Kayak Down

by kfrego

We lived several months in a company trailer near Clayton, Idaho. Clayton is on the Salmon River about 25 miles upstream from Challis. The Yankee Fork of the Salmon River near Sunbeam was about 20 miles up the river from Clayton. The Yankee Fork was mined and dredged extensively around the turn of the century. A huge bucket dredge was packed in by mules and assembled on site for mining the alluvium deposits for placer gold. When the dredge completed mining it was stripped of everything valuable and abandoned. Even today you can visit the dredge up in the mountains on the Yankee Fork. The hydraulic mining operations on the Yankee Fork washed great amounts of gravel into the Salmon River. Over the years the salmon used these gravel beds for spawning.

Linda and I would load up the kids and drive along the Salmon River between Clayton and Sunbeam. When the salmon were spawning we would sit for hours watching them work the rapids and spawning in the gravel beds. One of our favorite overlooks was one of the gravel bars just below Sunbeam. The road turnout was fifty feet above the river allowing excellent viewing of the large fish in the shallow waters below. A big dolly varden trout was a local resident of the gravel bar. The 24 inch dolly varden would streak out from under the bank, grab a cluster of fresh salmon eggs, and retreat back under the bank with it’s meal. The salmon would try to deter the dolly varden, but the fast trout was no match for the fish who just fought their way over 600 miles upstream to spawn in the gravel bar.

On one of our early summer trips to watch the fish we saw several kayaks working their way downstream towards Clayton and Challis. We stopped at an overlook of rapids and a full river waterfall of eight to ten feet in height. We expected the kayaks to portage around the falls on a nice maintained trail. The kayaks stopped along the shore to rest and talk. They were going to shoot the falls. We sat and watched them with the kids. The first kayak to go appeared to be a leader or possibly a guide. He hit the falls dead center, went out of site a few seconds, and popped up twenty feet downstream. The second kayak wasn’t anything spectacular, but made the jump with no problem. The third kayak took his time getting launched. He missed the center where the other kayaks went over. He looked awkward as he made his launch and I didn’t know anything about kayaks. Off he went into the bottom, but he didn’t pop right up. Soon Linda and I were very concerned as were the other two kayaks holding onto branches while watching. We could do nothing from the car and the other kayaks were helpless also. It was at least two minutes before the kayak came to the surface and it didn’t pop up like the others. The weak man managed to get himself lodged against the shore so he could rest while holding a dead branch. When we drove off 30 minutes later he could still barely raise his head.

We never knew what pinned the kayak to the bottom…………..but we learned there would be no kayak in our future.