Friday, April 11, 2008

Boaters beware: More logs on Middle Fork

Last year’s wildfires and heavy snowfall create new hazards

Express Staff Writer

Boaters bound for the Middle Fork of the Salmon River this summer should expect logs to be present along the fabled river's 100-mile length, officials with the Salmon-Challis National Forest are warning.

With springtime beginning in the rugged Central Idaho wilderness, the impacts from last year's wildfires that burned through the Middle Fork country along with last winter's heavy snowpack are becoming apparent.

All this will combine to send more woody debris into the river, a news release says.

"Early indications from Forest Service personnel are that many logs are present in the upper section of the Middle Fork above Pistol Creek," said Middle Fork District Ranger Tom Montoya.

Logs that enter the river this year have the potential to move downriver as flows increase and may pile up at narrow or constricted points, causing dangerous logjams in the Middle Fork, according to Montoya.

After the massive 2005-2006-snow year, a similar situation caused a massive logjam at the Pistol Creek Rapid.

Boaters who were already on the river were stopped cold by the 50-by-30-foot logjam that blocked the full width of the powerful Middle Fork. The massive pile of large and small logs and other woody and rocky debris had arrived in the Middle Fork's main channel on the back of a powerful blowout originating in the trailless Lake Creek side drainage.

After pouring out of Lake Creek into the Middle Fork, the logjam eventually lodged itself tightly into a winding, serpentine section of the river just downstream at the Pistol Creek Rapid. After two days, explosives experts from the Forest Service placed charged to blow the stubborn logjam apart so more than 25 rafts could resume their downstream journey.

Montoya said boaters are required to have permits to float the Middle Fork and that it is the responsibility of every boater to be aware of conditions on the river and take appropriate precautions.

"That includes being heads-up and scouting the river ahead for hazards," he said.

Being prepared for wilderness rivers like the remote Middle Fork also means packing light and rigging boats for potential portages or lining around hazards, he said.

The full length of the Middle Fork, a designated Wild River under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, falls within the sprawling 2.4-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, the largest contiguous wilderness area in the United States outside of Alaska. Montoya said that means the Forest Service is obligated to manage the Middle Fork for its wild character.

Although they did so during the 2006 summer, Montoya said the agency would not be clearing obstacles from the river to assure passage for boaters.

In addition to logs and snags in the river, Forest Service officials say some Middle Fork campsites experienced significant fire activity last year. Boaters are urged to be cautious as to where they place kitchen and sleeping areas by doing a thorough walk through their campsite and looking for trees that show evidence of fire.

The Forest Service does have plans to evaluate trees in the significantly fire-impacted Johns, Dome Hole, Lake Creek and Greyhound campsites.

The Forest Service reminds people that springtime boating also means high water flows and very cold water. Officials say boaters should "Rig to Flip-Dress to Swim" when floating springtime rivers. This means every boater should be dressed appropriately for bad weather or sudden immersion in water.

When water temperature is less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit, a wetsuit or drysuit with

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