The Main Salmon - Day Five
When dawn finally broke I woke up and found both Michelle
and Middie asleep so I rolled over and dozed off again, only to
be awaken forty minutes later by Middie growling again. At this
point I had to get up to use the rest room anyways and we
went outside to get the morning coffee going. Nothing had
touched our coolers of food overnight and a survey of the
beach revealed no bear tracks so I set about going through
the morning routine. Michelle was still sound asleep and it was
quite early so I kicked back and enjoyed the cool early
morning air and the view of the river. A Bald Eagle landed in
the large Ponderosa right above our tent and Middie and I
watched a huge black bear come down to the water on the
opposite side of the river.
Eventually Michelle made her way out of the tent and went
about her morning routine. I was getting hungry and just
starting to get breakfast going when she walked off towards
the shade tree we had been under last night and I heard her
“Brad there’s another bear.”
I headed over and was surprised to see that there was indeed a bear
standing pretty nearby on the hillside behind our camp. I yelled and pitched
rocks but the bear was unimpressed. One of the stones finally came pretty
close, finally convincing our fuzzy visitor to head a bit farther up the hill. For
the next ten minutes we stood there starring up at the bear while it stood
there starring down at us. This got boring and we decided to pack up and
just cook breakfast back up Five Mile Bar where we were headed anyways.
The last thing I wanted was for this bear to come down and disrupt our
meal. The stupid animal was probably within a few hundred yards of our
camp all last night, but seeing it sitting up there on the hill above us was a
So we loaded up and I managed to row us back up to the large beach at
Five Mile Bar where there was plenty of room to spread out and cook in the
sun. It was still early enough so no one else was around at this popular stop
which was nice. After eating in peace we tied Middie up to the boat and
headed up to check out “Buckskin Bills” and refill our water jug.
Of all of the characters and stories of the Salmon River, Buckskin Bill’s is
the one that often gets the most attention, and it’s not hard to see why.
Ignoring a stone guard tower, antler clad compound, and museum full of
homemade relics and pictures of the tiny mountain man make his tale hard
to resist. Sylvan Hart was born early in the twentieth century in the
Oklahoma Territory. Family tradition had each of the young Sylvan men
spending a year in the wilderness living off of the land and learning to care
for themselves. According to Hart, now known as Buckskin Bill, he liked it so
much he just decided to say. His old cabins have been converted into a
museum of sorts maintained by the current owners, who have quite a story
of their own. Buckskin made just about everything on site, including an
impressive assortments of guns and rifles, utensils from metals he mined
and smelted, helmets, clothing, and knives. Antlers adorned every bit of
free space above the doors to his cabin, which is incredibly small but totally
appropriate for Buckskin’s diminutive stature. His home even features an
open air upstairs that constituted his fair weather quarters. We could have
easily spent a day looking around Buckskin’s, but the half hour we had was
incredibly interesting. I also learned that the metal cables and planking
attached to the cliff behind last night’s camp were suspended walkways that
Buckskin made to traverse this part of the canyon at high water when the
beach would have been submerged.
Perhaps even more intriguing than Buckskin’s home are the series of
caves and the stone guard tower that he built on site. The caves were his
so called bomb shelters, built to house him in the event of a Soviet
attack, while the guard tower was made to defend his land from the
Forest Service, who wanted to obtain all land along the river to hold as
wilderness. We climbed up to the tower and I even braved the old metal
rungs to access the top of the stronghold, which gave an impressive
vantage of the river and beach below.
Even though Buckskin was not interested in the government, he did have
a strong streak of patriotism. Having volunteered for World War II he was
willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for his country. Never a man to back
down from what he believed in, he once hikes sixty miles out of the
canyon to the county seat, armed to the teeth, to surrender to the
government, who had somehow tracked him and served him with a tax
bill. When they saw him he was immediately turned away, forever exempt
from paying taxes. To see Buckskin Bill’s place at Five Mile Bar is to love
Only slightly less interesting than Buckskin is the story of the current
residents, a German couple that visited the Unites States in the late 1970’
s and set out on a horse packing trip traversing much of the distanced
from Mexico to Canada. On reaching Canada they decided to winter over
somewhere and were directed to the somewhat more temperature climate
of the Salmon River Canyon, where they came on the plot of land
formerly owned by Buckskin Bill and signed on as caretakers. They
haven’t left and now reside in a gorgeous home with a lavish vegetable
garden just above Buckskin’s old lodgings.
We struck up a conversation with a younger girl that was working here
and she said they had been spending the morning fixing up the fence to
their garden that the bears had destroyed. Apparently no less than three
bears had marauded the garden last night, eating compost, and
generally wreaking havoc. She said they even tried to scare the bears
away by shooting at them with a .22 and shining a spotlight in their eyes.
We sure heard the ruckus from our beach. As I walked through the
garden to a spigot to refill our water jug the damage was evident and
copious amounts of bear feces lay strewn all over the well manicured
plot. I guess we were lucky that all of the bears decided to stay up at the
garden and not come down to raid our cooler.
By the time we left Five Mile Bar it was probably about 11:00
o’clock and another raft was pulling in just as we were
untying and heading on downstream. In short order we
floated by last night’s camp and saw our bear friend sleeping
soundly in the sun at the top of the little hill he had spent the
morning surveying us from. We had another good chunk of
river to cover today and I rowed steadily along, bringing us
through a couple of surprisingly splashy rapids and
eventually into a more open landscape near the mouth of the
South Fork of the Salmon River. The open views were
impressive and we basked in the sun while floating beneath
the pack bridge at Mackay Bar, another of the lodges on
several of the remaining private inholdings along the
Salmon. We decided to keep floating, resisting the shaded
deck and horseshoe pit.
Below the confluence with the South Fork the river makes a
ninety degree bend, headed due west and flowed into one of
the most scenic stretches of the entire river. The canyon
walls soared overhead and granite rock briefly became
predominant again. The dark exposed rock caught the
strong afternoon sun and sent temperatures soaring,
probably into the 100’s. The river also slowed as it entered a
stretch known as the swirlies. We drifted and rowed and
swam and floated in the river alongside the raft throughout
much of the stretch, preferring to be on the water as
opposed to on a scorching beach. This was by far the hottest
it had been on the trip and I was not surprised to see storm
clouds building back over the mountains to the west. Still,
rain was not looking probable here and we lazed our way
down through this incredible canyon.
We did not have tonight’s camp reserved, but there were
literally sandy beaches everyone along this stretch of the
river. We passed up a few great looking spots and floated
past another small private lodge before deciding on heading
for Rugged Creek. As we had come to expect, Rugged Creek
turned out to be a pristine beach campsite with a large swath
of perfect white sand and a forest creek entering just
downstream. Of course I expected the beach to be littered
with bear tracks, but after a thorough inspection found only
the tracks of humans and a few dogs. This would be our
home for the night.
Another afternoon of swimming and lounging began soon after landing. It was still early enough for the sun to be out in full strength,
but luckily a thing little ponderosa give us a sliver of shade to follow our around the beach as the afternoon progressed. On cue, once
the sun dipped behind the ridge the temperature became a touch more manageable and I gathered up firewood and got dinner
underway. On finishing we relaxed by the fire a while longer before drawing back the rain fly on the tent and climbing in to end another
day in paradise.
Inside the tent one thing was certain, it was hot! Even without the rain fly we lay on top of the sleeping bags, which by now had
accumulated a health amount of sand and drifted off to sleep. No growling from Middie and no bears tonight meant sound sleep, at
least until the first rumble of thunder that we heard sometime in the wee hours. I got out of the tent and secured the rain fly. This made
it almost unbearable in the tent, but a salvo of raindrops convinced us it was a good idea. Listening to the gentle rumbling of thunder
echo through the canyon was relaxing and sleep came again. The next time we woke up it was almost dawn and another storm was
passing by somewhere near. Lightning would occasionally flash and light up the tent and a few rumbled played out before a quick spat
of rain, but this soon passed and by the time the sun rose there was no sign of clouds in the sky.
While enjoying my morning coffee I watched this big bear wander down to the water across the
river. Could this have been one of last night's visitors?
After finally having breakfast in peace we headed up to check out Buckskin
Bill's and refill our water jugs.
This cabin makes sense for someone well under 5'6". Buckskin was definitely
short and it showed in his construction methods.
Just about everything Buckskin used was homemade of masterfully crafted from
Buckskin certainly had as nice of a collection of antlers and skulls as I have ever
Buckskin's guard tower was irresistible and I had to climb up and into it.
Just about everywhere we went at Fivemile Bar bear poop littered the ground.
The guard tower certainly gave a commanding view of the river in both directions. I suppose an impressive final stand could have
been made from here.
Michelle playing around on some of the ladder rungs.
Somehow from the river the tower doesn't look quite as out of place as you would assume. In many ways the volley ball net on the
beach seemed more out of place.
Michelle and Middie enjoying the stillwater and the view as we approach the pack bridge at Mackay Bar around lunhctime.
Middie took a pretty big splash in a benign rapid a ways below Fivemile Bar when we slammed into a surprisingly big wave.
Below the confluence with the South Fork are long stretches of slow water, but
some of the best beaches and best scenery of the entire trip.
Trees became sparse below the South Fork and temperatures seemed to
It was hot enough that we could float along besides the raft for minutes at a time without getting even remotely cold. What a change
from the icy spring fed rivers of Oregon!
Rugged Creek featured the kind of perfect beach we had grown accustomed to and we took full advantage of it for swimming and
lounging. A few clouds and a skinny Ponderosa gave enough shade to make the afternoon bearable.
Seeing young bighorn sheep was a good sign that this once troubled population was on the road to recovery. A radio collar can be seen
on the biggest of the ewes here.
Despite the heat our little fire pan got lots of use throughout the float.