Monday, June 4, 2007

The Smith River Story - 2007

CAST OF CHARACTERS: Jeff and Me, Holli Nicknair(an old and dear friend from Houlton, Maine living in Portland, OR), Jeff Cohen (Holli's partner), Angel & Dan Bordner (wonderful friends and neighbors!), Matt Hisel (one of the first people I met in Missoula - moved here the same year as I did 1997), Erick Tombre (Also one of the first friends I made in Missoula, and was my housemate for a couple years over on the Northside), Steve Hoffmann & Kathleen Allen (friends of Erick's originally, but they are a fixture on these trips whenever they can go, and we consider them friends also), Mike Sell (friend of ours Jeff met through work when he first moved to Missoula), Jamie (Mike's gal), Ryan Boehme (new friend we met through Ryan's dad), Scott Gil (Ryan's friend), and Jason Kindseth (Kathleen & Steve's friend).

The weather started out a little ominous, to say the least. Holli, her Jeff (Cohen) and I headed over to Camp Baker hours before everyone else arrived in order to save a place in line. First come, first served, as far as the camp sites on the 60 mile stretch of the highly sought after Smith River!..

By the time we set up our tents and threw the bags, and pads inside it had started raining, and it continued through the preparation of dinner on the Coleman stove. The three of us hunkered down in the Subaru to eat our hot meal.

When we woke up the morning we launched there was snow falling on our tent. I didn't get any sleep at all the night before since the NEMO tent without the fly was a total disaster. I felt like we were starting the trip out on the wrong foot....all wet!

It was quite serendipitous that Erick and Mike both brought an extra tent. We borrowed one and were all set for the rest of the trip, although the weather improved greatly once we pushed off from Camp Baker and started the trip!

The river was more breathtaking than I had remembered from 2000.....starting out with red-orange cliffs intermingled with the trees high above the river bed....then as we progressed through that first day it turned to exposed rock cliff rising straight out of the river on one side or another or both. The water was much higher and muddier and therefore a lot faster. The miles seemed to roll by!

Jeff and I slipped into that Old Town like we were born to canoe! Jeff was in the back and I in the front. The first part of the day we communicated a lot about which side we ought to take in a particular section, but after a while it became more a ritual than a necessity. We could read each others' minds after a while... Although there were times when I wasn't paying attention since I was looking at something on the shore or daydreaming...and not looking at that upcoming "sleeper" (that's what we call that a hidden rock just under the water's surface that is sometimes difficult to see until you get close). We had some quick maneuvering out of the front of the boat to make some sudden corrections. Not too many problems though. The canoes were able to stay pretty close to each other but we stopped a few times along the side to make sure everyone (including the rafts) caught up for lunch. As the morning turned to afternoon the layers started coming off and it was t-shirt weather by the time we got to our first campsite.

We stayed at "Canyon Depth"(Mile 16.9) since we heard that it was the "best campsite on the river". Jason and I were both cringing when we were warned by the ranger that it would be extremely muddy....but we figured we would take our chances, and if anyone was to blame we would both would take the fall. Anyway, it was a pretty site with no mud at all. It was a perfect place to set up our tents and dry out stuff from the night before (which was everything - for Jeff and I)... Dan and Angel pulled out and set up what we like to call the hotel. It was this huge tent fit to sleep 8 people or more, but they filled it with a super thick (like, 3 feet thick) Queen sized mattress! It was amazing! I couldn't believe my eyes, I had to try it out! Sheer comfort on the river.

On these river trips I am always interested to see what other people bring. This posh hotel may top the list, but there is always something new that I learn that I would like to bring next time, or that I the dish pans. I meant to bring ours - but by luck, Scott and Ryan brought two.

For the trip we split up into three dinner groups, like we do on all our Memorial weekend floats. Since there were 15 of us, 5 in each group. The first night Jeff (My Jeff), Dan, Angel, Mike and Jamie made spaghetti, a fresh salad and Italian bread warmed on the fire. It was perfect! We sat around the campfire and got acquainted....since everyone didn't know each other. I actually had only met Jason once (at the river meeting) and had never met Scott. Very interesting folks. I was in my element on the river surrounded by old friends and new...under a clear night sky. My soul was singing.

As our ritual of camp started and continued through the trip was that we were in no rush to get out of camp in the morning. We rekindled our campfire and Scott and Ryan who are both in the food business (Scotty owns/operates Scotty's Table a delicious little cafe on the hip strip in Missoula, and Ryan is part owner and operator of Bravo Catering, a successful catering business in Missoula). Jeff and I warmed up burrito contents on the Coleman and threw it in a cold tortilla - it was somewhat repulsive compared to Ryan and Scotty's absolutely gourmet breakfast. They spared no detail, and were lacking nothing when it came to the food, and they didn't have to worry about space since they had plenty of room in the raft. The first, but certainly not the last thing that I was impressed with was when they handed me a 4 or 5 lb bag of shredded cheddar cheese that first morning on the river.

The last boat (us - we like to do a sweep of the site) off the shore was on the river between 10:30 - 11:00am that morning. This second day was gorgeous! It got up to 75 or 80 degrees during the day and when we landed at our next campsite a few of us even took a swim! I didn't really mean to but I slipped on this patch of mud on the edge of the river and my mind was made up for me. "Upper Fraunhofer" (mile 35.4) was right next to this meadow which was filled with every sort, color, size and shape wildflower.

That night the dinner group was Erick, Kathleen, Steve, Jason & Matt. They made gumbo which was AWESOME! That night we had lots of fun at the campfire and I feel like it was our last official night on the river since it didn't rain and everyone wanted to stay up late.

The next morning - like clockwork - the geese started making quite a racket squawking up and down the river. It was a great wakeup call since Erick, Holli and I had planned to go hiking the next morning up to an overlook that we could see from the campsite. I captured more shots of wildflowers in that one outing than I have in a lifetime! It was an amazing little walk. Holli kept wanting to turn back, but we kept convincing her that it would all be worth it 'just around the corner'. She is glad she kept with it since the overlook to the campsite above the river was gorgeous! We yodeled a little and everyone in our group could see us as little specks of dust on the top of this cliff! It was pretty neat.

For our last FULL day on the river we had a few tricky spots where if you weren't paying attention you would end up in the drink...if you were in a canoe... Jeff and I did ok but there were a couple other boats that didn't fare so well. One of the casualties was Holli and Jeff. They went in when they were trying to get back into their boat after a break along the bank. Erick and Matt also went in - partly because of Cooper who was a little freaked out when there was a sudden shift or quick movement to correct the direction of the boat.

There was a rapid (the only one labeled on the map) at the end of the day - that led us to our final campsite (Lower Givens Gulch - 47.2mi). Once we got settled in I tried making some sushi for an appetizer but the rain started. Angel tried using an umbrella to help shelter me from the wind and rain that was coming in - but we ended up moving the sushi making affair to her big tent! It was perfect in there! Thanks Angel and Dan! By the time I was done making that the rain had subsided a little and the rest of the night's dinner crew were making dinner. The dinner crew consisted of Holli, Jeff (C), Ryan, and Scott. We made roasted red pepper soup and fahitas. "We" is a loose term here, since all I did was roll a few sushi apps.....Ryan and Scott did the rest. Oh, I guess I cut up a few avacados and Holli stirred the soup. Jeff and I did the dishes.

That night it rained off and on but by morning things had cleared up and we paddled the rest of the trip out to the Eden bridge take-out - about 11 miles downstream.

It was a wonderful weekend! Thanks to everyone for making it such a fun trip!

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