If you’re interested in meeting Ruby of the Salmon River be forewarned, she’s a wild thing this time of year.Ruby is a rapid that rafters and boaters can get to know intimately on the river. She likes to play with boats. She’s best known for “The Pencil Sharpener,” her tunnel-like entrance wave. After that is “Pancake Wave,” named for its power to flip people and boats, says outfitter Amy Sinclair of Exodus Wilderness in Riggins.
On Saturday, the 14th annual Bigwater Blowout River Festival in Riggins will introduce the uninitiated to the thrills of high-water rafting. Experienced outfitters and guides will offer abbreviated, discount raft trips at a fair at Riggins City Park. A Dutch oven cook-off and concert will finish the day.
Spring high water is “the adrenaline seeking time of year” for boaters, says Sinclair, one of the festival’s organizers. “It’s different than the swimsuit, straw hat season, which is more family oriented.”
Usually from Memorial Day to mid-June mountain snow melt fills the wild river. Last year’s festival coincided with an all-time peak flow of 97,000 cubic feet per second. The river was full of water and mountain debris like trees, Sinclair says. It can be scary.
“We’re thankful it’s not peaking but we still have fun water flows,” she says of the weekend’s predicted 35,000 to 40,000 cfs.
Boat and gear sellers and outdoor groups will be at Riggins City Park from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Outfitters and guides will have information on their seasonal trips. The Beer Eddy, a white-water version of the beer garden, will sell drinks.
At the park people can sign up for the day’s rafting trips, which cost about $30 to $35 per person (prices vary by outfitter). Boaters will be given wet suits, splash jackets and helmets to wear. Trips last about two and a half hours. During high-water time outfitters usually require boaters be at least 12 years old, Sinclair says.
“While the water levels aren’t detrimentally high there is quite a bit of current,” Sinclair says.
Those younger, and those who’d rather enjoy high-water rafting as a spectator sport, can watch from the river banks.
At 4 p.m. set-up and music begins for the festival’s Dutch oven cook-off, which has become quite famous, Sinclair says. “The menus are incredible that are thrown out there.”
Fare goes beyond typical campfire meals. Seasonal and regional flairs spawn dishes like Chukar Enchiladas. The festival falls in the season chinook salmon migrate through and the fish can be found in many dishes. A Salmon Stuffed Morel Mushroom by a local outfitter won Judge’s Choice last year.
The cook-off competition is open to anyone in two classes: outfitters and guides, and the general public. Categories are entrees, appetizers and desserts from any meal of the day. Cooking starts at 4:30 p.m. Dishes are ready for judging by 7 p.m. and after judges are served the plates are $5.
“In years past we’ve been able to feed about 150 people,” Sinclair says.
The headliner band, the Coeur d’Alene group Current Flow, plays from 7-10 p.m. in the park. Riggins bars will have live music Friday and Saturday nights.
Sinclair isn’t sure that people will get to meet Ruby on Saturday. She suspects that guides and outfitters will be running the section downriver from Riggins where one is introduced to Time Zone rapid and waves that “don’t have cool names” but do offer “big fun long wave trains.”
WHAT: The Big Water Blowout River Festival
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Riggins City Park