The drizzly rain turned to snow as we rounded the muddy corner down to the Boundary Creek put-in. It was an early Spring morning, I had a good caffeine buzz in my veins and despite the snow, I was actually feeling a little relieved. Relieved that the old Jeep was able to get from Boise to the put-in with a heavy trailer full of gear, relived that the cold weather was holding off the inevitable high water season on the Middle Fork of the Salmon and relieved to be out of the office.
After three years with AIRE, I’m little embarrassed to admit that this particular Middle Fork trip was my very first time rowing a Cataraft. (Heresy, I know.) With a background in paddle guiding and kayaking, I had never taken the opportunity to row a Cat, or row much at all really.
Put-ins are, by nature, a pain and specifically designed to suck the patience right out of you, the Boundary Creek put-in is no exception. Yet, on this particular morning I was more focused on the beautiful red Wave Destroyer then on the two inches of mud I was standing in to rig up my light load. As the boat and I were belayed down the world’s steepest ramp, I thought to myself, “It will be ok if you flip this trip, you are new at catarafting, people flip all the time. You have warm gear on, it will be ok”.
We had arrived at the put-in early in the morning with the intention of getting a few miles covered, that intention was slowly dashed out. Some of our crew decided to take, what they thought was a short cut trail that was marked, “don’t take this trail” after parking the vehicles. (This further confirmed my theory that the good people of Utah sometimes have a hard time paying attention to details. I first came up with this theory when I did a repair return for a very nice Utah man who, somehow, managed to run over his wifes kayak with a lawn mower). Hours later, after they scrambled around the other side of the ridge in neoprene booties and after we had sent the forest rangers to look for them, they finally came trudging down the trail to the put-in. I was going to unleash my red-headed rage on them, but they looked like a bunch of starving wet cats, so I saved the red-head for the river. We did one mile that first day, they did the dishes that night.
The Middle Fork was flowing around 4-5 feet (thank you, oh great river gods) and the Wave Destroyer was awesome. My first few miles were spent fumbling with the oars and trying to reposition the seat so I could row and have somewhere to put my feet. As I was thrashing around, the Cataraft just floated over everything.
Instead of rowing really hard as I drop into the meat of Velvet Falls, I froze and thought, “here is my flip”, after a few seconds of side surfing the Wave Destroyer spit right out, upright, much to my surprise. I manage to completely miss the move in Tappen Falls and, well, went into the hole sideways, again I made it out upright. My rowing skills and confidence improved daily and the Wave Destroyer performed as if I was a seasoned pro. By the last day of the trip, the rain let up, the sun broke out and I was able to put that boat where I wanted it, styling the lines and taking big hits.
This Cataraftn’ rookie didn’t find herself in the icy spring runoff that trip, not because of skill, but because of the meticulous engineering that went into the design of the Wave Destroyer…(and the river not getting stupid huge).