Wolf Creek: Challenge on the Wild and Scenic Selway
Wolf Creek Rapid
Over the course of my whitewater guiding career there are a number of rapids that challenged me and made me a better boater. But in the course of 8 years there is truly one rapid that sticks out in my mind as being the scariest, toughest and most challenging, Wolf Creek. Wolf Creek Rapid on the Wild and Scenic Selway River is always a challenge.
During commercial trips we would pull into the calm waters of the eddy above the rapid knowing full well what was below while our guests remained oblivious to the sheer terror that the simple thought of running Wolf Creek can induce in seasoned guides. Making the hike up to scout the rapid, you climb a small trail up to a vantage point that overlooks the whole rapid. This hike is a quiet anticipatory hike, a pilgrimage of sorts. All the while thinking to yourself “what’s it going to look like this week.”
As the water goes from high water to low water near the end of the season Wolf Creek is an ever-changing and evolving beast. In high water the rapid is an amazingly fast crash down through large holes big enough to swallow an 18’ raft, just when you think you’re done with the ride you’re greeted by a very large standing wave at the tailout of the rapid nicknamed “Jaws.” Jaws has flipped a number of boats and is a formidable opponent in high water runs.
I always remember what a veteran Selway boater told me about Wolf Creek in high flow. He said, “Good or bad, it will be over before you know it,” referencing the sheer speed of the drop. In low water Wolf Creek is still fast and very rocky, providing a highly technical run that can screw up the most experienced boaters forcing plan A to quickly become B, C, D, and Oops. There are many wrap rock hazards that can sink a boat instantly if the boat is pinned sideways due to the high speed and force of the current as the entire river is forced to squeeze against the cliff wall. Once past the main wrap hazards you are forced to contend with a large flat faced boulder named “Elwoods Rock.” The rock is named for early Idaho Selway River outfitter Elwood Masoner, and fell into Wolf Creek rapid the year he died. Changing a simple straightforward class 3 rapid into a challenging class 4. Elwoods rock has seen it’s fair share of carnage. The flat nature of the rock tends to paste boats sideways and flip them instantly, as the majority of the current in medium to lower flows head directly for the rock.
It’s always a great feeling to be below a rapid like Wolf Creek right side up and everything intact. Below the rapid the feeling of sheer terror gives way to pure joy as we would always let out a big wolf howl signifying and celebrating a clean run.