Just back from Wyoming, which I think has some really, really good packrafting.
In early July Forrest McCarthy, Derek Collins, and I inflated our boats 11 times in 10 days on 10 bodies of water (N Buffalo Fork, Buffalo Fork, Willow Creek, S. Fork Shoshone River, Thoroughfare Creek, Open Creek, Two Ocean Creek, Atlantic Creek, Pacific Creek, Snake River).
They took me on two day trips (N Buffalo Fork at high water; Willow Creek and its sporty Adam’s Apple at normal flows); back to back sport runs on 15,000 cfs Lunch Counter rapid on the Snake (yee-ha!) where Forrest snapped his paddle in two; and perhaps the most enjoyable 6 days of packrafting I have ever had, a creation that Forrest calls the “Du-Mor” (~60 miles walking in 9 segments + 60 miles boating in 8 segments, counting the side trips).
Du-Mor begins in the Du Noir drainage near Togowotee Pass on Hwy 25 (between Du Bois and Moran) and ends near Moran. It heads north from Forest Service Road 513 for a day of fast trail hiking over Shoshone Pass and into the upper South Fork of the Shoshone River.
The second day we found the S Fork Shoshone in flood stage or just below, and so very exciting, but mostly – and remarkably – wood free, except for a few important spots. We would float an hour then walk an hour past canyons we didn’t want to run. We inflated the boats four times on the S. Fork and the boating was challenging (up to PR 4), reminding me of the Chitistone on a hot day! We took out at Fall Creek having run Bliss Creek Meadows (scenic PR 2); from one mile above Marston Ck to one just below Younts where the canyon narrows to like 15 feet and is choked completely by a lethal strainer of wood (overall PR 4, but snaky and lots of wood potential); then Robinson Ck to just above Silver Ck (like the Chitistone above Toby Creek – PR 3-4); and finally from about Saddle Ck to Fall Ck (PR 3 at high water).
The third day we walked over peak 11,681, climbing 5,000 feet on a horse trail to alpine meadows and sheep/elk trails over the peak. We descended to the Thoroughfare Creek (PR 2, then PR 3 from Butte Ck to Open Ck, then PR 2 down to Bridger Lake Trail), a wild watershed that Forrest and Tom Turiano made the first recorded descent on a few years back. The views from the ascent and descent of the wild Absaraoka Range (pronounced “Ab-sor-ka”) were awesome, especially the tall walls seen from the subalpine meadows framed by Whitebark pine and Engleman Spruce.
The fourth day we rafted almost 20 miles on the Thoroughfare, past dozens of eagles and maybe a hundred elk, making a side hike and float (apparently a first descent) of Open Creek, a five mile splashy ride. The Thoroughfare stretch was my favorite. It’s not spectacular nor exciting but captures what in my imagination the west looked like when Shoshone Indians and Jeremiah Johnson roamed wild landscapes.
The fifth day we hiked up to Two Ocean Pass, a unique place where Two Ocean Creek splits on the Continental Divide to form Atlantic and Pacific Creeks. We floated the Two Ocean Creek to its split, then followed Atlantic Creek for a couple miles of novel willow tunnel and meadow floating on about 20 cfs, which grew to 200 cfs of splashy PR 3 whitewater for 30 mins, then walked back up, again on fast horse trail.
On the sixth day we walked 8 or 9 miles of trail to put in on Pacific Creek (an hour of PR 3 followed by 2 hours of PR 2) and floated that for about 14 miles down to scenic views of the Tetons. The middle stretch of braided river over gravel bars and past willow thickets was very AK like, with waterbirds and their young and elk instead of caribou.
What made it so enjoyable, aside from Forrest and Derek’s super skills, great attitudes, and abundant conversation, was the sunny, dry weather, the excellent trails when walking (all horse trails, mostly), the warm water, and the lack of channel-wide strainers due to the once-a-decade snowfall that had melted, run off, and flushed the rivers and creeks of ten years’ accumulation of wood.
It’s wild country, that Teton Wilderness, with moose, bison, elk, deer, grizz, wolves, and more. In places, the old '88 burn left eerie stands of lodgepoles where the wind whistles, but there’s plenty of green timber, too. It was one of the best packrafting trips I have ever had, and certainly the most enjoyable.
After the chill of the Arctic, this was a great time and I’d suggest that anybody going down for a June wedding from Alaska, for example, take time to do some boating in the Absarokas. The Rocky Mountain style whitewater of splashy boulder drops is fun and its trail network extensive, making multiple walk-a-day-boat-a-day stretches easy and fun. It’s so nice to be able to dry gear so quickly without fires – just stretch your throw rope each evening after boating and presto, dry gear. Maybe this year August will still be good, but Forrest says that August is usually too dry – maybe not this La Nina year, though…
While the Du-Mor may be the classic “grand tour” of the Teton-Washakie Wilderness, I plan to go down and do more in the Absarokas; it’s just a bummer that Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks limit boat use to the point that the grandest traverse of the Absarokas, the “Du-Nye”, is outlaw.