Pro-Tip: Low Water Advice for the Middle Fork
I regularly get phone calls and emails from rafters looking for advice on running the Middle Fork of the Salmon at low water. July and August are considered "low water" season when the river drops below 2.2 feet. My general advice is to fly people and gear into the Indian Creek Airstrip and do a 6-7 day trip on the remaining 75 miles.
Everyone pretty much ignores this advice because they want to see the entire 100 miles and avoid the added cost of air flights. If you choose to run the 100 miles below 2.2 feet, then here are some tips:
Low Water Tips
- Your team should be physically fit Class IV boaters capable of pushing boats off rocks and excited for long, hard days on the river. This will not be a relaxing trip.
- The first 20 miles before Pistol Creek and Indian Creek add flow are the most difficult. Your boats should be super soft in this part of the river so your boat's shape can change and go over shallow rocks. The higher your pressure the more you'll get stuck.
- You will be getting out in the water to push your raft. Wear solid river shoes with soles that grip on wet rock. I like Astral Water Shoes.
- Bigger boats are generally better than smaller boats. This seems counterintuitive, but it works since the weight is spread evenly across a bigger surface area keeping the boat from being too deep in the water. I've been in a 22' sweep boat and gotten through places where 12' boats have gotten stuck.
- Cat boats aren't necessarily better than rafts. The upside of catarafts is that they can pontoon (go over) rocks. The downside is that cat tubes sit lower in the water so they are more likely to get stuck in shallow rocks. I'd personally prefer a big, deflated raft over a cataraft for low water.
- There are some specific low water lines that you need to take below 1.9 feet. If you don't know them, then prepare to get stuck pretty good at least a couple of times. If your group doesn't know these lines, then plan on at least 7 full days and lots of pushing boats off rocks.
If you're planning to do the whole 100 miles at low water, then take big boats, run them soggy, and go with a team of skilled boaters who are physically fit. Your other option is to fly into Indian Creek and enjoy a nicely paced, fun trip! We generally fly our Middle Fork guests into Indian Creek below 2.1 feet because it makes the trip more enjoyable.
There are guides who have more great advice for low water on the Middle Fork. If you're one of those, please don't hesitate to leave more advice in the comment section below.