Idaho’s Hazard Creek
New Canoe and Kayak managing editor Joe Carberry files a trip report from the heart of the Idaho jungle.
Sometimes, in the kayaking world, things just come up gravy.
From shuttles to clean lines to portages to the coffee packed in the back of your creek boat setting you off right in the morning, once in a while, everything falls into place.
My longtime boating pal, Keith Howard, and I hatched a plot earlier this spring to run the entire length of Hazard Creek, a drainage tumbling off the north side of Idaho’s Brundage Ski Resort from Hazard Lake to the Little Salmon. It had been run two years earlier by a young group of McCall locals led by phenoms Tristan and Ian McClaren. They dragged their boats five miles into the maw, only to walk almost everything after their kayaks cracked. Because of big snows this season, we were able to drive all the way to the headwaters with just enough water to paddle.
I was especially lusty over this drainage after nailing a first descent of Hard Creek with legendary Idaho kayaker Dave Norell in 2003, a year before he passed away during an adventure race in Boise. Hard Creek parallels Hazard down to the Little Salmon and is considered Hazard’s steeper, mankier twin brother.
“Why can’t they call it Chill Creek or Siesta Creek,” asks my family as I pack for the trip. Hazard isn’t a name you pass out freely to your non-kayaking relatives, a moniker that strikes fear into the hearts of laymen.
We would use two days to run eight miles. Tor Andersen – yes the man is as beastly as his name implies – would join us. As fate would have it, Jared Alexander, Tristan McClaren and Dan Simenc start the second descent of Hazard a day earlier, taking off the evening before our attempt (that’s a third descent if you’re counting).
While picking Howard up another paddling buddy, Kate Lynch, randomly stops by his house and offers to drive shuttle for us. Chalk it up as break numero uno.
The next morning, we put on at the crack of 11 am and work our way through the woody mess in Hazard’s upper reaches. We’d spoken with Alexander’s wife on our way up and she’d warned us that Simenc had pinned badly somewhere. She didn’t know if it was day one or two so we found ourselves constantly asking each other, “Do you think that’s where he pinned? How about this spot?”
After navigating the wood, Hazard began to gorge up (how many times have you read that in a TR?). The initial drops were vertical mank and would be marginally runnable even with higher flows. So we portage on river left, putting on in a micro eddy to run the first 15-foot sliding waterfall.
Booya! The entrance to creeking paradise. What followed was a series of boofs and complicated, clean rapids unlike any in central Idaho. The first half of this “Primetime Gorge” – with apologies to Colorado’s Big South – culminates in a 20-foot waterfall. The entrance is a sophisticated right hand corner with multiple moves to remember. I decide to fire it up first, blaze around the corner and feel the incredible ahhhh! as plastic meets air.
I’m pumped, shaking my fists and gyrating like a fat lady at a free dance. Then my boat stops in mid float, pinned mightily between a set of rocks. I move back and forth, punch my paddle on the creek bed, try every trick in the book to get off. The water pours down my back and over the boat. In my celebration I’d lost sight of reality. Creeks can kill.
I’m just about to reach for my skirt when Howard yells at me to stay in my boat. He’s right. The moment I open the hatch the water will flow in and bend the kayak, perhaps breaking my legs. He’s ready to throw me a bag so I could pull for leverage when my boat slides off the rocks and I’m free. Lucky bounce numero dos.
Andersen stomps his line and we we’re off, boat scouting our way down this paradise of expedition boating, this “Middle Earth” of Class V set between 50-foot vertical walls the entire way.
Five footer, ten footer, six footer. The boofs came in order and I can’t even remember how many. Until we come to the crescendo of Primetime, the finale of fun. I’m ahead of the boys and pull off on river right to scout. When I can’t get a good view I ferry across to river left. It’s a snaking rapid, with several vertical drops. Part Gorilla on North Carolina’s Green, part Cathedral on the Lineville Gorge. A six-foot curtain marks the exit to the main rapid followed 15 yards later by a perfect 10-foot boof.
We all meet to contemplate our lines. Andersen’s quiet blue eyes shift back and forth between us and the creek. The six-foot-four, Norwegian creekin’ machine isn’t sure. The slightly-built Howard, with his finesse style and smooth strokes, has had enough: he’s walking. I’m too tired to carry. Time to fire ‘er up. Andersen agrees. He sets safety first. I enter the rapid clean, make the hard left, shoot off the six-foot curtain and into the aerated water where the whole creek chunders into a hole against the river left wall. I brace hard and finally pull a quick back deck roll before charging the ten-foot boof. Andersen follows suit, holding out a complete vertical stall in the hole before stomping the ten-footer.
We’re exhausted but elated. Energyless but euphoric. It’s getting dark so we work on finding a camp, peering over every bank for a place to sleep. While I’m alone, ahead of the other two, I suddenly hear a rumbling in the bushes. In a massive explosion of shrub and timber, a young bull elk stampedes across the creek bed right as I pass by. Call it lucky incident numero tres. I was lucky he didn’t skewer me like a polish sausage.
Around the bend we find a granite platform where we set up camp, hiking to a nearby overlook to watch the sun set in the west over Pollack Mountain. Devouring Dinty Moore Beef Stew, we bivy up filthy, full and satisfied.
The next morning – after sucking down as much cowboy coffee as humanly possible – we set off around the corner and come to what we would later find out was the manky rapid that caused the pin for the other group. We pull out and begin our portage around 70-foot Hazard Creek falls, putting back in at the base of the cataract with the mist blowing in our faces. The rest of the run was bony but fun boat scouting to the takeout – save one portage of a rapid destroyed by wood. We make it down to the beers waiting at our car.
Mmmmmm. It may not have been gravy – which, at that point in my food-deprived state, I could have sucked down batches of even without the meat and potatoes – but it was cold, smooth, and I was catching a buzz.
Take away the cold part and Hazard Creek yielded similar results. If this is a new Idaho classic, count me in for next year’s odyssey.
For images from the group just ahead of our heroes, Click Here