South Fork of the Salmon, California: Class IV+
Blue skies at the put-in for the South Fork
The run starts out with a great warm-up of class II riffles for a couple miles. The scenery through here improves as the river approaches the gorge.
The mellow first half of the run.
Peter below the first class IV
Here the run calms down again for a half-mile or so until a short twisty class IV that deserves a scout if you don't know the run well.
The action continues for quite a while from here with too many class IV drops and good boofs to count. Another rapid to be aware of is The Sieve. It's a fairly easy rapid, but consequences have been fatal in the past. On a recent trip, one paddler missed the move and had to eddy out just above the sieve. We spent about 20 minutes carefully getting him and his boat through the 6-foot portage. In the photos it looks pretty innocent, but there are enough stories to make a lot of boaters walk this one.
Chris corrals Peter's boat and Peter holds Adam's boat while Adam scrambles around the sieve, which looks harmless from all angles: until you're stuck inside it.
Action continues with boat-scoutable rapids until you get to Disneyland. Disneyland has got to be one of the most fun rapids out there. It can be intimidating from the scout (I know class V boaters who've always walked it) but is fairly easy once you get the hang of it. It's the only rapid I know where the more defensive you are with pry strokes and draw strokes, the better your run will be. The trick is to just go with the flow and ride the pillows around all the nasty spots and through the tight run-out.
Working the first pillow in Disneyland
Damon in the run-out of Disneyland.
After Disneyland comes a fun boulder garden that's a great one to practice boat scouting and hand signals in. The run ends with the final gorge, containing three rapids. The first is the infamous hole from the Oregon Kayaking write-up. The hole has been pretty benign every time I've seen it, so we just paddle hard down the right side. I tried the left boof once and it was one of the worst lines I've ever had.
Peter finishing off a great day on the South Salmon
The run is fairly short (5 miles) and packs a lot of good rapids into the short distance. Some people shorten it further by hiking in to alternative put-ins and do laps.
The take-out is at Matthews Creek Campground, a free campground maintained by the Forest Service. It's right along the South Fork Road between Forks of Salmon and Cecilville. To reach the put-in, just drive upstream and look for a road dropping off to the right. Some people put in at Cecilville, but that only adds to the class II warm-up. Bike shuttles on this run are highly recommended due to the paved road with minimal traffic and great fresh air.