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Middle Fork, Salmon River. Idaho.

What makes time on a river so special? Most often it is that combination of good friends, wonderful meals, campsites on sand beaches, wildlife along the shore, the slow, strong pull of oars through the water, the exhilaration of rapids and flow, and the serenity of distant mountains, meandering currents, and swirling eddy lines.

Moving downstream! Middle Fork, Idaho.

For the past week, Stephanie and I experienced all of that and more on a seven day, six night trip down Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Throw in a wedding, being introduced to a dozen new lifelong friends, ninety-eight miles of wilderness solitude, and you have memories that will never fade.


This place, this river, embodies wildness and perseverance and connects a web of life that has existed since time immemorial. Legendary, iconic, one-of-a-kind all fall short. The Middle Fork is a river beyond words because it breathes life back into being human again, one life to another.

River Newe

Last Light Along the Shore! Middle Fork, Idaho.

Floating on the water, accompanied by a deep sense of beauty and solitude, living this life experience with close companions, your mind can’t help wandering, becoming introspective, and delving as deeply as the river you travel along. At some point, you reflect back on those who came before -- who called the Middle Fork Canyon home and who forged their lives, family and communities around the high peaks and flowing river.

Upstream View! Middle Fork, Idaho.

This river flows through the ancestral homelands of the Shoshone Bannock Tribes. The ‘New-uh’ (Shoshone for peoples) in the Sawtooth Mountains and along the Salmon River were mountain Shoshone, the Tukudeka, or mountain sheep-eaters. Unlike other Shoshone tribes, the Tukudeka did not use horses, spending summers in the high mountains and feeding on bighorn sheep, elk, and deer. The presence of the Tukudeka were with us for every mile, for each oar stroke, including their legends, myths, and stories.


Like the Menehune, pixie folk that live in forests and valleys in Hawaii, Irish leprechauns, and Patupaiarche, Māori myth from New Zealand (either small people or huge, depending on the story), the Shoshone and Bannock mythology includes the legend of the little people, the Nunumbi. Some small magical creatures are friendly, some not so much. For the Shoshone/Bannock the Nunumbi, also called Nimerigar, were dangerous man-eaters. Pretty sure we had the Nunumbi along with us every day on our trip!

Nunumbi? Middle Fork, Idaho.

It most likely was the low flow and abundance of sneaky, just-below-the-surface rocks on our first few days. If you paddle rivers, you know about the river gremlins who live to grab a paddle or oar, pop your spray skirt, or who push you off course into rocks, sieves, and pour-overs. These brownies, goblins, the Nunumbi of the Middle Fork, were everywhere at the start of our trip. One friend on our trip refers to these as “ninimbits.” We started talking about river sprites, then Nunumbi, then, after repeated frustration with pins and scrapes, we combined names and just called them nimrods. They must have forgiven us, as the flows picked up on day-three as side-creeks added volume, and the little people became more friendly, limiting their antics to splashing water, spinning us at just the right time in the bigger drops, and pushing us downstream in the flat water or in the face of a warm upstream wind. All part of the river experience, and glad to have them accompany us down the river.

Last Light! Middle Fork, Idaho.

The Middle Fork is one of the most beautiful multi-day river trips in the country. The river leaps downhill high in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, and then flows through the Salmon-Challis National Forest and the 2.3 million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area (“The Frank”), the second largest designated wilderness area in the lower 48 states.

Goldenrod! Middle Fork, Idaho.

Beautiful and wild! Each day, it was easy to see why the Middle Fork Salmon was one of the original eight rivers designated in the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System (October 2, 1968). Ten-years later, then-President Jimmy Carter took his family down the Middle Fork, and two years later, on July 23, 1980, Carter signed the Central Idaho Wilderness Act including the River of No Return Wilderness. Congress renamed the area in 1984 in honor of Idaho Senator Frank Church, a champion of wild rivers and wild lands. Among his many accomplishments, Senator Church sponsored the National Wilderness Act in 1964, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in in 1968, and helped establish the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and the Sawtooth Wilderness and National Recreation Area.


“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

The Wilderness Act, 1964

Wilderness Gateway! Middle Fork, Idaho.

Stephanie and I were blessed to be back on this river, watching mink, bighorn sheep, mergansers, osprey, bald eagles, yellow-rumped warblers, trout, and a not-verified sighting of a potential kingfisher. Our first trip was some fifteen years ago, celebrating our 29th anniversary with our daughter, and, again, friends who shared our love of rivers. Like so many other river trips, last week defined again our need and appreciation for wildness, for free flowing waters, and for river friendships that never go away. We thank those who invited us, for those with the forethought and vision to permanently protect this wonderful place, for those who live here and came before us, and to the Nunumbi who shared their river, upped the excitement, and helped us along. For our friends who were married on the banks of the Middle Fork, may your life together flow over and around the rocks, together in one direction, and sharing your love of rivers, wilderness, and each other!

Traveling Home! Mountain Goats in Eastern Oregon.

Endnotes:

· Alaska’s Wrangell-Saint Elias, at 9,432,000.o acres is our largest wilderness area. Death Valley National Park contains the largest wilderness in the lower 48 states with over 3,190,400 acres. The Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area comes next with 2.3 million acres. However, The Frank is bordered to the north by the Gospel Hump Wilderness (206,053 acres) and the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness (1,347,644 acres).

· The Main Salmon River was called “The River of No Return” back in the early days when boats could navigate down the river but could not get back up through the fast water and numerous rapids. Guide to the Middle Fork and Main Salmon Rivers, Idaho.

· The Middle, Main and South Fork of the Salmon River flow free from dams for over 425 miles, second only to the Yellowstone (692 miles). But that doesn’t mean that man hasn’t tried to repeatedly dam the Salmon watershed and its tributaries. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers planned to build dams on the Salmon at the Black Canyon entrance (mile 20.6), Dillinger Creek (27.4), Growler Rapid (41.7) and the Pinnacle Peak site just a mile and a half below the Middle Fork confluence. Sunbeam Dam, on the Upper Salmon, was dynamited in 1934 to restore passage for chinook and sockeye salmon and steelhead that once ran all the way to the Salmon's headwaters. The Corps also proposed dams at Aparejo Point Rapids (mile 62.8) and the Lewis site (78.4) on the Middle Fork. Guide to the Middle Fork and Main Salmon Rivers, Idaho.

· It’s in places like Marsh Creek where the hope rests for spring chinook and other Northwest salmon. April 25, 2019.

· White House: To help salmon, lower Snake River dams may need to go. July 14, 2022



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Sunrise, Mount Rainier. Washington State.

Morning is magic! Waking up in the High Cascades, surrounded by Mount Rainier, Mount Saint Helens, Mount Adams, and an estimated 4,375 other named peaks. Add to those peaks an uncountable number of watersheds all making their way, flowing, and tumbling, downstream to the Pacific.

Sun up on Mount Saint Helens. Washington State.

Early morning is that special time of day known as Alpenglow, the golden hour, magic hour, and first light. All refer to the soft shadows and vibrant colors that come from indirect sunlight reflected or diffracted by the atmosphere before sunrise or after sunset. That reflection and diffraction is what makes the day start with breathtaking and enchanted light, color, and shadow. Pure magic.

Mount Adams Alpenglow. Washington State.

It is a great time of day for photography, but not always easy to experience. For my June images of Rainier, I was up and out by 3:30 am and headed to Sunshine Ridge. I barely made it. Frustrating to be close but not there as the blue hour arrives, a different but equally wonderful time that introduces (sunrise) or closes out (sunset) the golden hours. Too often on this trip, end of day found me in the valley or among the trees, and I completely missed several sunsets. And then of course, sunrise and sunset sometimes fizzle out. I carried my camera and tripod down to catch the evening light on the Ohanapecosh River, only to have the light just quietly fade away into darkness. Of course, watching the light fade off the river was special in itself, and a great way to end any day.

Light in the Mountains! Sunrise Ridge, Washington State.

The High Cascades, or Cascade Range, extends from southern British Columbia through Washington and Oregon to Northern California and is part of the Pacific Ocean’s Ring of Fire (South America, North America, and Kamchatka in Russia). It includes nearly twenty major volcanos, with twelve volcanos over 10,000 feet in height. This Range is an eight hundred mile chain with close to three thousand volcanic features. Rainier, Saint Helens, Glacier Peak, Crater Lake, Mount Jefferson, and others have erupted over the past four thousand years. On some days, from here in Bellingham, you can see a small plume of smoke above Mount Baker.

Incoming Clouds. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington State.

All of the images in this set capture the magic hours of sunup and sundown and are all located in the broader Cascadia Bioregion.

“Cascadia – the evocative name of a region, an idea, a movement – wild and free. Defined by the waters flowing from the Continental Crest through the headwaters of the Pacific.”

Cascadiabioregion.org

Mount Shuksan, Mt. Baker Wilderness. Washington State.

In this area, the interaction between rivers and mountains has really defined the Pacific Northwest. A dataset for rivers in the Cascadia Bioregion identifies 40,081 steams, covering 285,000 miles. In addition to the Cascade Range mentioned above, the bioregion also includes parts of Idaho, southern Alaska, and northern California through the watersheds of the Columbia, Fraser, and Snake River Valleys. This bioregion stretches over 2,500 miles of Pacific coastline and contains some of the largest tracts of untouched old growth temperate rainforests in the world.


“Cascadia… is a land of falling waters.”

“A region where rivers are knives, and glaciers, plows. A world in which water in all its forms animates everything, inscribing a living memory into the landscape. Water is the voice of this place, calling life into the land.”

Cascadia Institute

White Salmon River Sweet-Pea. Washington State.

Both the Cascade Range and Cascadia were first named for the many cascades along the Columbia River Gorge. Cascadia incorporates some of my favorite rivers, including the Nooksack here in Whatcom County, the Skeena, Stikine, Homathko, and Bella Coola rivers in British Columbia. It includes many rivers that have found their way into my photographs and stories such as the Skagit, Stillaguamish, Rogue, Deschutes, Umpqua, Cowlitz, and many more.


“Each mile on a river will take you further from home than a hundred miles on a road.”

Bob Marshall

Sunrise, Lake Padden. Whatcom County, Washington State.

Rivers in Cascadia are unique and produce some of the longest and most consistent seasons in the West. The western slopes get occasional summer rain, glaciers produce steady streams of ice melt in summer, and the porous volcanic rock allows rain and snowmelt to percolate into these rocks and reemerge through large, steady springs that nourish rivers all year long.


In addition to light and beauty, flowing water is always on my mind and a constant companion when I travel. Waterfalls, kingfishers, and moss draped bridges are a constant reminder of the close-held connection and relationship between the water and the land I am passing through. Always in the back of my mind is the role that water, and rivers have had in sculpting the Cascades and my home here in the Northwest. Home and rivers -- synonymous for all of my adult life. Water and flow – inspiration and another wonderful form of magic.

Final Blush, Salish Sea. Washington State.


End Notes:

· Bioregions are defined through watersheds and ecoregions, with the belief that political boundaries should match ecological and cultural boundaries, and that culture stems from place.

· I found much of the information on Cascadia on the Cascadia Department of Bioregion website. It has a ton of great information and I encourage you to check it out. I’ve provided links to most information but have made changes to fit within this blog. Again, more detailed information is available at cascadiabioregion.org

· The Rivers in Cascadia paragraph was taken with changes and abbreviations from the Pacific Northwest section of Western Whitewater, from the Rockies to the Pacific by Jim Cassidy, Bill Cross, and Fryar Calhoun. You can purchase a copy on Amazon by following this link.

· My next blog may be a few days late. Stephanie and I are off to spend a week on the Wild & Scenic Middle Fork Salmon in Idaho. Time with good friends and one of the most beautiful and amazing river trips in the world.



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“I am haunted by waters.”

Norman MacLean, A River Runs Through It

Goat Island Mountain, just east of Mount Rainier. Washington State.

Early spring a year ago, I got the travel bug and decided I would go to the Mount Rainier (Tahoma), Mount Adams (Klickitat), and Mount Saint Helens (Loowit) area to take some late winter/snow images.


Maybe not the brightest idea I have ever had! Winter is serious business in the Cascades, and it lasts a long time. I found closed roads and passes (ice and snow) and campgrounds (ice, snow and Covid), as well as closed gas stations and restaurants. Even the rest areas along the major highways were closed, and while Rainier National Park was open, it was only open for about five miles until a gate, backed by about eight feet of snow, blocked all access. Getting up high and over to the other peaks was likewise impossible.

Mount Adams from Conboy Lake NWR. Washington State.

So, the week before this past 4th of July summer holiday, I headed back. I found closed and/or impassable roads and passes (ice/snow/multi-million dollar maintenance backlogs). I found not closed, but full campgrounds (kind of expected for a long holiday). My bad! I do live here, and I know there is a reason that Cascade wildflowers will not bloom until late July and more often August. Winter lasts a long time in the mountains.

Big Spring Creek, small tributary to Lewis River. Washington State.

But I was happy as this trip took me back to places I had not seen in many years. I found myself travelling up along the White Salmon River in southern Washington State. I sidetracked to the past site of Condit dam (removed in 2011) which I, and my river conservation cohorts and many others helped restore. Driving upstream along the BZ, Green Truss, Farmlands, and Mt. Adams sections of the White Salmon. Then further up the river, to Trout Lake, where in 1995, while we were still living in Maryland, Stephanie, Danna and I visited the nearby Ape Cave, lava tubes, Mount Rainier’s Paradise overlook, and hiked on the back side of Mount Saint Helens a decade-and-a-half after the volcano erupted in 1980.

Foxglove morning along the Cispus River. Washington State.

I remember our first family visit to the Windy Ridge overlook at sunset (just five miles from Mount Saint Helens), with Danna asleep in the back of the rental car. She woke up to a fire-red sunset overlooking the demolished crater, and promptly freaked out. I hadn’t seen her that upset since she was four, when a forty-foot + beaver floated over our heads on the IMAX screen at the National Aerospace Museum back east. On this July trip the road to Windy Ridge was still buried under winter’s snow.


Heading north, I drove through Gifford Pinchot National Forest, crossed over Eckhart Point (4,592 feet), and then dropped down into the Lewis River watershed. Then north again over Elk Pass (4,080 feet) and into the Cispus and Chehalis River drainages. From there, I was headed to the Ohanapecosh River and another memory of one of my very first visits to Washington State.

Silver Falls, Ohanapecosh River. Washington State.

The Ohanapecosh is an absolutely stunning, amazing river, with its headwaters on the Ohanapecosh Glacier on Mount Rainier’s southeast side. The river got its name from the Taidnapum Indians who lived in the Cowlitz Valley. The word Ohanapecosh is believed to mean "standing at the edge."


“At any level, the canyon is beautiful beyond description. From crystal clear emerald waters, to big mossy cliffs, the river is a photographer’s dream.”

A Guide to the Whitewater Rivers of Washington. Jeff and Tonya Bennett.

Eastside Trail along Ohanapecosh River. Mount Rainier National Park. Washington State.

I first saw the river in the mid-1990’s. I had been working near Seattle on river conservation projects, and now on the weekend I was loading my kayak gear into a van along with Pete, Rick, Tom, and Mike. Pete and Rick were whitewater legends in the Pacific Northwest, Tom and Mike were good friends, and all four were expert boaters and much better than I – hugely better! But I was a good boater, with a ton of experience running rivers across the country, I would be paddling with a strong team of experts, and I was looking forward to a great day on the water in Washington.

Cispus River Watershed. Washington State.

Until they mentioned paddling the Ohanapecosh. I gulped “isn’t that a really hard, experts only, do-not-swim expedition run?” I knew the river dropped five hundred feet in roughly four miles and was way above my skill level. Listening to their tales of whitewater escapades on the drive, I quickly decided I was way out-of-my-league and would be running shuttle on this trip. The idea of a full day sitting quietly beside a new river got me calmed down.


That ended when we got to the put-in! The Ohanepecosh was absolutely the most beautiful river I had ever seen. The green waters were flowing, iridescent, and clear to the bottom of the river. The water downstream disappeared into the old growth forest of Douglas firs, western red cedars, and western hemlock, all surrounded by the beauty of Mount Rainier. Seeing it, it called to me, and I knew I had to paddle that river.

Chinook Pass, Cascade Range. Washington State.

To this day, it is one of the hardest, and most beautiful rivers I have ever paddled. The many large drops, the wonderful, beautiful, and continuous views and vistas that appeared with each horizon line (one after another, and another, and another…), the beautiful plunging whitewater capped with ice-cold froth!


Was it worth it? You bet! I had fun, I paddled with good friends and great paddlers, I got a million stories to tell, and I was blown away by the wildness and beauty of this incredible river with every stroke of my paddle.


Last week, my visit to the Ohanapecosh was much tamer, but none the less beautiful. I hiked the Eastside Trail into Silver Falls, which drops ninety-five feet in a narrow gorge (above the section we paddled years ago), I napped in the campground, and I spent the evening watching the sun set along the river. Hard to beat a day like that. Finally, on my last day, up and on the road by 3:30 am to catch the sunrise on Mount Rainier, with Mount Adams sharing that light to the south. Leaving the park, I ran into a heavy fog, then heavy traffic through Seattle, but the smile really never left my face. I am sure it will be weeks before the vison of those rivers and mountains fade away – and then it will be time to plan the next trip to somewhere wonderful or another place with a rich history and/or reminiscences.


End Notes:

  • If you plan to visit the Lewis River Recreation Area in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, be advised that you need a Northwest Forest Pass AND a reservation to access trailheads and day use areas, including viewing any of the Lewis River Waterfalls. Advanced reservations must be purchased on-line via Recreation.gov from June 15th to September 6th. The Recreation area is many hours from the nearest city or town, and there is no internet so you cannot get a reservation when you get there.

  • Various Native American names for Mount Rainier were "Tahoma", "Takhoma", "Ta-co-bet", and several others. The people of the Puyallup tribe have known the mountain as Tahoma or Tacoma since time immemorial. Native American names for Mount Adams are "Pahto" and "Klickitat". "Pahto" and "Wy'east" (Mount Hood, across the Columbia) vied for the favors of a beautiful maiden named "Loowit" (Mount St. Helens). A Gifford Pinchot National Forest "Mount St. Helens" Brochure (1980) tells the story: "Northwest Indians told early explorers about the fiery Mount St. Helens. In fact, an Indian name for the mountain, Louwala-Clough, means "smoking mountain". According to one legend, the mountain was once a beautiful maiden, "Loowit". When two sons of the Great Spirit "Sahale" fell in love with her, she could not choose between them. The two braves, Wyeast and Klickitat fought over her, burying villages and forests in the process. Sahale was furious. He smote the three lovers and erected a mighty mountain peak where each fell. Because Loowit was beautiful, her mountain (Mount St. Helens) was a beautiful, symmetrical cone of dazzling white. Wy’east (Mount Hood) lifts his head in pride, but Klickitat (Mount Adams) wept to see the beautiful maiden wrapped in snow, so he bends his head as he gazes on St. Helens."

Curley Creek Falls, Lewis River. Washington State.

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