Subject: Selway River (Idaho) - Trip Report (long)
From: (Chris Donohue)
Date: Fri, 9 Aug 1996 17:57:32 GMT

Just got back from doing a post-permit season run on the Selway River in Idaho. Due to the unusually high snowfall this year, the river has been boatable beyond the end of permit season (July 31), so we were able to get on this limited access river without a permit. The Selway winds through the Selway-Bitteroot Wilderness in North-Central Idaho near the Montana border. The run is 46 miles, 29 feet per mile.

We put in early on August 5 on a cold and rainy day. The guage at Paradise was at 1.1' (1.0' = 860 cfs, 1.5' = 990 cfs). The Lowell guage (below the take-out) was registering 1415 cfs. Our fleet consisted of a borrowed Corsica kayak and a 14' Aire Cataraft. We travelled light (no lawnchairs, coolers, Mountain Dew, or beer!), fully loading the Corsica and weighing down the cat with three people and a gear bag each (one oarsperson and two passengers/tube lifters).

The river is narrow and rocky at the put-in, barely 30' wide and strewn with rocks at this flow. Our first day on the river was spent pinballing off rocks as we worked our way down the river. Most of the drops were boulder-garden variety, and demanded precise paddling and route-finding to correctly negotiate the rapid without getting stuck in shallow water. Luckily, the current was slow and forgiving. One drop around mile 4 was pretty much a wet carry for the cat and a rock bash for the kayak. I didn't have to get out of the kayak, but I spent more time in the rapid pushing off rocks with my hands than paddling. Further downstream, the cat passengers/tube lifters got an honest workout trundling the cat down several gravel bars. 'Goat Creek' rapid was a kick - a long boulder slalom with multiple 'doors' to choose from and several surfwaves and ski-jumps.

The first days scenery was OK, but not incredible. Like others have commented on r.b.p., signs of civilization are everywhere. Several pack bridges cross the river. Fences, ranches, an airstrip, and the Selway Lodge are easily seen from the river. Fishermen and hikers were everywhere. Also, many of the mountainsides are barren due to a past fire, and little regrowth seems to be occurring.

All this changed on day 2. We camped out just below Bear Creek (mile 16) in firs and cedars after a long day on the river. The second day dawned cloudy, but soon cleared and became bright and warm. The river continued to be bony in places, but less often. The cat no longer hung up in every other drop, a tribute to Scotts improved ability and increased water from sidestreams. 'Ham' rapid was a hard to pick out, as it just seemed like a long boulder slalom until you started over some of the bigger ledges.

After Moose Creek, the fun really began. Here the forest was dense cedars and firs, and the river narrowed, creating deep pools and abrupt drops. From here down to the takeout the cat rarely hung up on rocks.

The rapids from 'Double Drop' on are a kick. Most are boulder slaloms with ledge drops, but several sport big waves and holes. Usually there's a short pool following each before the next drop. 'Wa-Poots' was probably the toughest - a drop down a ramp through a hole and a diagonal wave followed by a picket fence of wrap rocks. The cat was swept across the river from the line they originally planned, but still was able to line up for the correct slot through the picket fence. 'Ladle' turned out to be an enormous boulder garden, easy to run but hard to routefind when trying to squeeze a cataraft down. We eventually bashed the cat down the left channel. Note that there is a tree most of the way across the river in the runout of Ladle which could be a hazard at higher flows - its visible when scouting.

Below Ladle was the best whitewater of the trip. Several steep class III drops come at you in quick succession. Each one is different. The most memorable was the third or fourth drop after Ladle, where the river started down through a large boulder garden. In the distance, one could see the pool at the bottom far below you, but a route through the boulders seemed improbable. Because of the low flow, we eddy-hopped down the left channel. About halfway down, you realize you haven't dropped all that much and that there's a horizon line rapidly approaching. Suddenly the pool is way below you, and the current has picked up. Right at the lip of the waterfall, one has to ferry to river right to avoid going over a vertical 5' drop onto a pile of rocks. The move isn't hard, but intimidating; additionally so since the right side drops 5' into a hole. I submarined the Corsica through the hole and the cat got partially tail-stood. Fun stuff.

Following these drops, the river mellows out into a series of slow-moving pools divided by occasional drops. At the aptly-named 'Osprey' rapid, we had some momentary carnage as the cat got hung up on a wrap rock along where the current pushes up against the cliff on the right. For a second it seemed like the cat was going to flip, but the crew highsided and it popped off. We camped below the rapid alongside a beautiful sidestream on the right. In the evening, a bear swam across the river a short ways below our camp, renewing interest in hanging our food.

The third day was hot and relaxing, and the river complied by providing more lakes to row across. We saw many osprey fishing along the river, along with several ducks. 'Wolf Creek' rapid brought us out of our relaxation. Here the river drops down a narrow chute directly into a wrap rock, then turns 45 degrees left and drops over a ledge with a large pourover hole on the right. Yuck. It was fairly straightforward in the kayak - I ski-jumped a beautiful orange diving-board rock on the left into an eddy. For the cat, it was a suspenseful moment to see if they could make the left turn without wrapping, getting trashed in the hole, or both. They pulled off the move cleanly and shot down the left side past the rock and hole. From here to the takeout the river is mostly languid lakes and occasional drops. More and more people can be seen as you wind down the last few miles to the take-out, to the point of dodging fishermen as you reach the takeout. We elected to take out a day early since we made better time than we expected and all the good camps in the last several miles before the takeout were taken.

It was a fun trip. My advice to others would be pack light (but warm) and expect to hit some rocks. At this low flow bring IK's, canoes, and kayaks if possible. A cat would be OK, but expect to be pulling it over rocks quite a bit on the first day. A raft would be major work, as one couldn't straddle rocks between the tubes. Also, expect 6 hours to do the 255 mile shuttle (each way). Don't go with the expectation of a total wilderness, as the guidebooks imply, and you won't be dissappointed.

Additionally, note that the bridge at Paradise (put-in) is closed (August 8 onwards for an undisclosed number of days) to vehicles while Utah State University works on a habitat assessment study. This means carrying your gear an extra 200' to the put-in and having to camp up the road several miles from the put-in.

Happy Boating,

Chris Donohue
WSU - Pullman, WA
"What's all this about hellfire and dalmations?"
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