Cable Car Hot Spring, Salmon River, Idaho

The alarm didn’t even get a chance to go off for this trip. I woke up at 2:45am too damn excited for the adventure, it has been on my todo list forever. Living in the Pacific Northwest hot springs are quite abundant, albeit the best ones requiring a little hard work and determination. Cole eventually picked me up, and we were on our way by around 5:30am. We made the long drive to Riggins before turning left just south of town crossing the Little Salmon River heading east traveling upstream along the main Salmon River. I love this country, it had been a while since my last visit, not since Branden and I were here to haul my poor truck home with toasted transmission from a breakdown at Carey Creek after completing my permitted run down the Main Salmon, it was nice to be back on better terms. The river corridor was quite busy with all the anglers steelhead fishing and others hunting for bird. We continued up the paved road slowing down a bit to check out Lake Creek Rapid and shortly thereafter, Ruby Rapid. Ten miles from Riggins we found Spring Bar Campground, and our take out for the trip. We quickly stashed my old mountain bike in the campground before continuing on. We took our time road scouting the river along the way to Carey Creek. We made mental notes of a few rapids that could give us trouble but most looked straight forward. Near French Creek we took the time to pull over and scout our potential camp for the night, quickly finding one suitable. Eventually we did reached the boat ramp at Carey Creek and the start of our adventure.
Neither Cole or myself had ever rigged a paddle raft to be R2’d for an overnighter before so once loaded we entered an eddy at the top of the ramp to get a feel for it, it felt cumbersome, hmmm I thought to myself, this should be interesting. We were in my brothers little Aire Puma, a vessel that looks and performs much like an oversized inflatable kayak considering it’s only 11 feet long. Shortly after noon we entered the main river channel and threw caution to the wind, and not long after that we encountered our first class two rapid that didn’t quite go as planned, we laughed it off and chalked it up us getting a feel for the craft. The little puma was definitely stern heavy which caused the ass end of the boat to try and swing downstream and spin us out, we adjusted, moving our weight forward, which helped a lot. Also, we were gonna have to communicate more, that way each of us knew what the other one was thinking, and to be honest, this didn’t require much work, turns out Cole and I run our boats pretty similar. Lastly we had to pick our line early and commit to it, no last minute moves running this boat. We learned quickly and 30 minutes into the trip we had all the confidence we needed to get the job done, after working out the kinks we were able to relax and take in the scenery, which there was plenty of.
The Salmon River canyon is gorgeous, especially this high up, it still has an alpine feel as we floated past forested slopes draped in ponderosa pine, while passing numerous sandy beaches that bagged for our attention. The weather was down right perfect considering it was the second weekend in November, the sun was out with temps right around 50 degrees, Cole and I were extremely comfortable in just a light base layer under our drysuits and too hot for the balaclava and gloves. At 3.5 miles we reached the first real obstacle of the trip, a house size rock where we had to go left, it was the first of our must make moves, and it proved to be piece of cake, Cole and I were definitely on the same page. About a mile beyond the rock we started looking for camp, and found it with ease. There was another raft parked on a beach just upstream from what would be our camp. We parked for a minute to scope out a possible tent spot and quickly found one under a tree just a few feet from Robbins Creek, and after moving some sand around it was perfect.
We made quick work unpacking the boat, Cole secured the raft while I began pitching the tent and before we knew it we were getting out of the dry suits and river booties and into our hiking clothes and boots. After loading the daypacks with provisions we crossed the creek by camp and picked up a game trail that became more and more evident before reaching the site of an old homestead near an abandoned cable car that once spanned the river. We quickly found a more defined trail heading up the holler that held Robbins Creek, but it wasn’t without some misery. The trail was overgrown, and not with your typical vine maple, but brambles of thorn bushes and black berries that reached out at your forearms and shins, it sucked. We pressed on through the sticker bushes as the trail steepened and eventually got above the miserable brush as it joined a faint double track where the first views began to open up. It was a beautiful evening, the sun was low in the sky and the fading light played along the lofty slopes of the Salmon River Mountains, its moments like this that I live for. We felt good as we made the climb working our way in and out the subtle draws that the terrain forced the trail to take. We hiked for maybe a half hour, taking the time to enjoy and savor the sweet views, for it would be dark on our way out. Soon we could make out the faint sound of running water and shortly after stumbled across an old mine shaft complete with concrete dam built up to keep the warm water in, and a short ways beyond that a shanty complete with a cedar log tub big enough for two. We could hardly wait to get wet, and after dropping the packs and changing into our swimsuits decided to check out the cave first.
I was aware that bats lived in the cave so I wanted to be sure to explore it first while the sun was still up. I didn’t want to be anywhere near the cave at dark when the bats would be more active. Once at the entrance to the cave we carefully stepped over the slippery wall and into the warm waters. The temp was comfortable at first and we lingered near the opening into the mountain before finally building up enough courage to venture a little further into the center of the earth. With head lamps lit we made our way in. The cave was dark and the water shallow so the going was slow as we working our way back. The deeper we explored the hotter it got, we could hear water running in the distance and eventually reached a point where water was raining down from the ceiling of the cave almost signaling to me that I had gone far enough. It was difficult to see beyond your head lamp as a thick fog from the suffocating humidity left you blind. I had enough and was ready for fresh air so decided to turn back, which was fine by me, I had considered myself a lucky man for not finding any bats along the way, Cole on the other hand ventured a little further than me. After exploring the cave we decided to check out the wood shack and cedar tub.
After climbing over the headwall and departing the cave we walked uphill a short ways to the dilapidated shanty risking life and limb as we made entrance. The small wood shelter was in shambles with the roof falling victim to time and gravity over the years. Two of the three windows were mostly collapsed and an old rusty pipe was in place to prop the roof up. We were cautious not to touch anything for the fear of bringing the whole damn thing down on top of us. We were careful, placing anything we needed within arms reach of the old cedar log tub to avoid moving around the structure more than necessary. Booby traps were abundant with plenty of rusty nails, broken lumber, and other hazards just waiting to get us. We forced ourselves to get cozy in the old wood tub but eventually settled in, likely with the help of a few brewskis. We let the sun slip away, Cole brought his music, and we just enjoyed our time in this special place, what an experience. Darkness fell upon us as I lit a few tealights for ambient light, perhaps a dozen of them, music filled the room turning the small shack into a concert hall, it felt nice to check out for a little bit. We relaxed, enjoyed our company and laughed until tears rolled from our eyes, it felt like an eternity up there, it was great, but like all great things, they come to an end. We were ready to go after a good long well deserved soak. We stumbled from the shanty, dressed ourselves, then before I knew it I was falling, and not in a good way, but downhill. I grasped at the earth as it slipped by, I fell some more, then a little more. Twenty or more feet down the embankment I could hear Cole hollering with a sense of urgency in his voice as he descended the slope after me. I was already picking myself up when he arrived, the side of my head burned, I reached for my temple then checked my hand as blood ran through my fingertips. I was shaken a little bit but quickly brushed it off and regained the trail. We paused for a minute to settle ourselves before stumbling down the trail, the going was slow for pitch blackness was all around, and only the dim light of head lamps shown upon the narrow path. It didn’t take too long before we eventually reached the brambles, where we pressed on tearing more flesh from our arms along the way out. Alas, we were finally home for the night at our beach near Robbins Creek, we were done. Cole got to work on a fire over the firepan which was a good thing, because it eventually led to us eating a dinner of fajitas, which was spectacular. Believe it or not we turned in early, around 10pm, and slept like the dead.
The next morning we awoke to overcast skies, we took our time getting out of bed, but eventually managed to do it. We prepared some coffee, ate a little breakfast and packed up camp before putting on the dry suits and shoving off. The water was good, more of the same, fun class two, about every quarter to half mile. We took it all in enjoying the scenery around us, I truly love the Salmon, the water is fun and has the feeling that it wants people on it. A couple miles below camp we reached the next obstacle on the river at the bottom of an awesome set of waves. Hidden at the tail of the run was a boat eating rock, just under the surface, we entered the green water descending toward the meat of the run and rock then powered forward missing it on the right side, a textbook run. Below that rapid we encountered a few more waves, including a couple that surprised us by throwing waves over our heads as we approached Manning Bridge, and a construction site. A new bridge is being built, and what a gem it will be, apparently only one of seven in the world, being a single suspension design. Below the bridge we entered the crevice, a place once looked at as a potential place to put a dam, thank god that never happened. Below the crevice the river forced us to paddle in places, but with the wind at our backs it required little effort to move downstream. We approached another bridge near the confluence of Partridge Creek and a beautiful home perched in a perfect setting. We passed under the bridge down the middle of the river and into another fun wave train, below the rapid we stayed left to avoid a rather large hole and house rock just below. The next significant rapid was marked by a rock river left and a gravel bar in the middle of the river, we ran right and enjoyed some of the biggest waves of the trip, so fun. A short ways beyond we approached the last rapid of the trip, a monster wave train with towering waves stacked on top of each other, the grand finally did not disappoint and proved to be the funnest rapid of the entire trip. Nearing the end of the trip we paddled along, taking in the last of the river scenery and saying our goodbye to the Salmon River. The massive slab of man made concrete marking the boat ramp at Spring Bar was impossible to miss. Our journey was over, but the memories created would last a lifetime.
I love the Salmon River, this place changes you forever. After pulling the boat from the water I hiked up the hill to retrieve my bike that we had stashed in the campground, I can only imagine how weird it must have looked to see a guy in a dry suit riding a mountain bike. Back at the ramp I quickly changed into more comfortable riding gear and hit the road. I enjoyed the ride, it was fun reliving the trip on the bike ride back to Carey Creek, the ride took me a little over an hour with a few stops to drink some water and scout a few of the rapids that we had ran over the last two days. What a great trip, one I would do again in a heartbeat. We floated about 14 miles over two days on the river, Cable Car Hot Spring is definitely worth the effort it takes for a unique soak. If your thinking of going please be aware that crossing the Salmon River is a very dangerous task that requires the skills necessary to pull it off, people have died trying to get to the hot spring. Also, do your homework, I can’t imagine the shanty could have survived another winter, check with the locals to make sure its still there before putting in the effort. Click here for an awesome video documentary of our trip. Cable Car Hot Spring Video For more pictures click this link. Cable Car Hot Spring Pictures

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