So winter has officially ended, even though our Northwest Wyoming mountains look like a scene out of the movie Fargo. I look up at all that snow and start calculating how many more days I will need my snow shoes and cross country skis on a few of my favorite backcountry trails. I am already reminiscing about my turns and jumps at Sleeping Giant Ski Area, some days snowmobiling to places you simply cannot get to under human power and ascending frozen waterfalls in the Shoshone National Forest.
And that snow gets me to thinking about something else.
Yep. All the snow that brought California, Oregon and the rest of the Northwest out of drought conditions and filled the reservoirs back up means that our rivers will be flowing fast this spring and, with luck, well into summer.
But don’t take my word for it. Ask the pros.
That’s what I did when I called down to Wyoming River Trips for the latest scoop.
Ron and Rick Blanchard traded in rodeo for rafting in 1978 and have built Wyoming River Trips into a leading rafting outfitter in Northwest Wyoming. The brothers’ children are now guiding and helping to manage operations.
Ron answered the phone. It’s usually one or the other who picks up, and today was Ron’s lucky day.
First, a little background. Around here most of our rafting occurs on day trips on two sections of the Shoshone River above and below the Buffalo Bill Dam just outside of town to the west. Rafting begins in early May and continues throughout summer and fall.
Rafting the Upper Portion of the North Fork of the Shoshone River: In early May rafters launch five miles east of Yellowstone National Park and head east on the North Fork of the Shoshone River toward Buffalo Bill State Park where the river’s South and North Forks feed the Buffalo Bill Reservoir. The North Fork narrows in places to 35-45 feet wide with Class III-IV rapids. Flows are typically in the 5-6,000 cfs range, and most years the rafting lasts well into June, although we have seen hosted trips as late as Aug. 1.
Rafting the Shoshone River below the Dam: Subject to water being released from the Buffalo Bill Dam, cfs levels pick up as the temperatures warm up. Currently, cfs is in 1,800-2,000 range, but that figure doubles in April and increases to 5-8,000 starting in May. Trips depart minutes from the rodeo grounds and actually go through town, although the canyon walls prevent people from seeing all but a few buildings. This trip can be extended to total 12 miles and conclude in the Lower Canyon of the river. Both trips offer excellent opportunities for novices and intermediates to gain experience on “solid Class III” rapids.
So, what are Ron’s predictions for rafting the Shoshone River in 2017?
Pretty darn great. Snow packs in the region are roughly 140-165 percent of normal, and flows will be heathy this spring.
“Any way you look at it, we will have high water and great rafting this year,” said Ron Blanchard. “Just how far into the summer we raft on the North Fork will depend upon how warm it gets in May, but I believe we are looking at one of our better years for rafting.”
There you have it. I know what I’m doing this spring.
Until next week, I am lovin’ life in Cody, Wyo.