Friday, June 22, 2007

Little North Fork of the Clearwater

Ryan Scott in the midst of Body Bag, day 3.

The Little North Fork of the Clearwater flows in a roundabout path south then west out of the wilds of Northern Idaho before reaching it's final resting place under the placid water of Dworshak Reservoir. This 30 mile run begins 30 miles south of Avery, ID, on a tiny mountain stream.

James Black of Spokane arranged this trip, overcoming significant shuttle challenges with the help of Steve Pugh and Andy Bright. The day before launch, Andy and Steve drove to the takeout and left a rig, a solid 6 hour ordeal. Jim rode in with us and got the rig back out, making this a painless trip -- thanks everyone!

Friday morning, we all met up and got underway. The drive in is a beautiful one. We were close to excellent Idaho staples Granite and Slate Creek, as well as seeing portions of the scenic St. Joe. After a brief encounter with a logging truck chasing a moose down the road, we arrived at the putin. The first several miles are gentle gravel bars nestled in subalpine forest, and with many wood portages following the brutal storms of the past winter.

Andy Bright, above a typical portage on the upper section.

We putin above Montana Creek, at the end of the road as the bridge had been
damaged by high water. All the portages were quick one log affairs, except one longer mess mentioned on the AW
. Flow at the putin was no more than 100 cfs.

Ryan surfs his gear boat while James waits below.

Steve Pugh enjoying the solidifying river bed.

We reached camp just above Canyon Creek, and enjoyed a lovely bench up off the water in the trees. Steve went to work on his cracked Gradient, and we all looked forward to inflow in the coming miles.

We quickly reached Canyon Creek on day 2, and found a beautiful side canyon, easily large enough to be runnable. The Lil North Fork changed character pretty sharply here, as the river bed solidified, the trail began to climb away from the river, and the forested slopes became steeper and the forest older. The river makes a long straight line southwest here, and we found much more interesting water in this section, which was full of tributaries, class III riffles, and one of two more significant drops.

Fishin' hole on the LNF

James lands the first fish of the day. The secret? Worms!

James, Steve, and Andy were enjoying the diversions of a backcountry trout stream, while Ryan and I paddled ahead, making quick time through this beautiful canyon.

Ryan enjoys a drop in the lovely inner canyon, day 2.

We had only one portage day 2, which could have been ducked. Luckily, we stopped though, and encountered a magnificent bull elk. He wasn't too concered about us, and hung out for several minutes. I couldn't get the cameras without spooking him, but it was one of the best wildlife encounters I've been lucky enough to experience.

Bull Elk in retreat.

While the rest of the group was fishing, Ryan and I reached the lake at Body Bag, the crux drop on the LNFC. After a quick scout, we paddled back up to the island above the drop and napped until the boys showed up.

Body Bag from the air. Photo by James Black

Camp at slide island. Photo by James Black

Ryan awoke near dusk and decided to run a quick lap on the Bag before dinner, so Andy and I paddled down to gawk. Ryan had clean lines through the ledge holes and eddied out above the runout to get in one more lap in his light boat.

Looking at Body Bag from the top

Ryan bags it

The next morning the rest of portaged while Ryan dropped in again.

Lap 2 on the bag. Photos by James Black

The river dramatically changes character from Body Bag down. This lower several miles is very fun III-IV with loads of slots, boofs, holes, and logjams. We briefly scouted a few of the more congested drops, but everything was very clean and busy and fun. What a great section to end a trip!

Ryan below the Bag

Steve picks his way downstream

We arrived at the takeout all too soon, after many fun drops. Andy rallied us out of the canyon into the lovely metropolis of Clarkia, and even kept all the boats on the rig.

Lucky to have all the boats. Photo by James Black

We launched with flows at 3100, taking off with flows at 2700 on the North Fork Clearwater. This was actually a nice amount of water in the lower section. If there's lots of water at the top, be ready for some big water in the lower canyon.