The Murtaugh

Had the opportunity to paddle the Murtaugh section of the Snake River a few weekends ago – what a spectacular stretch of river!

We got a late start, hitting the water about 7 PM. Camped overnight on a rock shelf projecting into the river, probably 100 feet on a side. Camp ended up being a bit sketchy, as the river rose half a foot overnight and was just short of flooding the entire site! I also have to say that it’s tough to beat polish sausage cooked over an open fire for breakfast.

As far as scenery, this section is hard to beat. All the way down the canyon, streams and springs empty down. It’s spectacular watching these springs tumble down hundreds of feet of mossy canyon wall to the river below. I definitely need a new waterproof camera, so I can share some of these things with my (two) readers. Also saw three golden eagles playing and chasing each other around at the top of the canyon in the dusk before we made camp that evening. Awesome to see such giant birds playing together.

For whitewater, the first evening was an evening of big water. Big class III-IV wave trains, low consequences. The second day contained the more notable rapids.

Pair-o-dice: This is considered class V, although at these flows (5200 cfs) I’d probably call it IV+. This rapid has a terminal-looking pourover for the entire right side of the river, an island dead center in the river, then a few different lines on river left. One option would be to plug straight in to the giant, meaty-looking hold center left, and take your thrashing. I opted to run far river left, probably 10 feet off the bank. Bumped down a bit of a slide, but it was very straightforward. It gives you enough momentum to head straight through the left side of the hole. The final option is to follow the main flow down the center of the river, just to the left of the island. Looked like tons of force in the water, and a wild ride! One of our group opted for this line, and had a good time doing it. Scout the rapid from river left, big rock shelf probably 5-10 feet above the water makes a great vantage point right next to the river and lets you set safety as needed.

Let’s Make a Deal: This can be anywhere from class III to class V, depending on which door you choose. The river is split by four giant pillars of rock, and you get to choose which channel to paddle down. The catch is, I was committed by the time I could see what I was getting myself into! At these flows, door 2 was recommended as the easy route. Door 5 was the more challenging option. I went with door 5. As you paddle up on the channel, it looks big and steep – and that’s exactly what it is! Giant wave curling off the right bank, which you want to hit hard. Ideally, you punch up on top of this wave and paddle down the right side of the bank, just to stay clear of the left wall which feels very close by. I didn’t manage to punch all the way over the wave, but did turn it into a VERY fast power ferry to the center of the channel and shot down to the bottom. I wanted to hike up and run it again, but that’s a little tricky in a canyon!

After this, a few more big rapids whose names I don’t remember. Lots of big splashes and a few monster holes, but nothing too high-consequence. Then a flatwater paddle through a mile of reservoir to the takeout. It made me appreciate the speed of my Villain.

I highly recommend this trip for anyone who has the opportunity. I can’t wait to paddle it again!

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