Thursday, September 29, 2011

Running the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Middle Fork of the Salmon River © Neil Ever Osborne

The following post is from professional endurance athlete, Luke Nelson. This Friday, Nelson, along with Ty Draney, will begin a multi-marathon run through the Frank Church Wilderness - over 120 miles in less than two days. Learn more about their epic journey.

Follow their run LIVE on Friday and Saturday, via SPOT messenger here.
Luke Nelson will be tweeting updates:

Luke Nelson
A few summers ago I was fortunate enough to be able to spend the entire summer working as a whitewater guide on the Middle Fork of the Salmon.  It was not my first time on the river, as the Middle Fork had been my first wilderness multi-day river trip just prior to my 18th birthday.  When the opportunity to spend an entire summer on the Middle Fork came about I took it without hesitation. One visit to the Middle Fork left me yearning to return to it’s awe-inspiring clutches. 

There are very few places on this planet that can compare to the wildness of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area, through which the Middle Fork of the Salmon River flows.  The natural and pristine immaculately preserved, throughout most of the river there is hardly noticeable traces of mankind's heavy hand.  Without fail, at the end of our six day trips down the river our guests would express their experience with phrases like “trip of a lifetime” or “time of my life”.  I would thank them with a smile, knowing inside that it was my life and I would be able to repeat the voyage in just over a day’s time.  When I finished work for that summer I teared up as I drove home knowing I wouldn’t be back for a season.  I knew I would still be able to go back, at some point.  Humans are not the only frequent visitors to the Middle Fork as it serves as the return route for salmon.  It’s headwaters are spawning grounds that are thousands of years old.  Yet, unlike myself there are many things that threaten the ability of Wild Salmon to return to the Middle Fork, including many hydroelectric projects on the Lower Snake River, into which the Middle Fork eventually flows. 

For a couple of years now I have tried, unsuccessfully, to win the lottery for a permit to float the Middle Fork of the Salmon.  It has been quite depressing every year to be turned down, knowing that my return to paradise is delayed.  Wild Salmon are in the same situation, trying to return, but inhibited by obstacles outside of their control.  During a run with a friend a little over a year ago an idea was hatched, to “run” the Middle Fork.   Not to run it in a 15-foot raft but to run the trail that follows the river for over seventy miles.  After a year a planning and logistics the stars have aligned for Ty Draney and I to “run” the Middle Fork.  There have been obstacles along the way but we will not be deterred, in the same way we hope to draw more awareness to the issues facing wild salmon so that they to may “run” freely in the Middle Fork and it’s headwaters once again.

Luke Nelson is a member of the US Ski Mountaineering Team, representing the team in February at the World Ski Mountaineering Championships in Italy. Nelson holds several records, including fastest ascent and the fastest car to car on Mount Borah, the highest peak in Idaho.  He is sponsored by La Sportiva, UltrAspire, First Endurance, and Nuun.

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