12 Months of Idaho Whitewater

By November 2010, I was already anxious for my 2011 rafting season to get started. I hadn’t been on a river since October and I was missing it badly. Typically, I don’t get on the river until March, and I’m not rafting regularly until May. I knew I couldn’t wait. Plus, my fancy new Kokatat GMER dry suit was just the piece of gear I needed to extend my season. So, I thought “Why not go in January, why not try to go every month?”

Living in Boise, my original plan was to travel to Washington or Oregon in search of new runs, taking advantage of some winter rains that surge the rivers over there pretty regularly, but my plan didn’t gain much traction and it was looking like a lost cause. Then, on a sunny, dry day when the skiing was marginal, football was over, and there was nothing better to do, a couple buddies and I decided to hit the river and enjoy some sun. That was January 30, 2011.

We ran the Main Payette and had a great day. I discussed my lofty goal with the crew and a few of them decided to join me in my quest to run a river every month in 2011. We even decided we’d try to run a river in IDAHO every month—a bigger challenge than expanding our territory to the entire PNW since many of our rivers in Idaho freeze during the winter.

February was a similar situation as January: sunny day, no fresh powder, no football on TV. We ran the Main Payette again on the 13th. Cabin fever was running rampant among our boater friends and we picked up a few more participants.

My first run in March was in Washington on the 12th. The Wind river dumps into the Columbia just below Hood River, OR. It was a long drive, but the chance to run some challenging water on a new-to-me river was too tempting to pass up. I was excited at the opportunity to log a Personal First Decent (PFD). I ran the 6-mile run on the Wind twice that day, then drove back to Boise that evening.

The next day, I ran the Staircase section on the South Fork of the Payette. That was an exhausting weekend. I followed it up the next weekend with another Staircase run, this time on a prototype paddle cat that my friend Ted had been working on. After that, I again headed west with my dad to meet some friends in Grants Pass for a multi-day trip on the Illinois River. Unfortunately, the rains were relentless and the river was too high for us to run. Instead, we spent three days running a swollen Rogue River. Another PFD, another great trip. The rain rarely let up for us, but the waterfalls were amazing and the scenery and solitude were exceptional.


You’ll see a recurring theme in my river log. I run the Main Payette and Staircase sections a lot. They are so close and convenient (to Boise). I can run up after work or go on the weekend and still be back in town to spend time with the family. On two different weekends in April, I was able to ski one day and raft the next. Outdoor nirvana.

The highlight of my May rafting was running Marsh Creek, the Middle Fork of the Salmon and the Main Salmon on the 21st. It was about 200 miles in seven days. At the takeout, we were picked up by our wives and went straight to the Lochsa for Memorial Day weekend, and annual tradition.

There was a decent high water peak in May, but most of the high water fun came in June. The Murtaugh at 20,000 is huge water. I took every chance I had to run Staircase at peak flows this year. I went up on Wednesday the 22nd to catch it at 8,000cfs. By Friday, the flow was was 9,500cfs and I got in another run. It was so much fun that I went up on Saturday for two more runs, then I headed to the North Fork of the Boise on Sunday the 26th and ran it at 5,100cfs.


High water excitement continued into July. A group of us converged in Yellowpine, as we do every 4th of July weekend, and ran the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon at 1,600cfs at the Johnson Creek gauge. It was HUGE. The highest I have run it previously was 650cfs. There were several beat downs, frame grabs, high-sides, and a couple of flips. After that weekend, I spent much of July running with family. I also got an invite on a Selway trip on the 17th. We had 3.3′ on the Paradise gauge, unheard of flows for mid-July. We had 80-90 degree sunny weather with a really fun, splashy flow.

August started off with more tame family runs. On the 18th, the North Fork Payette had finally receded to an approachable flow. At 2100cfs, it was still higher than I’d run before. I stuck to the lower 5 miles, the easiest section of class V on the NF Payette. It was big and plenty challenging. It was also really fun. So much fun, that I was up there as often as I could be, logging four runs in 10 days between the 18th and the 28th. YouTube

Labor Day weekend is the Payette River Rendezvous. A large group of catarafters gather for some rowdy river time on the North Fork of the Payette. We often have a dozen or more catarafts running together down the world-class steep class V rapids. After that, I enjoyed a 7-day rafting and fishing trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon. These September Middle Fork trips are an almost annual event with a great group of friends, my wife and my Dad. YouTube

The Murtaugh was still running at 6,000cfs in October. Usually it is down to a trickle by mid-summer. So, we had to capitalize on the opportunity to run it in the fall on the 8th.

November’s run on the 5th was with a group that does an annual November run on the Main Payette. I think we had about 15 people on the river. This may have been the coldest run of the year.


I was dreading December’s run. I knew it was going to be really cold. I was worried the Main Payette would be frozen and we’d have to travel farther to find running water with no ice bridges. Well, on December 10th, my buddy Ted and I took a raft up to the Main Payette to see if there was an open channel. We saw an impassible ice bridge just above Horseshoe Bend and we were pretty sure we wouldn’t be able to run. But, after driving a bit farther to Beehive Bend, then turning around and driving back down the river, we were able to road-scout and confirm that there we no bridges from Beehive to Parnell Beach.

We launched and floated for a couple hours down the icy river with sunshine in our faces. There was ice all along the banks and ice forming and floating down the river. One section was only about 20 feet wide and was starting to get choked up with ice. It looked like it would be completely closed within hours. We got lucky and were able to complete our goal at the very last opportunity. Twelve months of rafting in Idaho. My bucket list just got a little shorter.

I finished the year breaking all my previous records for number of river days, vertical feet and miles. I spent 74 days rafting. I ran 891.5 miles of river. And I descended 26,578 feet (or 5 miles, 178 feet). I also ran 4 new rivers and ran several other rivers at higher flows than I’d run them before. I never flipped or swam. Well, except when I fell out of the raft taking a leak. Now, it’s time to look forward to 2012. Come on SNOW!

Written by guest blogger Josh McDannel. To see a full list of the rivers he ran in 2011, click here.