2007 North Fork Clearwater River
May 25, 2007 at 7:45 AM
Trip Report—North Fork Clearwater River, May 25, 2007
As a prelude to the Memorial Day Steve Herring Lochsa River Celebration, seven boats and boaters floated the remote North Fork of the Clearwater river, from roughly 2 miles above Irish Railroad rapids to the Aquarius camp area. River flow was around 6,500 cfs (Canyon Ranger station gauge).
From the Three Rivers Resort at Lowell, ID, it is a 2 ½ hour drive to the take out (allow one hour on Highway 12 from Three Rivers to the turnoff at Greer on to Highway 11; 1 ½ hours more up and then down to the North Fork valley). We then drove about 20 miles on a paved and gravel road alongside the river, to an informal put in 2 miles or so above Irish Railroad. There is a pull out (on grass), and a short trail down to a grassy beach area, clearly visible ahead of time from the road (as the river makes a sweeping turn). One can put in anywhere you have good access from the road, of course.
Irish Railroad is visible from the road (rocky terminus of the rapids), and deserves scouting (Class V). There is the sneak route on the river right, which involves an approach from the center-right river channel, then working a large “eddy” or calm water area to a wide chute on the right ending in a wave train. On the left, one can approach from the left-center, and work farther left to a chute which dumps you on top of a dividing rock, where virtually all the current either goes left or right, and you can chose either side, based on which side of the middle the chute dumped you. Since very little of the current goes over the rock (as this flow or below), there is more time to maneuver than it might look.
The rest of the river is easier, but still has its share of nice rapids. Part of the reason to do the trip is the scenery. If you’re not enjoying the lush forest with cedar trees, clear water, and plenty of osprey, you’re here for the wrong reasons. We saw no other boaters, but there were plenty of folks dispersion-camped in the area.
The take out we used was on river right about ½ mile below the bridge (not a designated take out, just easy access to the vehicles). There’s an informal camping area there (although there is also a vault toilet nearby), on a loop spur road off the downstream gravel road, with wide spots where you could camp and/or park the vehicles.
The whole day, from Three Rivers Resort and back, took 12 hours (6:30 AM to 6:30 PM). We added an extra hour because someone in our party forgot their life vest and had to drive back to the take out, but we also had someone move the vehicles, so a self-shuttle would take extra time. We forward-stroked the lower river because of the later start, with about 3 ½ hours total time on the water. This makes for a long day. You could shorten it by driving in to the area the night before, camping out, then getting a good start and moving down to Three Rivers after the float. On the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, there were plenty of people camping, in contrast to a couple years ago when we had the place to ourselves on a weekend in mid-May.
The country you drive through is interesting and beautiful: from the climb out of the Middle Fork of the Clearwater valley, to the meadows and farm ground on top, to the timber country as you drop back into the North Fork, the drive is part of the adventure, so try not have to rush through it.