowpine is a great little town. The residents are really cool, and many are big-city expats who made their pile and are now spending their days gazing out at the mountains. It's an enviable existance for those of us still running the rat race week in and week out..

The group checks out Yellowpine, located on the East Fork South Fork.
This tiny little mountain town is located approximately thirty miles north of the middle of nowhere..

After eating all the home cooking we could possibly handle, we stumbled back to our campsite and fell into food-induced comas, the EFSF roaring promisingly in our ears all night long..

The next morning we got up early and lazed about. The nice thing about paddling trips is that you are almost never in a hurry, and camping at the put-in means you can be even more leisurely than usual. After awhile we decided that we'd better get after it, so we set shuttle and walked down to the river from our campsite..

Just downstream from camp was the largest single rapid on the river, known as Flight Simulator ( this rapid was named by the guidebook author because of the jet-plane noise it makes at high water ).

Brian Zabel enters Flight Simulator, a mile-long boulder garden which is the located near the beginning of the run.

Flight Simulator is a great rapid, with many classic moves, boofs, and holes to punch. We had a great time in this one and managed to work our way down with minimal scouting.

Bob and Grace watch as Conor works his way through the bottom of Flight Simulator

Downstream the great scenery and fun rapids continued. We were all very impressed with the overall quality of the river and canyon, and it was a great way to start off our trip to Idaho!

Brian Zabel runs a fun drop downstream of Flight Simulator. This is fairly typical of the rapids on the EFSF.

Downstream we approached a blind left corner with a rock wall straight ahead. "I think this is the one we saw from the road that has a big hole." I said to EJ as we drifted apart and prepared to engage the horizon line. Jesse and Bob were out in front and dropped out of sight, with EJ and myself close behind. I remember some big curlers crashing down on me, and then I literally saw a wall of white as I dropped into a river-wide hole.

I surfaced on the pile and was immediately pulled back into the hole. I started an crazy, bouncing side-surf, and I was desperately trying to work my way to the left, because I knew Grace was right behind me.

Well, I didn't make it, because I caught my upstream edge and flipped, which was timed perfectly with Grace dropping into the hole. She centerpunched me while I was upside down, nearly taking my helmet off and ripping my paddle out of my hands.

Grace surfaced downstream, with my paddle in her lap. Her boat had driven right between my arms and popped my paddle out, much to the amusement of those waiting downstream..

Of course, I didn't know she had hit me; all I remember is flipping, hitting something really hard with my head, and then getting my paddle torn out of my hands. I pulled immediately and went deep, emerging far downstream with my head ringing and my helmet askew.

Meanwhile, Brian frantically back-paddling above the hole, trying to slow down so he wouldn't drop into the hole while Grace and I were in it. Unfortunately for him, this meant he had no speed at all when he hit the hole, and he got beat down hard and swam..

It was a total yard sale, kayaks, paddles, boaters all floating out into the pool below.. Good times!

EJ Etherington threads the needle between a couple of romper-stompers. This run has some BIG holes on it, and as the Amaral guidebook says: "..even if you scout, you can count on falling into a hole on this run.. boat-scouting will put you in a lot more."

The rapids just kept coming downstream, and we were almost never without a horizon line or blind corner to keep our attention. This run is very consistent, and that is one of the many things that make it so great. I highly recommend this one to anyone who makes a trip to Idaho..

Jesse Coombs enjoys one of the many long, fun boulder slaloms on the EFSF.

Soon the gradient cooled off as we approached the take out. Because the road runs along the whole section, you can take out more or less anywhere you want, but we ended up doing the fifteen miles below the Yellowpine Campground, which was super fun!

The crew relaxes as the gradient cools off just above the take-out.

The East Fork of the South Fork Salmon is described in the Amaral guidebook as 'An outstanding whitewater run', and I couldn't agree more. The only downside is the gravel road that runs along the river, but the great paddling and camping more than make up for it.

We did this run in early July during a very big snow year. May and June is best during average years.

For more info, pick up a copy of Grant Amarals guide to Idaho Whitewater, an essential and thorough resource for all paddlers interested in this state. Grants book is Idahos' version of the California 'Bible', and is just as informative and entertaining as the Stanley/Holbeck guide.