Luck on the Lochsa
Over Our Heads in Every Way
By James J. Pizzadili
Back in the early 1970s whitewater river travel in Idaho was more motorized than today. Jet boats prowled up and down the Main Salmon River and the Snake River, carrying supplies, mail, Forest Service employees, and sometimes tourists. Outfitters rafted guests down the Middle Fork Salmon, but canoes were rare and kayaks almost unknown. Some Lewiston boaters still ran propeller-driven outboards up the Snake into the rapids and rocks of Hells Canyon. The most river activity was around Lewiston, at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers. In 1970, Potlatch Corporation had just completed the last of many annual log drives from the Headquarters area down the Clearwater to their Lewiston mill. The water treatment ponds seen now were one huge log pond, filled with the results of the river drive. Lower Granite Dam had not been completed and there was more river current around Lewiston, not the reservoir slackwater we see now. Kids played in the “rollers,” a fun rapid of large, gentle, rolling waves on the Snake between Lewiston and Clarkston.
River running began for me in the spring of 1972, when a friend and I made a trip that really should not have taken place—and could have been our last. Tony Latham and I were attending the University of Idaho and we talked about doing a whitewater raft trip before school let out for the summer. He had grown up in Idaho Falls and knew his way around outdoor Idaho pretty well.
Up to this point, all my boating experience had been canoeing and sailing on Chesapeake Bay. I knew I wanted to go river-running and brave the whitewater, but I could hardly have been more ignorant about it. This trip changed all that very quickly.