I get the call from my friend Jeff, “You want to come on the middle fork again?” The Middle Fork is a 104-mile free-flowing class IV river in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, originating 20 miles northwest of Stanley, Idaho, at the confluence of Bear Valley and Marsh Creeks.
Last year I had stand up paddle boarded the middle fork of the Salmon at 3.5 feet and it was the largest thing I had ever done. This year there were rumors that it was going to peak at maybe 6 feet or more. I was nervous but excited to try to SUP the whole thing again. Having a solid board for this stretch is extremely important if I want to make it through these rapids successfully and safe. The Hala Atcha was my board of choice for it’s perfect combination of volume and width providing stability in big water and agility to make the lines I needed.
This was going to be a fun trip! The permit was maxed out with a crew of 24 amazing people. 7 rafts, 3 kayakers, and a spare paddle board if anyone wanted to try it out. We get to the put in and I was a little relieved to find the river at 5.5 feet, a bit more friendly than 6 feet but still big.
The first day was full on. We paddled 21 miles to our first camp. Five miles in it was so difficult to catch eddies to catch my breath and rest. I. The Atcha, not letting me down, helped me get everywhere I needed to be and the added rigidity from the drop stitching in the board made it easy for me to react to any bumps or waves and remain stable on my feet.
The first big rapid we got to was Velvet Falls – class 4. We all got out and scouted. I was confident that I could catch the eddy on the river left above the falls and try to film the rafts. So I paddled ahead on my own. Entering the rapid I noticed it was really pushy. I charged hard as I could for the eddy but got rejected. The eddy was full of boils and it pushed me back into the main current. I looked down stream to find my line and set up to run the left side of the falls, plugging my nose before making the plunge. After a big swim, I got on my board and paddled in to shore to set up and film the rafts. The rest of the day I only managed 2 more swims.
Waking up the next morning I knew it was going to be another big day paddling. We were going to try to cover about 30 miles that day and only a few miles into it we hit Pistol Rapid another big class 4.
This rapid was one worth scouting, looking at it from above, the line seemed obvious catch the big eddy on the right and you avoid left at all costs. I get into the rapid and my plan went south as soon as I realized that big eddy on the right wasn’t the friendly eddy it had appeared to be. In its place was a turbulent boiling eddy wall. I paddled as hard as I could into the mess that I thought would be my “safe line” but I was no match for those powerful boils and I was quickly knocked off my board. I got one good breath in before I went into the left side of the hole. Everything was bubbles of brown water and then darkness. Below the surface I started counting to keep myself calm. I got to about 10 before I saw daylight and swam for it. I came up to cheers from the rafts. “You went deep!” my friend Shawn called. Drained by the adrenaline I was relieved the rest of the day was free of boiling eddies and munchy holes. I was able to convince my friend Shawn to hop on a paddle board and try it out. She paddled through a few fun rapids and was surprised by the stability of the Hala Atcha.
Day 3 was a mellow 2 mile paddle to our next camp. Christie wanted to give paddle boarding a shot so I inflated the second board and took her down the river for the first time. After the events of the day before we were all happy to have a day of care-free paddling.
From camp Greg and I were looking for a little more excitement so we took the paddle boards and hiked up to a fun class III section on Loon Creek –. The rest of the day was spent soaking in hot springs, dancing around in costumes, and playing croquet.
The last 2 days were filled with some really fun big water. I put a FCS 9” fin on my Hala Atcha so I could maintain my line and power through the massive waves. I learned that the toughest part about large volume rapids are the aggressive eddy lines and unpredictable boils. It’s an added challenge that I’m not use to on a SUP and in turn has improved my paddling skills immensely.
This trip was amazing, of one of my top five stretches of river and I would recommend it for any experienced whitewater stand up paddler! Endless gratitude to my friend Jeff for inviting me on this trip and to Hala Gear SUP, Werner Paddles, Astral Designs, and Colorado Kayak Supply (CKS). Swing by CKS, your one stop shop for all your SUP needs. CKS has a great expert staff to answer all of your questions and will advise on your next purchase.