Lochsa River, Middle Fork Clearwater
The Lochsa is the wild man of the Middle Fork Clearwater Wild and Scenic River system. The Forest Service lists 63 rapids in the run from Crooked Fork Creek to Lowell and more than half are pushing Class IV or V! This stretch covers 57 miles so don't expect much respite between the whitewater. Four sections (see below) each make great day trips, or string them together for an extended outing.
The floating season normally extends from May to August. Permits are not required for non-commercial floating. Throughout the floating season, the Lochsa is fed by melting snow in the surrounding mountains. Water temperatures are in the 30s and 40s. Danger of hypothermia is always high. Wet suits are a must for early season floating. Weather in the Lochsa area is often cool, cloudy, and rainy during the whitewater season. Flow gauges have been established on bridges at Lowell (milepost 97) and Eagle Mount Pack Bridge (milepost 135-1/2) to aid you in determining flow rates. Gauges are correlated.
Professional boatmen consider the Lochsa a hazardous river requiring heavy equipment and much technical maneuvering. They cancel trips or alter runs to avoid certain parts of the river when the water level is above six feet on the bridge gauges. Below three feet on the bridge gauges, many rocks begin to appear, and some sections are difficult to float without dragging.
If you have light equipment, little experience, or are unsure of your ability to handle your equipment under extremely difficult water conditions, you should not consider floating the Lochsa without competent accompaniment. Commercial outfitter guides are available to conduct float trips on the Lochsa.
Food, phone, gas, lodging, and camping are available at lodges near Powell Ranger Station, at Syringa, and at Lowell. National Forest campgrounds are located at a number of places along the river. Small hospitals are located at Grangeville and Orofino. Larger hospitals are located at Missoula, MT, and Lewiston, ID. Quick response units are located at Powell Ranger Station and at Lowell. Ambulance service is available at Kooskia. A medical rescue helicopter is available at the Missoula, MT, hospital.
The Middle Fork Clearwater River, of which the Lochsa is tributary, is a larger, calmer river. It is better suited for lighter equipment and later season floating than the Lochsa. Several rapids on the Middle Fork can be difficult at certain flows, however, and need to be scouted especially for open canoes and lighter rafts.
Both the Lochsa and Middle Fork Clearwater Rivers parallel U.S. Highway 12, making it possible to scout much of the river from the road.
The Lochsa River is divided into four management sections as determined by floating characteristics
Section One: Confluence of Crooked Fork Creek and White Sands Creek to Indian Grave Creek 20 miles
In this area, the river valley is wider and flatter. This section contains longer stretches of smooth water with few large rapids. Less technical maneuvering is required of boaters floating this section. Section one offers perfect conditions for open boaters, less experienced kayakers, and floaters.
At river levels of 4.5 feet or above (measured at the bridge flow gauges), spray covers for open canoes and the use of kayaks or inflatables are recommended. Only experienced kayakers and rafters with extra safety precautions should attempt levels of six feet or higher.
Section Two: Indian Grave Creek to Wilderness Gateway Bridge 13 miles
This section contains large rapids requiring very technical maneuvering. It should be attempted with extra precaution only by skilled kayakers and rafters with dependable, heavy-duty equipment . When water levels reach 6.5 feet and above, you will find rapids running into one another, fewer eddies forming, more pooling below major drops, and dangerous debris shooting down the river.
Section Three: Wilderness Gateway Bridge to Split Creek Pack Bridge 9 miles
This section contains some very large rapids; however, they require less technical maneuvering than in section two. Rapids tend to be followed by pools, allowing more time for rest and easier rescue. As with section two, this area should be attempted carefully by experienced paddlers with high-quality equipment.
At levels below six feet on the bridge flow gauges, eddies begin to form behind rocks and numerous bank eddies appear. The river is still quite pushy and recommended only for the experts. Above six feet there are fewer eddies and rapids tend to run into each other, requiring tight maneuvering on some sharp bends.
Section Four: Split Creek Pack Bridge to Lowell 15 miles
In this section, the river gradient begins to flatten out and the river valley widens. The warter's intensity begins to diminish. Experienced boaters use this section when high water levels prohibit floating other areas. Several large rapids come up unexpectedly, but apart from this challenge section four is suitable for the less experienced paddler.
At river levels of eight feet on the bridge flow gauges, most stopping points are washed out, noted rapids change considerably and calm areas disappear.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication