Friday, May 06, 2005

Selway Day 1: Paradise to Rattlesnake Bar

Hans Chambers, floating the Selway canyon below Paradise.

Selway, Day 1
Selway, Day 2
Selway, Day 3

The Selway River. The name carries so much imagery -- a remote 1,239,840-acre wilderness teeming with wildlife, and yes, some of the most respected whitewater in our region. I'd grown up hearing the stories of Double Drop at five feet, Goat Creek and No Slouch swims, rafts lost in eddy fences, and factory d-rings blown trying to catch scouting eddies. I've always wanted a chance to see this river for myself. Thanks to Hans Chambers, Bill Gibson, Chuck Morgan, and Scott Waidelich, I got my chance.

Photos from the first day are available in the gallery.

Trapper Peak, at 10,157 feet, is the high point of the Bitterroot Mountains.

After the day-long drive to Darby, MT, I found myself sorting gear in a run-down half-star motel with cinder block walls and water that had only one temperature: scalding. The luxury suite at a five star hotel wouldn't have given me a better night's sleep -- all I could think about was the big water of the Selway, the ominous storm clouds on the horizon, and my suddenly tiny-looking IK. It had been months since I'd been on more than 1500 cfs, and never had I run something with the combined volume and gradient of the Selway. Was I crazy to try this in my IK? How many swims would I have? How many holes would be chewing me up and spitting me out? Sure, we knew from our shuttle driver Don that we had three feet on the gauge for the putin -- but what would we have when it mattered down at Moose Creek? It was a long night -- after years of yearning, I was on the eve of a Selway launch.

Selway area map.

3 feet exactly on the gauge. Thanks Don!

Paradise on the Selway.

Friday morning finally arrived, and we were off to Nez Perce pass, all 6,598 feet of it. There was some snow on the roads, but little on even the tallest visible peaks. By the time we arrived at Paradise -- and what a fitting name for the Selway launch -- the sun was shining and we rigged in short sleeves. We beat the other groups on the water, and enjoyed a lovely float through dense fir forest and splashy easy class I and II riffles.

What's around that corner?

Hans on the water.

The Selway drops gently below Paradise.

Scott working on his kit.

The canyon walls starts to break out.

Chuck enters Slalom Slide>.

A beautiful headwall marks Cougar Bluff rapid.

We stopped for lunch near an incredible rock wall. Some gear adjustments were made and we set off again, only moments ahead of the weather. We were soon facing pounding rain and even a little hail. When the lightning started, we pulled to shore. While we were discussing whether to continue downriver, lighting struck the rock outcropping atop the hill behind our bench. When thunder followed immediately, we quickly returned to our boats and the relative safety of the river, hoping to put some space between us and the storm.

The only rapid in this section that stood out was Goat Creek. Garren writes of imagining the rapid at high water, and indeed, Hans' stories of the holes and push of this first significant drop at high water had my attention. I think it may be the most constricted of the major drops on the Selway.

Bill enjoys the canyon.

Fish in the runout from Goat Creek.

We finally reached camp at Rattlesnake Bar, after a half hour of our favorite game "Is this Ham?" We got a nicely tarped kitchen established and enjoyed a quiet evening in the canyon, thoughts turning to the challenges soon to come. The hard rain slowly turned to intermittent drizzle which continued all night.

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