Howdy Folks, Justin Walsh from Bearpaw River Expeditions here. Bearpaw is a river outfitting business based out of Missoula- sure we occasionally do some floats on the Bitterroot, Blackfoot, and Clark Fork rivers, but for the most part we focus on our favorite river- the Lochsa over Lolo Pass in Idaho. I am happy to have this opportunity to make an occasional post about the water levels and the other exciting events going on over there.
Geez, I was about to sit down and tell of how the water levels were rising and how the sun was beginning to melt the snow pack down. But then I looked out the window and saw that we are again having a snow flurries pass through the Missoula Valley. So I am sure there is snow on Lolo Pass and in the Bitterroots. What we are seeing today is typical of how things have been the past few weeks in Western Montana – the interplay of warm/sunny and cool/snowy is still balancing out. So as of today at least, we still have about 103 percent of our average amount of snowpack up in the Clearwater Basin in Idaho (the basin that feeds the Lochsa River). You can find a listing of links where you can check water levels for yourself on our website by clicking here. On this page you will find both snowpack links and stream flow links for the Lochsa River area as well as links to streamflow data for the Bitterroot, Blackfoot, and Clark Fork Rivers.
The Bearpaw guides have run a few training runs on the river during the past month or so. Make no mistake, it has been low water, but there have also been a few spikes as well. I should let you know that when River Rats talk about water levels of the Lochsa River, most of us talk about the Lowell bridge gauge. In Lowell, Idaho a bridge spans the Lochsa and the road continues up the Selway River drainage. At some point in time a tape measure was put up along the bridge support and markers were spray painted to mark every foot. Yeah it’s “old school” but its how we roll. Of course there are other methods- the cubic foot per second is precise and efficient. But the bridge gauge is usually the last word when talking about the Lochsa River level.
To put things in perspective, here is breakdown of what to expect at some of the various water levels: 0 to 2 feet- great fishing but barely navigable in a raft. 2 to 3 feet- the fishing is still good in that clear water and the some of the whitewater features start to come out. 3 to 4 feet – the water is still clear and some say that 3.5 feet is one of the best, most challenging whitewater rafting levels. 4 to 5 feet- the water may start to become silty but alot of rafter refer to this level as the “friendly fours”. 5 to 6 feet- not too many folks fishing now but some wild rafting is developing. 6 to 7 feet- no big deal, you will just be soaked head to toe, all day long, with both huge whitewater waves and floods of adrenaline! 7 and everything on up IS a big deal, enough said.
The river and every rapid is always changing as the water levels rise and fall. One rapid in particular, “Pipeline” is know to be a great wave at some of the lower levels 2-4 feet. This wave draws a ton of kayakers, rafters, and surfers – literally people with surf boards riding the wave like they were surfing in Hawaii! It is always fun to stop and see what is going on at the Pipeline. Here is a photo of Bearpaw Guide Mat McGrath and a surfer in the Pipeline:
Well, stay tuned for more dispatches from Lochsa Country. Feel free to contact me anytime with comments or questions – find my info on our Bearpaw River Expeditions website.
Justin B Walsh