May - June 2003
One Bodacious Bounce
By Scott Daniels
When Scouts and Venturers go down Idaho's Lower Salmon River, they hang on tight for 49 roaring rapids and one bodacious bounce.
They heard it long before they could see it, the distant white noise whisper of water rushing over rocks. It grew louder as they cinched their caps, gripped their paddles, and wedged a foot somewhere tight in the raft. Everyone heard it, except for Terry De Camp, Venturer Marie De Camp's mother.
"What is it?" asked Terry De Camp, alarm in her voice.
Marie quickly put down her paddle. "We're coming up on another rapid," she signed. "Get ready to paddle hard and don't stop until we're through it."
"Is it a four?" De Camp asked her daughter, anxiously.
"No, a three," flashed Marie's hands, indicating the scale of difficulty assigned to rapids.
Then suddenly the Venturers from Portland, Ore., were in the middle of it, bucking wildly in the splash and spray of Bodacious Bounce, one of 50 rapids on their trip down Idaho's Lower Salmon River.
Finally, when they had reached calm water again, Crew 603 raised their paddles high overhead, the blades touching to form a tepee. It was the crew's celebration of another successful run.
The BSA's Inland Northwest Council, headquartered in Spokane, Wash., runs trips down the Lower Salmon River as part of its summer high adventure program for older Scouts and coed Venturing crews. Joining the Crew 603 teens on this trip were boys from Varsity Scout Team 206 and Venturing Crew 206 of Richland, Wash.
Guides Rachel Wickham and Ian McKelvey made the five-day, 73-mile float a learn-as-you-go experience.
"This is a great river for people who have never gone whitewater rafting," said Wickham. "The first day you have some easy paddling and go through a couple of Class I and II rapids. The second day you run some Class III rapids, and by Wednesday you're ready for the Class IV's."
But there was more to learn about the Lower Salmon than its powerful hydraulics. The first humans in the area were Native Americans who made their homes in the canyons 11,400 years ago. On Tuesday morning, Ian McKelvey took the rafters on a short hike to view a set of pictographs painted on rocks high above the river.
The designs, which looked like stick figures with sunshine ray heads, were red in color, most likely drawn with paint made by grinding iron oxide with oil and resin. Their meaning, however, is a mystery. They might have represented a special event or served as a trail marker.
Another hike later in the day led to the ruins of a stone house, nearly obscured by tall grasses. Between 1870 and 1900, Chinese immigrants came to the area in search of gold. They built the simple rock structures near the river and tried to make a go of the mining. But they had little luck.
"They say the Salmon River has a ton of gold in it," mused Wickham. "The only problem is that it's mostly flake and not worth the cost of mining."
The river's pool and drop naturestretches of calm water punctuated by adrenaline-charging rapids like Roller Coaster, Demon's Drop, and Lorna's Luluwas just the ticket for the Richland, Wash., boys.
"I presented them several high adventure activities back in the fall," said Brent Gneiting, a committee member for both the team and crew. "The group didn't want to do anything too strenuous, so they said whitewater rafting sounded like fun, especially in the summer when it's pretty hot."
And boy was it hot.
Temperatures soared to 105 degrees, but the antidote was as close as the river. Sandy Neuburger, Crew 603's Advisor, handed out several Cool Collar neckbands for people to dip into the river and tie around their neck. Made from a strip of sewn material, the collars contained crystals that expanded when soaked in water and then kept refreshingly cool. Of course, there were other ways to beat the heat. Frequent splash fights between rafts and the occasional dip over the side provided instant relief.
Each afternoon the group pulled ashore at one of the river's white sand beaches to make camp. Some campers constructed impromptu sun shades by propping up empty rafts, lean-to fashion, with their paddles. Others passed the time before and after dinner with swims in the river.
After breakfast Wednesday, guides McKelvey and Wickham briefed the group on what lay ahead: two of the river's biggest hurdles, Class IV rapids Snow Hole and China. Located at opposite ends of a large oxbow, both rapids required skill and strong paddling to avoid capsizing, warned the leaders.
"On Snow Hole you have a gigantic hole that's sucking you down," said Wickham. "It looks like there may be two ways through, but at the bottom there's a large rock on the left that you can't get by. Stay to the right."
"China," said McKelvey, "comes up after a blind curve. There are holes everywhere, and you have to hug the left shore all the way down."
When the crews reached Snow Hole, they went ashore to scout their route. Then Wickham gave them a last bit of advice. "Put your shoulder out and paddle through the waves," she said. "Grab for the water, dig in, and follow the boat in front of you."
One by one, the rafts pulled out of the eddy, entered the current, and lined up for Snow Hole. In a rapid follow-the-leader formation, all six rafts shot through the froth with screams and hollers. No one went swimming.
The process was repeated at China, and again there were no mishaps. The river's toughest challenges were now behind them.
"I was so scared and nervous," admitted Marie De Camp. "But it was over so fast. All I can remember thinking was, 'Oh, good, we didn't flip over.'"
And then it was as though someone turned off the faucet. Near the entrance to Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, the Lower Salmon flows into the Snake River. The combined water volume, spread through a wider channel, effectively killed any current.
"We call this section of the trip 'Snake Lake,'" said Wickham.
Aggravated by a head wind, paddling became slow and tiring. The only consolation was the beautiful view of Hells Canyon.
Then two events rejuvenated both body and spirit. The first was a stop at Cherry Creek, where everyone who was brave enough stood at the bottom of a 25-foot-tall waterfall and braced for its bone-chilling cascades. The second was a visit to Cache Creek Ranch, a ranger station operated by the U.S. Forest Service. Beneath the shade of apple, fig, and plum trees, the teens sprawled across a soft grass lawn to rest and stretch their aching back and shoulder muscles.
The group reached its take-out the next day at noon. Many would remember the trip for its quiet remoteness and breathtaking rapids. But for Marie De Camp, the journey meant much more. It forged a new respect for her mom.
"I never thought this was something I could do with my mom because she is deaf," said Marie. "I always thought she'd be limited in high adventure activities. Even though this might have been harder for her than for others and she might have been a bit more scared, it made me realize that she can do things just as well as I can."
Scott Daniels is the executive editor of Scouting magazine.
May-June 2003 Table of Contents
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