Tag Archives: Cattaraugus Creek

Escape the Urban: Dreaming of the Salmon

10 Jul

This article is the latest in a series on learning to be a river guide with Adventure Calls Outfitters here in Western New York. The last entry, on the wonders of wetsuits and booties, can be found here.

The lazy days of summer have affected our rivers as well. The season on Cattaraugus Creek is six weeks gone now, shrunk as it is from its magnificent spring flows. I hiked down into its canyon this past week, right up to the confluence of the main and south branches under towering Point Peter, and I barely recognized the rushing waterway I knew from April and May. Blanched and crusted over are shale banks that were previously under two feet of teeming froth. Hikers and bathers frolicked in the midst of the combined swells, their flow more soothing than harrowing. Where in mid-April I was dumping swimmers now a middle aged man was sitting drinking a beer.

The Genesee in Letchworth is also slowing. Never the biggest water, the lure of a current trek on the Genny is plenty of sun, plenty of scenery, plenty of opportunity to swim in the refreshing waters. We’re converting from six person rafts to single and tandem inflatable kayaks, to navigate the lower water, or raised rocks, depending on whether your glass is half full or half empty.

The record rain in the spring, a boon for us rafting, has given way to a near drought. Picnickers are happy. Kayakers and guides are not.

“Pray for rain,” my boss said as I left ‘work’ on Monday, a spectacularly beautiful day of sun, but also the lowest water I had ever run. I was bruised from head to foot, a jammed finger on my left hand swelling alarmingly and turning purple to boot, from freeing rafts stuck on rocks most of the day. I was beat up and worn out, as though I had been ground on the bony bottom of the river for the length of the five mile run from Lee’s Landing to St. Helena.

Where can a poor river guide find deliverance from the mid-summer/low-water blues?

The answer, dear pilgrim, is the Salmon River.

I had heard other guides talk of the Salmon from opening weekend in late March. As we shivered past floating chunks of ice and frozen waterfalls clinging to the gorge walls, bound from head to toe in neoprene and bulky dry suits, the veteran guides told stories of a magic place where Big Water and Good Weather met, a storybook land of swimsuits and rapids and sun-drenched swimming holes. Of clear tannin-filled waters, an iced tea flood as opposed to our chocolate milk runoff. Of cigarette trees and rock candy mountains. Of the Salmon River, in the low lands between Tug Hill and Lake Ontario, four hours to the east.

The Salmon River’s most attractive feature is not the river at all, but the reservoir that sits above it, collecting the winter’s runoff and holding it to heat in the summer sun. Every week I shivered on the Catt I thought of the water growing ever warmer in that man-made lake, waiting to be released in summer splendor to provide eager whitewater enthusiasts a torrent of wet Zen. There are three dam release weekends, long scheduled and anticipated, of which this weekend is the first. I will be at the next one: July 23rd and 24th, getting in as many runs as possible in the guaranteed Class III churn and probable summer sun.

Two more weeks til the highlight of the rafting season.