It’s a rare opportunity when the energy company, farmers, and the outdoor recreation community work together. When you watch the news, you won’t even know that cooperation exists. Most rafters are used to ranchers and farmers putting up barbed wire over rivers or blocking bypasses on diversion dams. Often this can lead to expensive court cases. Many of these landowners make their living off the resources that flow through their property and they may feel like specific uses inhibit or threaten their property. It’s not uncommon for people in the outdoor recreation industry to abuse the goodwill of private landowners. However, the understanding needs to flow both ways. Nothing is a better example of this than the arrangement that we observe between farmers, Idaho Power, and recreation enthusiasts.
I was planning on making a trip to the Murtaugh section of the Snake River, just to the east of Twin Falls, Idaho. After meeting with Darren, the owner of Creature Craft, I found out he was planning on going up to the area the same weekend with some other Creature Craft owners. They were going to run the Milner Mile and then do the Murtaugh section of the river. The Milner Mile was a little on the rough side for my skills, with almost 1.8 miles of straight class 5 and six rapids. However, it would be my first time running the Murtaugh, and it would be awesome if I had more people with me.
I was excited to meet up with other creature peeps, and I was just excited to run the Murtaugh. I wasn’t considering running the Milner Mile until Darren called me shortly after I left my house. He suggested that I bring my backseat for my Creature Craft, and he would see if he could find someone else to row it, while I rode princess. It sounded like a great idea, so I turned around and headed back to get the other seat.
All the creature peeps met up at Cauldron Linn, a small waterfall/giant hole in the Snake River. Several people have tried running it, and all of them have met death. After looking at it for a while, a plan was semi-hatched but abandoned because they didn’t have the proper equipment. We retired to camp where we prepped all of the creatures for the next days run on the Milner.
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The next morning, we got up and headed to the put in for the Milner Mile. This river is best to run with higher water; anything under 10k is no good. However, thanks to a special arrangement, river runners can request a conditional release. If there is enough water to meet irrigation needs, Idaho Power, with a one week notice, will shut down the power plant and release the extra water into the Milner section instead of diverting it through the power plant. What this means a little old lady somewhere is wondering why her blender won’t work (not really, but it’s fun to ponder), while a bunch of guys in kayaks and creatures raft down a river.
THE FULL VIDEO OF THE RUN IS BELOW. IT DOESN’T GET CRAZY UNTIL ABOUT 4 MINUTES IN.
Before we launched and shortly after they opened the flood gates, we walked down a trail to scout the section we would be floating. Usually, when one looks, at waves from up above, they look smaller than they are. As we walked along the scouting path along the river, I noticed one thing, but it didn’t sink in until one of the veterans pointed it out. The waves were big. From 100 feet up on the scout trail, the waves looked big, huge.
At lower levels, the water is slower, and the rapids aren’t as dangerous. The low levels mean most of the rapids are pretty manageable except for a river wide hole that is present at all runnable water levels. Anything over 10k turns this river into one dangerous beast. Today we were going to have almost 13k of water. As far as I know, the last time someone tried running it during high water in an inflatable was in the ’90s. It wasn’t a success, and someone ended up losing their life. I didn’t learn this fact until several months later, and I am not sure if it would have deterred me from going.
The person who was going to row my creature was a 16-year-old cataraft sensation, Luke. I had met him the year before on the North Fork of the Payette when he was only 15. I had never really talked to Luke and didn’t know very much about him. But as we started our descent of the river, I knew that I was in good hands.
I was nervous about so many things. What if we tipped over? Would the seat belt keep me in, what would it be like, and would I be able to do what was needed to flip the creature back upright. All questions would get answered in the next 7 minutes.
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We had to put in just upstream of the bridge. This presented a dilemma. When the dam gates were opened, it increased the water flow in the river, and there wasn’t enough clearance for the two-person creature to fit underneath the bridge. The plan was to tip us on our side; we float underneath and then roll upright on the other side. Everything went as planned until it was time to turn upright.
On the other side of the bridge were some rocks just below the surface of the water. When we tried to roll the creature, the edges would hit the rocks preventing the creature from fully uprighting. This situation did little to reassure my insecurities about righting the raft. After someone walked out a few feet and pushed us off the rocks, we quickly self righted and began the descent down the river.
The first part was calm but fast-moving. There was only one massive wave that sent water crashing over the front of the craft. After that, it was smooth as we rounded a big radius turn in the river. At the end of the corner, the water went from a calm, pretty shade of blue to a turbulent white.
Like all fast-moving sports or recreational activities when your new, things were happening faster than I could comprehend. Waves were coming from all angles, and I could barely figure out where the next hit was going to come from, including the first flip.
The moment that had me the most nervous finally happened about ¼ of a mile into the chop. One minute we were fine the next I was on my side. It was one of those things that happened so quick that I didn’t even realize it was happening. My only concern was remembering what I needed to do to help right the raft, a task that was much easier than I expected.
We righted the raft in only a few seconds after it flipped and right before the tightest, most constricting part of the river. It was this part that was the most dangerous, where the entirety of the river collapsed down to space less than 40 feet across. It was here where the river wide hole was. A hole big enough that it flipped half of the creatures making the run.
The short ride was over before I knew it. The entire run took us less than 8 minutes. In a car, 2 miles in 8 minutes isn’t fast, but in a raft, you are hauling ass. We flipped twice but righted the raft quickly. However, when water is moving that fast, flipping a creature upright in 10 seconds, it still means you miss a lot of water.
It was a fantastic experience, one that I hope to be able to repeat on my own. If it wasn’t for the cooperation of three agencies with their agenda, this is not something people can experience. Other states and organizations could learn a lot from these agencies, now lets hope we can get nature to comply. It was an excellent experience, and I hope that there is enough water next year to rerun it. With that run behind us, we headed downriver to the Murtaugh bridge where we would start another section of the Snake, The Murtaugh.
David Johnson had his first adventure at the age of 7 on a raft on the Green River. For the next 20 years he was an on again off again backpacker. Finally in 2005 he started working for an outdoor recreation store that immersed him in the outdoor lifestyle. His enthusiasm, and proficiency, earned him a position to write outdoor columns for a local newspaper with a distribution of 300K. Now he is a frequent guest writer for numerous outdoor websites, and currently spends his free time, creature crafting, canyoneering or backpacking.