The Great Salmon Run - running the route of one of nature's great migrations
Ty Draney, a member of the Patagonia Ultrarunning Team, and friend Luke Nelson recently completed the Great Salmon Run in partnership with Save our Wild Salmon. The pair were inspired to trace over 120 miles of the Snake River sockeye's migration route, motivated by facts like these:
• Thirteen populations of salmon and steelhead are officially in danger of extinction. The four remaining Snake River stocks are either threatened or endangered.
• The Columbia Basin was once home to the largest salmon fishery in the world — supporting tens of thousands of jobs, providing a nutritious food, and generating billions of dollars in economic activity each year.
• Up to 30 million wild salmon and steelhead once returned to the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Today, it is less than one percent of the number.
• Snake River sockeye salmon migrate higher than any salmon in the world: Adults swim 900 miles and climb 6,500 feet in elevation — from the Pacific Ocean to Redfish Lake in the Rocky Mountains of Idaho.
• With more than 200 dams, the Columbia Basin today is among the world’s most dammed landscapes. Removing four costly dams will restore salmon, create jobs, save money, and establish a clean energy blueprint for the future.
Here’s Ty’s report:
[Bighorn Crags, deep in the heart of the Columbia Basin. Central Idaho. All photos: Matthew Irving]
"I think we're taking this whole salmon metaphor way too far...."
That's all I could think at the time. We had been wandering off course for hours, trying to get up to the Bighorn Crags. As it turns out the 78 miles we ran along the river was the easy part. We had left Boundry Creek at first light, hoping to make good time while the weather was cool. The trail was very runnable and we were in high spirits.
[Ty and Luke making progress despite smoke in the canyon, blown in from distant wildfires.]
By the time we reached the powerhouse rapids there was heavy smoke in the canyon, but it passed quickly. At 25 miles Luke tweeted, "25 miles down, loving it." As we made our way further down river the heat of the river and the enormity of our task started to settle in: our only respite was lunch while laying on the lawn at the Middle Fork Lodge.
The thought of warm food at the Flying B kept us plodding on, excited to get off our feet and fill our bellies. It became painfully obvious by 9 p.m. that our progress was going to be too slow-we weren't going to be able to make dinner. About 7 miles short of our goal, approximately 60 miles into our trip we decided to sleep on a beach along the river. There was a group there already but they graciously gave us a spot by the fire, and some tube steaks. Never did a hot dog taste so good.
We slept for about 5 hours in just our tights and puffy coats. I poached a life jacket to lie on and actually slept quite well. By 3:30 a.m. we were running again. Miraculously the lights and breakfast were on at the Flying B. We pounded our body weight in eggs, bacon and warm, buttery hash browns. This made slow going once we waddled back to the trail but it was well-worth the side stitch. By the end of the river section the standing joke was about the "Middle Fork Treadmill" the trail seemed to roll and twist repeatedly and we were looking forward to getting to the high-alpine country of the Bighorn Crags.
It was nice to change our gait and to be able to hike a bit as we made our way toward the Crags. Suddenly the the trail disappeared and we were now a couple of lost salmon ourselves, knowing where we needed to go but also understanding that things weren't quite right.
Finally, after losing 5.5 hours we found the trail that led to the Terrace Lakes. Getting up to the granite spires and lakes at dusk made all our frustrations worth it. We knew that once we hit the other site of the pass that it would be "all down hill" - way more literally than we suspected. As we exited the lake we were serenaded by an angry bull elk in the dark which was totally worth the delay. We made our way carefully down to the junction that would take us down to the last leg of our run. We found the sign, made the turn and almost instantly the trail vanished. We were tired and frustrated at this point and the sleep monster was creeping up. We had been moving for 20 hours since sleeping on the beach and I was starting to see things. I was sure that Handsome Matt, the photographer was crouched by the trail and another time I could see a mountain lion crouched, tail flicking getting ready to pounce on Luke. I knew I needed a nap.
We found a soft grassy spot, geared up, and just as I started to doze off the thunder started to roll. "You've got to be kidding me I muttered to Luke..." "Really???"
We each had a waterproof map so we covered up and it started to pour. I dozed off, Luke claims I was even snoring. I'm sure it was just the thunder. After about a 15-minute nap we headed out again and things started to get interesting. The trail beta we had received was apparently not true or we were in an entirely wrong drainage. We bushwhacked, crossed the river, just to do it all over again. The water ranged from ankle to waist deep.
By 4 a.m. the canyon pinched off and we were too tired and wet to keep going. We climbed up the shale a bit, found a log, hunkered down in the fetal position, hugging our legs and huddling under a space blanked for warmth. Luckily we could lean on the log and not fall into the river. After several hours of napping and shivering it was finally light enough to see. We decided to keep heading down the canyon now, we were committed. A couple hours later we heard a shout and Luke asked, "Did you hear that too?" It was Matt. We were found! As it turns out we had been on the correct route the whole time. The trail was a mess, we were a mess, physically and mentally. I looked like I had been in a fight with an alley cat; the wild roses and elder berry bushes totally thrashed me.
Memorable? Yes. Would I do it again? I'm always up for good type 3 fun but it can get a bit unruly at times. Special thanks to my family for the pass for the weekend. Luke for inviting me along. Patagonia, Ultraspire, and La Sportiva for their support. Jared Campbell for the SPOT support, Handsome Matt of Camp 4, Save Our Wild Salmon, and all the others that took interest and helped us along in our journey. Get online and make a pledge, get informed, a bunch of small steps will help us preserve the wild places we play in and help the Salmon get home.