Launching on the Selway

Picture of Selway.

Paradise: the put-in for the Selway.

July 22, 2014
Day 4
Selway River Trip Day 1

We left camp at 8 a.m. and drove south, into Idaho. We did a quick check-in at the ranger's station at the entrance of the Bitterroot National Forest, then continued on a gravel road. The hills surrounding us were blanketed with spruce trees, many of which were dead. Perhaps an invasive beetle had eaten their bark? We continued to rumble along the narrow track, shrouded in a cloud of dust, for the next hour. When the road ended, we knew we were in Paradise: the put-in to the Selway.

We slid our group's twelve kayaks, one ducky and one raft down to the river and did a meticulous final check of our gear. I had been debating whether to take my camera with me on the river, and I finally decided against it. The risk of losing or destroying my camera was simply too high, especially considering that I was about to move to China, where many great photo opportunities awaited. Luckily, many others in our group took their cameras. All photos from the Selway that I post are courtesy of Dan York (Thanks!).

The river's crystal-clear water trickled gently next to us, not betraying the massive hydraulics that lurked a few miles downstream. I understood that the dusty road above us would be the last one we would see for the next several days. In fact, there would be no towns, or even houses, along the way. The Selway is one of the most pristine rivers remaining in the United States. Each year, only sixty-one groups are granted permits to run it, and this year we were lucky enough to get one. When we were sure that we were ready, Dan gave a short river talk, mainly letting us know that safety was our top priority, and we were off.

As expected, we had an easy day of paddling, with just a few class III's and many II's.. The river's level had been far higher than normal a few weeks prior, but it had been dropping rapidly. At 2300 cfs (cubic feet per second), it was higher than the 1000 cfs we had been expecting, but this still proved to be an easy level to run most of the rapids. It was also a great confidence builder, which was important for me. Having never paddled a multi-day whitewater trip, I was still getting used to the decreased maneuverability of my fully-loaded kayak.

We set up camp next to the river, just upstream from a footbridge. This task was easy for me, considering that I just had to blow up my mattress and unravel my sleeping bag. I added water to my dehydrated chili, heated the concoction and relaxed with the others in the group. Late at night, when I slid into my sleeping bag, I felt something hard at my feet. I reached into the bag and pulled out a Cosmopolitan magazine. Someone was probably messing with me, but the joke was on them – I was happy to have something to read while on the river. I looked at a couple of raunchy articles, then passed out, ecstatic that after six months of planning, the greatest whitewater trip of my life was finally underway.

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