The 2023 Middle Fork season was truly unforgettable. Not just because of the amazing people and the memories we made, but for the adversity we overcame together. We embarked on 21 remarkable trips this season, each unique and memorable in its own way.  The season began with a high-water training trip, was filled with outstanding fishing, fun whitewater, unpredictable storms, and an unprecedented number of airplane flights, finishing it up with an exploratory low water adventure through the new rapids on the upper river. Each journey was made special by our wonderful clients and the dedication of our exceptional guides.

A little flashback for context: As you may remember from our past newsletters or from personal experiences, our 2022 season was impacted by mudslides and blowouts on the upper Middle Fork of the Salmon. This natural calamity sent thousands of trees and even a massive steel pack bridge directly into the river. Kidd Youren, Kelsey’s husband, collaborated with the Forest Service to resolve this issue. The full saga can be read on our River News Blog: Damaged Ramshorn Bridge Removed from Middle Fork Salmon by the Helfrich Crew

Initially, after the bridge was removed from the river and secured last fall, spring’s high water decided to throw a curveball.  Flows redirected the river, and washed the bridge and the trees anchoring it back into the river channel. Kidd, with his brother Harry’s help, battled the elements to re-secure the bridge in the spring. Their effort this time was intensified by the challenging high flows and the barrage of trees floating downriver. But by early June, with Kidd, Ken, and many of our guides on the task, the bridge was successfully dismantled, and we began the process of removing it from the wilderness. This venture aligned with our early season training trip, providing our team with a firsthand experience of the new rapids and a 100-mile river run at high water.

The Middle Fork is a free-flowing river, and its volume can increase up to 50 times its low water flow.  The Middle Fork in the spring, with its lush greenery and wildflowers, is a sight to behold.  And the rapids? Simply thrilling! By the way, for those interested, we’re currently taking early June 2024 bookings!

Fast forward to mid-June, and our river trips were in full swing.  From the middle of June through early July we run trips starting from Stanley, floating our guests down all 100 miles of the Middle Fork.  Our skillful guides expertly navigated the new rapids, ensuring our guests enjoyed prime fishing and exhilarating white-water rafting. Although the water levels receded a tad sooner than we had hoped, we are accustomed to adapting to Mother Nature’s whims.

July did not disappoint and it was everything a Middle Fork July should be. As planned, with water levels naturally continuing to drop, our launch site shifted to the Indian Creek Airstrip, and guests got to kick off their expedition with a fun, 30-minute scenic flight to the river. As the season flowed on, the spirit of the Middle Fork remained undiminished – radiant sunshine, exciting rapids, vibrant wildflowers, and the joy of shared experiences.

However, come August, Mother Nature had a few more surprises in store. One afternoon, as our crew was driving to the Boundary Creek Boat Ramp, a heavy rainstorm let loose on the upper river. After launching the sweep boat down the 100+ foot ramp slide into the water, the crew ceased launching boats due to the quickly darkening color of the river.  As the crew waited and watched, the river was soon running thick mud and carrying large amounts of trees and woody debris. After our experience with river wide log jams last year, everyone was feeling wary about heading down stream. A reconnaissance mission resulted in the discovery of massive new landslides and log jams once again blocking the river. But with determination, our team rallied. With a monumental effort, the guides teamed up to hand pull the sweep boat back up the steep ramp.  At this point, the decision was made to dismantle all the gear and begin flying it to the Indian Creek Airstrip. Despite the huge amount of work involved, we only had to delay our trip by one day and successfully operated our trip as planned. Check out this video of the sheer effort of the crews pulling the sweep boat UP the Boundary Creek Ramp: Watch Video 

The challenges of the river blockages persisted into late August and September, requiring what felt like endless flights of gear to the river. In August alone, we transported 101 equipment loads into the backcountry. This logistical feat was achieved smoothly thanks to our diligent guides. On the final day of each trip, the crew headed straight to the airport, dismantling all the gear, and preparing for flights to begin again the following morning.  We credit this behind-the-scenes hard work by our guides, staff, and pilots, with our ability to run the remainder of our season without any impact to the experience of our guests. 

The mudslides deposited an astounding amount of sediment to the river.  As a result, each time the water cleared, we anticipated the next rainstorm, and the unavoidable sediment would be added to the river.  While this did impact our fishing success in the river, once again our crew adjusted and persevered.  Whenever necessary, fishing efforts were transitioned to focus on side streams, offering a different yet plentiful opportunity for our guests.  The silver lining? Our guests got a unique fishing experience showcasing parts of the canyon many hadn’t seen before.

As we ushered in September, the river’s clarity returned, and the fly fishing was at its best. Despite the upper river’s blockages, we did our best to ensure our clients experienced the Middle Fork’s magic by relocating guests to alternative sections of the river.  September presented us beautiful days with clear water, great people, and the crisp bite of fall.  The fly fishing was some of the best we have experienced, and it was the picture-perfect way to wrap up the season. 

Reflecting on this season, we’re overwhelmed with gratitude. Throughout, we had the privilege of hosting remarkable guests. Their passion for river adventures, coupled with their supportive and understanding nature, further motivated us to exceed their expectations. Our guides outdid themselves, sacrificing their time off but never losing the joy that comes with guiding. Their dedication to our guests was truly exemplary. Despite any hurdles, the joy and laughter persisted. This perfect blend of wonderful guests and dedicated guides is undoubtedly what made this season truly memorable.

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