Run the Clear (yo!): Packrafting the Selway

Saturday morning M dropped (from left) Luc Mehl, myself, and Forrest McCarthy off at Hoodoo Lake high in the Selway wilderness.  It was chilly at well over 6k.  We enjoyed a nice hike on horse trails with stunning views of the Bitterroot crest and Moose Creek valley, which is really big for being cut by a creek.  One more demonstration of how arbitrary the appelations creek and river are.  We had hoped to float at least some of Moose Creek, but that did not happen.  It looked like this about 12 miles above the Selway:

A pretty stream, but too bony and spread out for low water floating.  We could have battled our way down the last 4-5 miles without too much trouble, but that late in the day getting wet for such slow and hard work didn’t seem worthwhile. 

Our feet got tired walking so much hardpacked downhill trail, and we all three spent time talking about what a great mountain bike trail it would be.  Yet it’s a fantastic hike, with a good trail and nice creek nearby, but the main thing it has to recommend it are the old growth Cedar groves.

Miles and miles of them.

They felt like the big groves in Redwoods National Park, but with a backcountry feel which that little park lacks, with its huge well-trodden trails and proximity to the road.  I’d go back to hike the trees and fish the creek, easily.  (There were tons of big trout in the Selway, but fishing and serious rafting are a slow combo, and I left the rod at home.)

We made camp by the bridge just south of the airstrip, cooked dinner, and crashed out.  Luc established his status as crazy Alaskan rock eating mofo by not bringing a sleeping bag, and sleeping out around the fire in continuous drizel, wearing puffy pants, jacket and paddling pants, jacket.  Forrest and I brought bags and slept in the ‘mid (leaving room for Luc which went unused; last week Luc spent 3 days mountain biking 300 miles from Great Falls to Missoula, also without a sleeping bag (or I presume shelter), the lower 48 is just that t/lame).

This is what the river looked like at 650-700 cfs, from the airstrip bridge.

Sunday morning dawned cool and drizzly.  We suited up, ate, and brewed Forrest’s backcountry turbo mocha to get us psyched (cowboy coffee and swiss miss w/ mini-mallows, Luc and I agreed that the ultra version would add sweetened condensed milk).

At our low flows the 22 river miles to Selway Falls and the takeout did not come quickly.  The last half had a few surprisingly burly rapids, but lots of slow flatwater paddling, too.  Packrafts do not go fast, and even making them go medium takes a lot of effort.  Well before the end of the day my arms were shot.

The whole run was brilliant, the water crystal clear, the rocks beautiful, the contrast between dry ponderosa on the north wall and Cedar-moss PCNW rainforest the south wall delightful.  And the rapids were for me perfect.  We all ran everything, no one swam, and we onsighted everything in the moose juice (first seven miles from Moose Creek down) section without getting out to scout.  Double drop was just fun, ladle was a dispersed eddy hoping rock garden, but the last drop on Little Niagara was the biggest thing I’ve yet run.  Thanks to my tail gunning and watching Luc and Forrest’s line, I nailed the left to right pivot-deflection of a rock and onto the center chute.  It felt good.  Forrest and Luc agreed that 2-3 of the drops merited class IV, and both had hoped for a little more push and a little more spice.   I was mentally closer to my limit, and it fatigued along with my arms as the day went on.  All through the upper half I was always on my line, but on the lower drops minorly bungled things a few times.  Fortunately in lower, technical water packrafts are like full-sus 29ers: so long as you keep it pointed in the right direction and don’t take any line that’s too stupid, you’ll bounce and mow right on through.

The sun never did come out, the drizzle came back a few times, and a down-canyon wind kicked up late in the afternoon.  By the time we took out right above Selway Falls we were all stiff, cold, and tired.  Ready to dry out and go find a cheeseburger.  Selways Falls was very impressive, and impressively miss-named.  It’s not a waterfall at all, but a 2-300 meter long class VI created by a series of garage to apartment building sized boulders.  The boulders are gorgeous, white and black and heavily metamorphasized granite, and the rapid features many burly drops with big holes (even at our flows) one 25 footer, and several different evil-looking seives.  Good roadside spectation.

M scooped us up, we found that the 3 Rivers Lodge makes a fine double cheeseburger (with orange and white American cheeses!), and has one of the weakest salad bars I’ve ever seen.  We made the drive back to Missoula doing what we had been doing the whole trip: talking about packrafting trips, the ultimate packraft, bike-rafting, mountain biking, backcountry skiing, gear, and future trips.  Some of which I imagine we’ll be making together.   All in all a solid weekend.


6 responses to “Run the Clear (yo!): Packrafting the Selway”

  1. Ahh, sweet envy here. Want to do that, too. Maybe next year……

  2. Luc going in classic mode on a friendly packrafting trip. funny.

  3. ok this is getting more and more inspiring with each of your trip reports…keep it comin'!ed and i had the same, never-ending conversation on our 21mile hike in wilderness this weekend: this would succulently sweet mountain biking…. pure and simple.but alas….the shoes: so far so good. i am taking a different pair the next hike just to see if my feet ache less. pounding-wise: these squichy thing are kinda sweet. and they seem to have sticky, sticky traction. i like the uber low ankle. i like the uber wide sole. i do not like my FEET. ;-) but they've been spoiled by hard-soled sidi's and dansko clogs for YEARS…. squishy is new.anyway. LOVELY write up.jj

  4. J, that's totally it. I want new feet that don't ache after 25 miles. (Actually if my feet were properly trained this summer they wouldn't, but the achilles doesn't permit that much hiking).This was a good trip.

  5. […] I first met Luc Mehl way back in August of 2010, when I was living in Missoula, Luc came down to visit his brother, and thanks to the wonders of the ‘net and friends of friends we met up with Forrest McCarthy and packrafted the Selway. […]

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