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Landslide and Logjam Logistics on the Upper Middle Fork in August 2023

On the evening of August 2nd, 2023 heavy rains near the Boundary Creek Launch Site on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River triggered several landslides (aka “debris flows” or “blowouts”) that blocked the river. These landslides brought trees down to the river which floated down and created several river wide logjams.

Debris flows are the result of intense microburst storms that occur over previous fire scars in steep terrain. Last August several of these landslides occurred at Ramshorn Creek and Spike Creek blocking the river and creating logjams. Similarly, Lake Creek famously blew out in 2006 leaving Pistol Creek Rapid full of logs.

Although this is dramatic, these debris flows are common. Most rapids on the Middle Fork are a result of historic debris flows that block the river. If you look at rapid names they nearly all named after the nearby creeks.

Launching Our Boats at Boundary Creek

After finishing their previous trip our guides drove our boats and equipment to Boundary Creek on the afternoon of August 2nd to launch a deadhead to Indian Creek. A “deadhead” is a term we use when our guides float the upper section of the Middle Fork from Boundary Creek to Indian Creek.

While lowering boats down the ramp heavy rains came through and our guides noticed that river turned brown. After last summer’s landslides our crew was worried so a few of them woke up early the next morning to scout the canyon.

Debris Flow at Sulphur Slide Rapid
Debris Flow at Sulphur Slide Rapid

During their scout, they found several large debris flows and logjams making the river impassable. (more photos)

Removing Our Boats From Boundary Creek

In order to continue running our August 4th trip our guides had a massive task in front of them. They had to pull our boats back up the Boundary Creek Boat Ramp, load them back into our trucks, drive them back to Bruce Meadows, and load them into planes to fly into Indian Creek. Taking this on, our guides worked alongside fellow guides from Helfrich and Wilderness River Outfitters. They got all the boats and equipment back up the ramp and off to Bruce Meadows. This included our 22 foot long sweep boat.

Everyone at Boundary Creek worked tirelessly to pull off this heroic effort.

Flying into Indian Creek

After loading all of our equipment back into trucks we drove 30 minutes back to Bruce Meadows where pilots and planes from Gem Air met us to fly everything into our launch site at Indian Creek.

Lifting a rolled sweep boat into an airplane
Lifting a rolled sweep boat into an airplane

Everything was to be organized, weighed, and then loaded into airplanes. The pilots from Gem Air made several trips back and forth and got all but one guide and one load of gear in that evening. Conor and 700 lbs of gear spent the night at Bruce Meadows and was picked up at 7 AM the next morning.

At Indian Creek

Once at Indian Creek all of the boats were pumped up, rigged, and lowered down the ramp down to the river. The crew got some of the boats in the river on the evening of August 3rd and finished up the next morning as our guests arrived to start their trip.

The Indian Creek Boat Ramp
The Indian Creek Boat Ramp

I write this story as they are beginning the third day of their Middle Fork trip. The crew must still be exhausted from everything they did to make this trip happen.

Originally Published: | Updated on | Categorized under: Middle Fork of the Salmon

Post Author

Zachary Collier

As owner of Northwest Rafting Company, Zach Collier combines international guiding experience in places like Siberia, Bhutan, and Chile with a natural business acumen for systems and logistics. Whether he’s on big water or in the back office, Zach strives to ensure Northwest Rafting Company offers exceptional whitewater and wilderness experiences for guests and guides alike.