Friday, May 17, 2013

Jarbidge and Bruneau Rivers, Idaho

Moe Witschard, Jarbidge River

Paddling the Jarbidge and Bruneau Rivers requires navigating long committing desert canyons filled with rattlesnakes, mandatory portages, sharp raft piercing rocks, poison ivy, and a healthy population of insects. It‘s also one of the most beautiful and thrilling wilderness adventures to be had.

Packrafting the Jarbidge and Bruneau Rivers, 2013

On May 11-13 Moe Witschard and I made the 80-mile run. The USGS Bruneua River Gage reported 700 cfs.

Jarbidge Peak and Canyon

The waters of the Jarbidge and Bruneau Rivers are fed by melting snow in the Jarbidge Mountains of northern Nevada.

Forrest McCarthy and Moe Witschard, Murphy Hot Springs

After a noon start at Murphy Hot Springs we ran the 26-miles of Jarbidge to our camp at Indian Springs. Moe portaged the three steepest drops, while I portaged two and swam one. The upper canyon is super fun sustained Class III. The lower Canyon is less scenic but contains more serious whitewater – Class IV/V.

Rivers have sculpted a labyrinth through ancient lava that flowed from the Yellowtone Hot Spot.

While portaging a land slide and Class V rapid, Moe tore the main tube of his packraft. It was easily repaired with Kirch's Kwik Patch and Tyvek Tape.

   Western Juniper garnishes vertical walls of basalt.

The second day we paddled 55 miles down the Bruneau to Indian Hot Tub. Moe and I ran everything. While we scouted several of the more technical Class IV sections of 5-Mile Rapid, mostly it was read and run. Early the following morning we paddled the final mile to the take-out and our vehicles.

At the end of a 55-mile day, Moe approaches Indian Hot Tub.

At 700 cfs both the Jarbidge and Bruneau Rivers are committing and solid Class IV whitewater runs. Exciting and fast, the Bruneau had twice the flow as when we ran it last year

American Whitewater offers online descriptions of both Jarbidge and Bruneau. In 2009 these two wild rivers were honored and protected by the establishment of the 89,996-acre Bruneau-Jarbidge Rivers Wilderness.

Bruneau-Jarbridge Rivers Wilderness
Map by

Through Ken Erwin (208-845-2756) we arranged for a car shuttle from the take-out at Hot Springs near the town of Bruneau to Murphy Hot Springs, the standard put-in.  For those approaching with two vehicles from the east, another option is to leave a car at the Hot Springs take-out and drive to the put-in. Then, at the end of the run, drive the car at the take-out to Murphy Hot Springs, retrieve the other vehicle, and enjoy a good road (most of it paved) to Twin Falls and the Interstate.


  1. Beautiful canyon... and hot springs to finish. sweet!

  2. Hello Forrest,

    I tried to search out your email, but no luck. So ill keep it short. We are new to packrafting, just got two alpacka's. My latest dilemma is packs. comparing golite jam with dry bag inside vs the new sea to summit Dry Pack:

    I have had little luck finding reviews, but it would seem they would really simply the setup if suspension is adequate. There are also lash points from compression straps for gear to be on outside while hiking (paddle)....

    1. Chuck, Thanks for the link. The Sea to Summit looks like a great pack but I have not tried it nor know anyone that has. This is the first I have heard of it. I like how light it is for a PVC portage pack/dry bag. I would consider how much you will be hiking with it. I have had two similar PVC Dry Packs (one made by POE and the other by OR) that proved to be very dry and durable. On hikes, however, they both caused serious chafing on my lower back. The Sea to Summit Dry Bag looks like it would be great for packrafting trips with more floating than walking.