Riding the Middle Fork of the Salmon River with MFRT
Originally written for thisisboise.com magazine by Sunny Lovejoy.
Six days, 100 miles, 42 landed trout, 16 amazing meals, 13 guests, nine guides, five campsites, three hot springs, two guitar-filled nights and an adventure I’ll never forget.
I first met up with the Middle Fork Rapid Transit (MFRT) crew to learn about their company and the trip in general. MFRT has been taking guests down the Middle Fork since 1980 and absolutely know what they are doing. The Middle Fork of the Salmon River runs through five National Forests in one of the most amazing places in America, the “River of No Return”. This journey begins at an elevation of 5,700 feet above sea level, flows through 2,500 square miles and drops down nearly 3,000 vertical feet. MFRT offers 3, 4, 5 and 6-day expeditions — I of course opted for the most extreme — the 6-day adventure.
MFRT’s website, Middle Fork Rapid Transit, includes details about the trip, river and exactly what to bring. I always strive to pack light and prove that I am not a girly-girl. Besides my fishing gear, a few bottles of whiskey and some lightweight clothing, MFRT provided everything else. We departed from beautiful Stanley, Idaho and headed for Boundary Creek where our boats and gear were already waiting. We immediately hit the water and our adventure began!
Our daily routine always began with one of my favorite things, coffee. The crew members would wake up guests by gently singing that amazing 6-letter word in unison every morning: C-O-F-F-E-E! While stretching and sipping the sweet bean nectar of the gods, I watched as the crew amazed me with their outdoor breakfast cooking skills. After stuffing our pallets with carbs and proteins we packed up our individual tents and geared up for the day. While guests hiked the beautiful trails, threw lines or visited the “groover”, the crew was busy packing up our mobile village. What is a “groover” you ask? Perhaps you would recognize it’s more familiar term of “Johnny”. You have not lived until your bathroom walls are waterfalls and trees. The sweet crashing of the river adds to the ambiance and although you’re in the middle of one of the biggest Wilderness Areas in the U.S. — you feel as private and secluded as if you were in your own bathroom. The outdoor groover was, no $hit, amazing.
After camp was packed up we all loaded our boats and set off down the Middle Fork. While I was focused on tossing flies, other guests opted to challenge the whitewater in paddle-boats and even duckies (inflatable kayaks). Each day held different agendas from big rapids and hikes to hot springs and fishing holes. MFRT really catered to each guest and the type of experience they were seeking. Lucky for my guide, I was mainly interested in fishing and beer drinking. After our morning travels we would stop at a different campsites each day for lunch. We aren’t talking peanut butter and jelly lunches either (although that was an option for the kiddos). We ate gourmet all the way — which my scale reminded me of upon returning home. Lunchtime was typically when beers showed up for the day. One of the attributes that made this experience unique was the diversity of the group and MFRT’s ability to meet the needs of every guest. We had a group of party-goers, a father with his 9 and 12-year-old daughters and even an 84-year-old man who was on his 15th annual trip down the Middle Fork with MFRT. Everyone experienced the trip in their own desired way and this adventure was truly catered to everyone.
After crew and guests were satisfied with lunch we loaded back up and continued to our pre-chosen camp site for the evening. Some days groups would stop to fish at honey holes, hike up to a hot springs or stop to check out a sweet beach. When we weren’t riding through awesome white water, catching endless trout or telling stories over cold brews we were enjoying the amazing sights throughout the Frank Church Wilderness Area. The guides were filled with stories on the local Sheepherder Tribe, history of the area and local animals and habitat. We saw black bears one yard from the rivers edge, bull snakes sun-soaking on the rocks and enough small game to stay entertained for hours. By the time we reached our next campsite, each tent was already set up, our dry-bags were waiting for us and appetizers and wine were being prepped.
Our evenings were filled with different actives which are highlighted below. Some guests turned in right after dinner and some guests stayed around the campfire late into the night. Every dinner was shared in a circle of chairs surrounding the campfire. Although I began this trip as a solo-vacationer, I quickly bonded with the amazing crew and fabulous guests. Each night I fell asleep to the sweet sound of the river and each morning I awoke to the sweet symphony of my favorite word — coffee.
I began this trip thinking that six days on the Middle Fork with a bunch of strangers was going to be quite the challenge. On day six we hit the river early and went through some awesome rapids. We landed at Cache Bar where we pulled out the boats and prepared for our trip back to Stanley. On the ride back I realized how incorrect my initial thoughts on this trip had been. Not only were those six days amazing, adventure-filled and unforgettable — I had created life-long friendships and memories. I did not want to leave the river and instead began mentally preparing my river guide resume.
The Middle Fork is rated a Class III+ river and typically accommodates ages 8–80 years old (my trip, however, accommodated 9-84 years old!) The more well-known rapids on the Middle Fork are Sulphur Slide, Velvet Falls, the Chutes, Power House, Pistol Creek, Tappan Falls, Red Side, Weber, Cliffside, Rubber, Hancock and Devil’s Tooth. These rapids range from class III+ to class IV (on a scale of I to VI), with Dagger Falls being the only class V on the Middle Fork. Dagger Falls is just above the Boundary Creek put-in on day 1. My favorite rapid was Rubber and offered an extreme ride while excessively cooling me off. MFRT has a multitude of boat options depending on the type of experience you desire.
My absolute favorite fishing in the world is on the Salmon and in Loon Creek (which feeds into the Salmon). The Middle Fork offers spectacular spin and fly fishing for cutthroat trout, rainbow trout and Dolly Varden. You will need an Idaho fishing license and single barbless hooks and catch and release regulations apply on the Middle Fork. I was able to fish from my raft, hit sweet holes along the way, fish from the “sweep” boat (big raft that carries all of the gear) and fish from each campsite at lunch and in the evening. While I wasn’t 100% committed to fishing on this particular trip, the trout are plentiful. At one point, I was pulling a nice cutthroat out of the water and caught a huge bull trout trying to swallow my cutthroat! While I didn’t get photo evidence I did have two witnesses. Killer fishing!
Thanks to the amazing crew and colorful guests we did not lack entertainment on this trip! From hiking and hot springs to live music and games, there was not an unwanted dull moment. Owner and guide, Grant Porter, along with another guide, Zak, rocked the guitar during the evenings and led exhilarating games of Bocce Ball. Lead guide, Lynn, is the go-to man on hiking, rapids, fishing and area history. He took us to see some Sheepherder petroglyphs and was a wealth of information. Madisen teaches yoga and is happy to lead classes early morning and also in the evenings. She was also great with the young girls and kept them entertained with henna tattoos, crafts and games. Elena was full of stories and riddles and can teach some mean aerobics, specifically head-stands! Curtis was great with taking guests to fishing holes and aided in tying on flies and advising on recent hatches. The other guides, Conner, Alex and Max, were incredible with the young kids, fishing advice and hot spings swimming! Whether you want to throw flies, hike to hot springs, tour old cabins, play camp games, sing around the fire, practice yoga or simply listen to the river — you will not be bored.
My trip was lucky enough to have world renowned Chef, Tim Filgate, consulting during our 6-day adventure. I participated in several food demonstrations including stuffed trout filets, grilled caesar salad and amazing stuffed eggplant. While I can’t copy and paste the exact menu I will fill you in on a few of my favorites! While the food demonstrations were amazing (I’ve already recreated them at home) the rest of my culinary experience was equally delightful! My favorite breakfast was a toss-up between eggs benedict served with fresh asparagus and the mountain blueberry pancakes. My favorite lunch was absolutely the shrimp tacos with fresh table-side guacamole. My favorite dinner would have to be the fresh salmon the first night and was cooked perfectly! We also had dessert every night and the chocolate cake was irresistible. My favorite food experience would have to be awarded to the nightly appetizers. We enjoyed fresh edamame, perfectly warmed brie with blueberry chutney, sliced salmon and each dish was always paired with a decadent wine. Amazing food experience!