Upper Payette River, Idaho
By : Jeff Head
July 28, 2001
Our Varsity Scout Troop met at the Emmett Stake Center building of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 8 AM. We were to meet several other Troops on the upper Payette River at Smith's Ferry at around 10:30 AM. These included other troops from Emmett, McCall and the surrounding area.
Since there was a forest fire currently burning between Horseshoe Bend and Banks, which had the main highway narrowed to one lane traffic and significant delays, we decided to go the "back route" through Sweet and then over Cougar Mountain, through High Valley and then dropping down into Smith's Ferry that way. This was on back roads and a good stretch of gravel, but it avoided the delays and got us there on time ... it was also very beautiful. High Velley is a favorite "place" for me.
While traveling (I was driving my Tahoe), I informed our scouts and the other adult leader, Steve Wallace, of my experiences over at Klamath Falls. I let them know of the appaling situation where the U.S. Governemnt had turned off all irrigation water to an entire valley of 1400 farm families. I told them of my experiences there and of the national petition we had startted on behalf of the people there. All were appalled.
We stopped at Smith's Ferry and I talked to the owner of the lodge there and set out one of the Klamath Falls petitions. Then we met up with the other scouts and it was off to the "put in" about 15 miles upstream.
When we arrived at the "put in", we were suprised to see so many other rafters already there. A group of about eight boats put in in front of us. Then it was our turn. We put our boats in the water and after a short but well delivered and concise lesson on rafting safety, we took off around 11:30 AM. I had rafted a number of times before, including a number of trips on the Lochsa river in northern Idaho, one of the rougher rivers in North America. That had been quirte a few years ago however and I was really looking forward to this "run" with our boys.
Our group of four boats and two kayaks puts in and takes off
We had four rafts in our group and two adult kayakers. The kayakers were floating point and drag for us ... insuring that we knew exactly what was coming and making sure no one lagged too much. They were also there fo safety purposes to help if someone fell in and got in trouble.
One of our Kayakers, Pulling drag duty.
It was a beautiful day. Clear skies broken by occassional puffy cumulus clouds. I mentioned to the boys in our raft that many of the people we saw around us on rafts may have driven hundreds, maybe even thousands of miles to enjoy this beautiful part of our nation. I told our boys they should be extremely grateful that they have it in their "back yard" where it can be accessed and enjoyed so readliy.
After a brief initial rapid, the floating was realtively swift and calm.
Our raft floating in line on the upper Payette River.
The weather was mild, with temperatures in the 70's. This made for some cool floating as the montain water was also relatively cool. The sunshine helped, but the many water fights along the way kept us damp. Myself and Steve had worn long sleeve shirts and long pants for which we had taken a little grief early on. Now, our age and experience was telling a bit as more than few teeth began to chatter amongst the scouts.
One of the many rapids we descended.
We descended many rapids which were exhilerating but not dangerous. The boys were having a great time, and I must say, we adult leaders were enjoying ourselves as well. Around 1 PM, we stopped for lunch. One of our rafts carried the "dry box" (a waterproofed box containing our food and other articles which had to stay dry) as well as our cooler. As the place we would otherwise normally stop for lunch was already occupied, we chose a rather rocky, but warm place a little further downstream.
Our lunch landing
My wife had packed me a ham and cheese sandwhich, some potatoe chips and some chocolate chip cookies. I was given a soda pop to drink. We sat there and enjoyed the scenery and waived to other rafters as they passed by. In summer, on the Payette, in addition to the water flowing downstream, there is a veritable river of people flowing by too.
Then, we were off again. Further down the beautiful upper Payette River in the central mountians of Idaho.
We stroked away from our lunch gathering and descended more rapids relatively quickly.
Stroking down river and descending more rapids.
Swift, sometimes boiling rapids with two and three foot "haystacks" made for a lot of fun. More than a few wild "indian" cries filled the air ... and I must admit, not all of them came from the boys. Spaced between the rapids were good stretches of relatively fast flowing, calm waters. During those calms, we were treated with some of the best scenery in North America.
At one point, to our right, a siteseeing train was coming up the canyon. This train origianted out of Smith's Ferry and carried siteseers and some rafters. This particular train let off some rafters about one quarter mile in front of us and then proceeded up the rails. One of our rafts was able to float over to that bank and disgorge a couple of scouts who "raided" the train with water cannons ... those passengers enjoyed a little more than the scenery on that trip!
At another point, a group of two rafts and a Kayak caught up to us as we slowed for the rest of our group. The two rafts were filled with ... teenage girls! Boy you should have seen our scouts perq up! Cold and chattering teeth were magically forgotten. A healthy water fight insued and we were all drenched! Amazing things happen on the river ... and the way those young men forgot all discomfort and were ready to drench and be drenched as the site of just a bunch of girls was one of those "amazing things" that day. Imagine that!
A terrific afternoon of rafting)
As time passed, we got closer and closer to the highlight of the rafting trip in terms of rapids. A few hundreds yards before our take out, we had to pass through what is known as "the plunge". It's about a six foot verticle drop over a very short distance. Very swift and fairly rough. Leading up to it were a number of good rapids which set the stage for the final "plunge". As we approached this last obstacle on our trip, I stood up and took a picture of the approach. That picture cannot do justice to the moment. The rapid water flow, the sound and the depth perception we all shared got the adenaline flowing as we approached.
Approaching "The Plunge" (no justice from this angle)
Down we went! It was a real thrill! More "indian cries" more sloshing, splashing water drenching us all.
We had intentionally gone first, and by some distance, so we could photograph the other rafts as they took "the plunge". We "eddied out" below the falls and approached the plunge from "down river right". I got out and found a suitable perch amongst the rocks near the water. We had a longer wait than anticipated ... we had sped ahead of the others a little further than we thought. Ultimately though, here they came!
Two rafts full of scouts "take the plunge"
Whoa! what a ride!
After everyone completed "the plunge" we made our way over to the take out. A wonderful view of expanded waters, a natural shallow lake, with a backdrop of pine covered mountains ... Smith's Ferry in the foreground. We took out around 4 PM and got our gear suitably placed to await transportation. Then it was time for us drivers to go back and get our vehicles.
When I got to my Tahoe, I have to say it was warm inside as the windows were up and the vehicle was sitting in the sun ... it felt so good! I left the windows up the entire fifteen miles back ... and when Steve and the boys got in ... we left them up for some time, basking in the warmth. Around 5:15 PM we arrived back in Emmett and everyone was given a ride to their home. It was a marvelous scouting experience, filled with the camraderie of good, upright young men and beautiful scenery. The types of things that will always keep this nation strong.