In June/July of 2021, I was rapidly beginning to get hooked on packrafting and spent about 2 weeks hiking and paddling around Jackson Hole with my wife Joelle and friend Tyler McKee. During this time we closely followed Forrest McCarthy's "Packrafting Guide to Jackson Hole", which provided an excellent checklist of classic runs. Near the end of our trip, we set out to run the North Buffalo Fork, which felt like the crown jewel of moderate day trips in the area. Unfortunately, the gauge only came up to 500cfs that day and I destroyed my Kokopelli Nirvana with a 12 inch tear right at the beginning of the whitewater section, causing a dissapointing bushwack exit. During this time, I was intrigued by Forrest's "DuMor" packraft route but didn't carve out the time to do it, which was appropriate for the conditions of the year and my own skillset.
Promptly, I ordered a new Alpacka Raft which arrived in November. I spent much of the winter and spring of 2022 chasing water in Arizona's Verde Valley and Grand Canyon - building skills for both tight creeks and big waves. In May, I took a packraft-specific Swiftwater Safety Institute course in Durango taught by Dan Thurber and Jeff Creamer. During that course, we met Quinton Mells and spent the following days paddling with him and his partner, Samara. As soon as I returned home from the course, I began planning the DuMor trip for July, which would serve as a grand finale to a great season of packrafting. I finally felt confident to attempt a big backcountry trip with a whitewater focus.
Weather and snowpack conditions aligned perfectly for me to complete the DuMor route from July 3-9th of 2022 with my best friend Daniel Conley and new friend Quinton.
Our gauge maxes on the relevant days were: 1,500cfs on the South Shoshone, 5,000 at the Yellowstone Lake outlet, and 1,400 on the Buffalo Fork. Below is a trip report, with photos, many of which are exported frames from video. I decided to focus on video for the trip so I could also make a nice edit. A revised, detailed map of our route, containing all beta one should need to repeat the trip, can be found here:
The name "DuMor" has a triple meaning: first, "Dubois to Moran", two towns that the route vaguely comes close to being near. Luckily, it's also a play off the name "DuNoir" - the creek where the trip starts. Lastly, the name is designed to imply that you could always "do more" while you're out there. These Wilderness areas (especially if linked into the currently forbidden Yellowstone National Park), provide limitless packrafting opportunities.
So, our adventure began as any DuMor trip should, in Dubois, on July 2nd, but we had a unique problem to solve. We had driven only one car from Flagstaff to save money, and needed to shuttle our trip. I had done my homework, and we brought Daniel's bike to help. Our shuttle plan involved dropping a bike, driving to Turpin Meadows, hitchhiking 38 miles back to the bike, then biking over 10 miles of dirt road to the trailhead. It could have worked, but doing it on the morning of the trip sounded quite stressful.
On the evening of July 2nd, we strolled around Dubois asking locals if they knew anyone who could help drive one of us from Turpin Meadows back to the DuNoir, in exchange for some cash. They didn't, and we became discouraged. We stood outside a motel bumming WiFi (there's no cell service in Dubois), looking for another option. Soon, our option came walking up the street. An old guy named John, incredibly sunburned, was returning from a day of fly fishing and was carrying his waders as he walked from his tricked-out Jeep Gladiator to the motel room we were standing in front of. He paused and looked at us, and started a conversation by saying "What do you know?".
After an extended back-and-forth exchange, John wanted to shuttle me for free, and we made a plan to meet right there at 7am. Better yet, upon hearing that our dinner plan was leftover food currently re-heating under the hood of my Rav4, he called that some "fucking bullshit" and gave us each $20 cash to go to the restaurant up the street. It was surprisingly high-quality, delicious food. We were stoked!
After getting to camp at 11pm, we woke up at 5:30am, and I drove to meet John. The shuttle went smoothly and after leaving my car at Turpin Meadows, John had me back at the DuNoir trailhead around 9am.
I finalized my packing, and our trip commenced at 10am. My pack weighed 61 pounds rolling out of the trailhead, 23 of those were boating gear, and my bear can weighed 16lbs exactly. Although the weight felt bearable for the first half of the day, the hiking was immediately a terrible slog through dense lodgepole forest, almost completely muddy horse trail, with fairly bad mosquitos - not a view in sight. Luckily, after 2 miles we came out of the woods to a beautiful creek crossing with a breeze and mountain view.
The rest of hike to Shoshone Pass was excellent, with clear dry trails, moderate slopes, and frequent meadows with stunning mountain views. We stopped at our final crossing of the DuNoir to refill water and took a group photo.
Found a cool tooth on the trail on our way up the pass. You can see molars in the back and a huge incisor. What kind of cat?
Immediately above Shoshone Pass was a great waterfall.
My bear can was full; I had just enough room to put Daniel's full-length toothbrush in and proceed to snap the head off when screwing the lid.
After descending from the pass along the steep headwaters of the Shoshone, we crossed Crescent Creek and soon came to our campsite by the put-in. As we finished dinner by the water's edge around 9:30pm, a large black bear came running directly down the river channel. It continued running but diverted course as we screamed at it, ran direcly past our tents and disappeared for the night.
Day 2 of our trip was a very important holiday - Daniel's birthday. Daniel enjoys sleeping in, so as a meager gift we didn't start paddling until 11am.
We navigated the swiftwater that was initially braided, then channelized in Bliss Creek Meadow. Eventually, we came to our first wood portage.
We took out above the first gorge, described as "a tight woody canyon that starts with a sieve". Our portage was an easy 2.5 miles through a burned area. The Hardluck Fire burned almost all of the upper Shoshone Canyon, starting about a week after Forrest completed his DuMor in 2013. More dead trees in the watershed meant more wood in the water. We came to Marston Creek and pondered putting in, but we could see a bit of wood downstream. We forded the creek and hiked a short distance further.
Putting in below Marston Creek, it was whitewater time! I generally led as we navigated blind corners with high caution. We encountered no river-wide strainers, but many partial logs. At one point, I failed to make a squeeze move between two logs, hit one, and swam. It was a chill swim with calm water below. The others behind me paddled harder and made the squeeze move look good - although I couldn't see, I was in the water.
As we approached the second gorge beginning right at Younts Creek, we grabbed an eddy and hiked above to scout. We knew the gorge was incredibly narrow and needed to make sure it was free of wood. After confirming, we paddled the long class 3 entrance that ended in a beautiful squeeze - a paddling highlight of the trip.
Continuing, the gorge opened up for a short bit, then we came to a deeper section, which we also gave a brief scout from the high cliffs above. Looked good. We enjoyed the paddling through the end of the second gorge, not exceeding class 2. The river channel opened up again.
Thinking that we were coming up on the third gorge at 7pm, we decided to stop at a beautiful riverside camp. The place where the gorge begins was not well described, but the potential for mandatory class 4 and "several mandatory portages" was intimidating, so we had already decided that we would hike around it.
Once we were cozy cowboy camping, more map looking revealed that we were not actually at the beginning of the gorge (it actually begins immediately before Silver Creek). Our remaining time on the Shoshone would consist of 2 miles of boating, 2 miles of portaging, then 2 more miles of boating. We considered just hiking to save transition time but quickly dismissed it. Transitioning is much easier on the body than hiking, and we soon had a big hill to walk up.
In the morning, we paddled excellent waters to the 3rd gorge portage.
Portaging a packraft can be joyful.
Silver Creek Falls.
Huge mountain lion track.
Any woes about missing a section of river were subdued by the excellent trail and gorgeaous views from the 3rd gorge portage.
Daniel and Quinton boldly crossed Saddle Creek on a high narrow log. This was the hardest crossing of the trip for me, and took me a second try. The fast current below made it hard for me to use my vision for balance.
Putting in shortly below Saddle Creek, I removed my GoPro. The 3 spare (unofficial) batteries I had brought weren't working properly and I only recorded 2 videos on the first paddling leg. We put in at a super swift spot, ready to paddle to our takeout at Fall Creek. We enjoyed delightful whitewater for 2 miles. I rolled my packraft in some tailwaves, just for fun. We were having a great time. We paddled right through a fun class 3 rapid where the current slammed into a vertical wall on river left and crated a big wavetrain. That should have been a red flag.
I continued paddling towards a narrow section of canyon. That also should have been a red flag, but I was looking for Fall Creek as a takeout. Quinton yelled at me from behind to eddy out - he recognized something big coming up. We pulled over into a river left eddy and scrambled around to scout. What we found was a class 5 drop. We were in the 4th gorge.
Hard to tell in the photo, but the default line down the pouroff on river right (lookers left) is at least 5 feet, vertical, and the backwash at the bottom is extrordinarily sticky. I asked Quinton to compare it to Skull Rapid in Westwater (class 4), and he said is wasn't even close - this one is way scarier.
Our situation was sobering. It was 1pm. We entered a very cautious and methodical mindset as we crafted our escape plan. We pondered packing up immediately and bushwacking upstream along the bank, but I remembered the vertical wall rapid. We bushwacked upstream to scout it and see if there was a way around. No.
We devised and executed our plan. We would line drag our boats upstream to the eddy below the vertical wall, set double safety for each paddler with throw bags, and ferry across to where we could drag further upstream, then ferry back across. The first ferry was more difficult, but we all did it perfectly. Comforted, we stopped for lunch after 3pm. We continued dragging our boats against the current and prepared for our second ferry to back to complete safety.
Quinton drags his boat to our launch point for the second ferry. Below, you can see the vertical wall that caused us to need to ferry. At the end of the river is the horizon line for the class 5 drop.
I paddled first, and made the ferry with ease and comfort. I grabbed my throwbag and walked down to the lower beach, where I couldn't see the others. As I arrived, I heard a faint "ehhhh" - which was actually the sound of Quinton screaming "swimmer!!". I saw Daniel drifting downstream, holding his paddle and boat. He managed to slow himself and move left by smashing his body against rocks, making my throw an easy one. He was within 30 feet when I draped the rope over him perfectly. It took him a moment to grab the rope since he was doing such a great job holding his boat and paddle. By the time the rope pulled tight, he was already almost to a complete stop in the shallows. He had avoided drifting into the sheer wall rapid, which would have caused significant issues.
The ferry involved peeling out into the current, then almost immediately using a small midriver eddy to slow downstream progress before paddling the rest of the way across. Unfortunately, all of Daniel's gear had shifted into his left pontoon during portage, inluding his heavy bear can. This caused him to lose balance as he entered the eddy, spin around, and swim.
Before I was finished stuffing my rope, Quinton came paddling down to join us. There, we took time to collect ourselves and transition to backpacks. We bushwacked upstream for 20 minutes to arrive at the bottom of the Fall Creek trail at 6pm.
The "Fourth Gorge Fiasco" was distinctly the worst part of the trip, especially for Daniel. But the hardest hiking remained ahead of us. We needed to gain 5,000 feet to a summit, then descend 3,000 to the Thorofare, all in 10 miles. We wanted to split this hike up into multiple days, and used the map to identify a possible camp location near treeline in the incredibly steep Fall Creek drainage, 3,000 feet above us. We figured 1,000 feet per hour would be an excellent pace with such heavy packs. We started up.
The bottom section of Fall Creek trail is about as steep as trails get, and we climbed slowly, gripped on our trekking poles to avoid slipping. We gained over 600 feet in less than 30 miuntes, and came to an incredible viewpoint of the South Shoshone River valley. Happy to have the river crux of the trip behind us, we hiked onward.
Above there, the Fall Creek drainage is a maze of animal trails, but we managed to stay on the main route where fallen logs were generally cut out, with some exceptions. The trail was less steep here, but still steep.
Eventually, we came to the place where the trail crosses Fall Creek, which was in a very different spot from what the maps showed.
At the place where the trail crosses Fall Creek, the water is fierce and is almost entirely waterfalls. The standard low-water crossing is a simple jump across a waterfall but the water was too high to allow it. Luckily Quinton spotted this place downstream. It looked deep so we threw rocks upo in the air to test, and they all struck shallow rock. A good sign, but it still looked scary, so Daniel got out his rope for a belay. I crossed first and amazingly found perfectly flat bedrock underneath the surface for the entire crossing, not slippery, and ankle deep. It was one of the easiest major fords of the trip!
Above the crossing, we came to the crux section of the trail, which had terrible footing and significant exposure via an ultra-steep scree slope that dropped 200 feet to the creek. Luckily it was still daylight, but not for long.
As darkness fell over Fall Creek, we continued hiking. We had to stop for second lunch around 9:30pm, and pulled out our headlamps. Low on energy, we slogged slowly up the trail, yelling out to the potential bears every single minute to warn them we were coming. At nearly 11:30pm, we came to a tiny campsite and took the opportunity. We forced ourselves to make dinner, set up the tent, and were asleep by 12:30am.
We woke up to find our campsite was in a large meadow with stunning views, and within 15 minutes of hiking we were in the alpine. Snow covered slopes, cornices, avalanche debris, and beautiful alpine flowers surrounded us.
From the summit of the unnamed 11,600ft peak, we could see almost nothing but mountains in all directions. The Tetons stood out far to the west, and I noted how small they were for future comparison with how big they would become by the end of our trip. Crossing the divide, we were in the Teton Wilderness now, which I can only imagine is named just because it has views of the Tetons. I recorded a timelapse looking north into the infinite Absaroka Range.
As we ate on the summit, clounds built to the south and started making noise, so we began our descent. With the weather turning, we angled downward to rapidly descend an alpine slope between the first and second tributaries that flow into Bruin Creek. Hiking down the gorgey tribs was not an option, but a better route would be to stay high until after the second gorge, then descend. This is explained clearly in my Caltopo map. As it was, we arrived at the bottom of Bruin Creek to find no trail where we expected one, and had to do some scrambling to get across the second tributary and onto the trail.
The trail along Bruin Creek was nice, but seemed to go on forever. Most wood was cut out, thankfully. Eventually, the trail crossed the creek 4 times, for only one reason: the creators of the trail were on horseback, so it was easier for them to cross than walk alongside it through diffiult sections. Quinton finally gave up on keeping socks and shoes dry here.
As we finally neared the end of Bruin Creek, we decided to camp when we got back down. I had recalled a post from Jeff Creamer describing "an amazing Class II gorge just above Bruin Creek on Thorofare - worth hiking up to run from the standard Du'Mor route". Since we had great flows, I had hopes of hiking to the top of the gorge to camp and then paddle it in the morning. But as we arrived, it became apparent that the flow would be too low for pleasant boating, and we were quite tired anyway.
When we woke up on the morning of day 5, it was once again time to boat. We were enormously excited to paddle Thorofare Creek - the most remote, navigable waterway in the 48. After some stress on the Shoshone, the maximum grade of class 2 was exactly what we wanted. We put in shortly below the confluence of Bruin Creek and Valley Fork, and within 1 minute were on the Thorofare.
Quinton pointing out the first bald eagle of the day, 3 minutes in. We saw probably 10 eagles on the Thorofare.
Shallow, clear water allowed us to watch the multi-colored pebbles wizz by, but was almost never shallow enough for hike-a-boat.
At some point, I was in front and saw 2 eagles fly up from the ground, then briefly caught glimpse of a black bear darting into the bushes. I figured perhaps there was a carcass there. We didn't stop.
Shortly after, we saw massive antlers in a clearing and decided to pull over to view the biggest elk rack we'd ever seen.
Before long, major creeks began adding to the flow. At Butte Creek the whitewater picked up, then Pass Creek helped further.
As we approached the confluence with Open Creek (which is enormous), the whitewater died out. Right at the confluence, I caught sight of two large grizzly bears. One was in the middle of Open Creek, the other stood up tall to get a better look at us.
Later, an eagle stayed on it's mid-river perch as we drifted past. It beat its wings at us a few times. Sadly, a GoPro makes a terrible wildlife camera, but believe me when I say these bears and this eagle were about as close as I could ask for. We could see their eyes.
Enjoying watching the rocks wizz by beneath us had become a them of the trip, and at some point Quinton decided he should reach down and pick one up. On his first try, he got the coolest rock ever! He called us over to look at it. It was petrified wood.
At our takeout, he found more petrified wood on the cobble bank. A highlight was this huge piece, a whole tree segment. We could count the rings!
After spending a while at the excellent takeout drying gear, swimming, and skipping rocks, we packed up and began hiking around 4pm. The 17-mile Thorofare float had taken only 5 hours. After a couple miles of flat walking, we crossed the Yellowstone River on a bridge, then continued flat walking.
After crossing the incomplete but adequate bridge, we found a sign on the far side:
Walking along the banks of the Yellowstone and then up Atlantic Creek was mostly dry. Mostly.
After walking up Atlantic Creek for a while, we found a campsite with plenty of daylight to spare.
The hiking on day 6 was generally easy as we followed good horse trails up Atlantic Creek to the CDT, then into the headwaters of Pacific Creek where we passed a waterfall. We had been struggling with mosquitos all day so we were excited to get to a breezy spot overlooking the North Buffalo Fork Meadows.
A big question mark of the trip was if we would have enough water to float the serene North Fork Meadows, or if we would have to hike 5 more miles. Forrest reported that a guage reading of 700cfs was too low to even try. When we left town, we the guage had 1,400cfs, and that turned out to be stable. Even better, it turned out to be more than enough to float the North Fork!
The 5-mile float down the North Fork was indeed serene. Daniel fell asleep for a while as we gently bumped against the banks. Quinton, eager to see a moose, suggested that we take advantage of "optimum wildlife viewing on the upper deck". We didn't see a moose, but we did spook some sandhill cranes that flew away noisily.
As we continued drifting, we heard whitewater and saw trees ahead. This was a surprise to me. I had been to the Soda Fork Meadow before, which was equally serene, so I had naively assumed that the same was true in between. Not true. A quick evaluation of the map revealed a terrifying gorge on the North Fork near Joy Creek. It's narrowness, woodiness, and steep gradient all seemed more extreme than the 2 runnable gorges we were opting not to paddle. Luckily, the portage down to the Soda Fork confluence would be easy on an excellent trail. But, it was getting too late to transition, so we camped here, perhaps our best spot of the whole trip.
The mosquitos were out fiercely, but luckily it was cool and shady enough that we left our drysuits on until bedtime. With a head net and waterproof gloves on, I found great joy in being totally impermeable to the otherwise awful amount of bugs.
After dinner, Quinton suggested a walk up the hill to an overlook, still hoping to see a moose. No wildlife was found, but since we were still suited up I suggested we make a loop of the outing by swimming back to camp. With enough air inside, drysuits are extremely buoyant and kept us plenty warm.
On our final day, we packed up, portaged the gorge on mostly excellent trails, then cut across the meadow to put in just upstream of the confluence with the Soda Fork. After drifting a couple miles through the nice Soda Fork Meadows while enjoying some edging practice, bracing practice, bracing failure, and self-rescue practice, we entered the first gorge. At 500cfs on the guage, this was where I sliced my Kokopelli wide open, so floating past the same spot at 1400cfs was a delight!
I had a great time leading the charge down the gorge, reading and running everything including the occasional class 3 section without the need for a scout. Paddling in the Verde Valley of AZ had prepared me well for this sort of rock-dodging boulder garden. But this was even better - the water was to clear that even if I could see I was about to hit a rock, it was deep enough I barely touched it!
Eventually, we came upon our only wood portage, a complete channel blocker.
Soon, we were at the confluence with the South Buffalo Fork, which is at least as big as the North Fork. Finally, we had our full 1400cfs. After a short drift down calm the massive channel, we paddled into the final 5 mile gorge of the Buffalo Fork. The river took on a slight pool-drop character, and had almost no wood, making this class 3 section pure "type 1 fun" and a perfect ending to our trip.
We paused to scount the biggest rapid, a very long section of class 3 along a huge cutbank rockslide. Then, Quinton led us down.
During the rapid, we paused at a couple nice eddies that were a blast to catch. At the very end, Daniel followed me into the last big wave-hole, and as he pulled through it, his paddle shaft snapped and he lost a blade! Luckily, he fiercely paddled with blade in one hand, nothing in the other, and charged into the eddy below.
After deflating my boat to bust out the spare paddle we had lugged the whole way, we carried on. With all the serious whitewater behind us, Daniel could've happily paddled out by hand - but that was just luck. Good to have a spare paddle. (Esecially when your primary paddle has cracks at both ends and is held together by hose clamps!)
We played our way through some fun class 2 surf waves before arriving at our takeout, and I rolled successfully 3 times in celebration.
Soon, the beautiful waters of the Buffalo Fork had carried us to the Turpin Meadows bridge, where we spent a while cleaning and drying all our gear in the warm sun beaneath a view of the Tetons, much closer now. A scenic drive had us in Jackson shortly, where we had already placed an order for Dominos Pizza, the cheapest food in Jackson. We got 5 pizzas (2 of them Gluten Free and 1 dessert) for $8 each. We stopped at a store for beer and gas, picked up our pizza, and headed south to feast at a picnic table on the banks of the mighty Snake River. With no traffic, we accomplished all our errands in 30 minutes, making for easily the best re-entry into civilization I've ever had.
After a couple more hours of driving, we pulled over in the plains before Rock Springs to cowboy camp on dry, flat ground with an excellent sunset and starry sky.
This trip involved some environmental factors that are at the edge of my comfort zone - continuous whitewater with wood, and lots of huge bears. Because of this, I chose to go pretty no-compromise on safety gear, but I would probably not choose to do that again. My SWD Big Wild pack carried the weight alright, at least as well as my friends Osprey packs, but 61 pounds is downright painful on 10 hour hiking days. Luckily, my backpacking fitness is super high, so most of my body was fine, but the pack just made hiking less fun. It would be worth saving weight in some areas, so I have some thoughts.
I added up 9.5 pound of potential savings, pretty huge. At least 7 pounds could've been saved at no detriment to my safety. First, some little things I would change if I did this trip again:
-windbreaker instead of rain jacket (saves 8oz, I have a drysuit)
-no spare GoPro batteries that don't work anyway
-no tripod (it was new, I was excited, but barely used it, didn't have time)
-1 less locking carabiner
-no medical shears in my PFD
-1 less underwear (literally brought these by accident)
-1 less tiedown strap
-minimize perimeter webbing on packraft
Now for the big stuff. After the trip, I ordered the Ursak of my dreams, which I would use instead of a bear can. Instead of 2 bear cans, actually. The Ursak Allmitey Kodiak is 30 liters, the size of 2.6 BV500's. It weighs 1 pound. That means using the Ursak can save 4lbs of total weight. Is there a safety tradeoff to using the Ursak? Maybe, but if used properly they are reliable. Using one is mostly a question of legality. Additionally, I'll tell you about a safety tradeoff: bear cans inside packrafts are downright sketchy. The weight rolls around affecting handling, and worst of all they are a heavy chunk of hard plastic that can smash against rocks, putting holes in the boat. I'm excited about the Ursak.
Another easy choice: climbing helmet instead of whitewater helmet. Mine saves an entire pound. I used my climbing and bike helmets as primary paddling helmets for a couple years before I had to buy a proper river helmet for the course. That doesn't mean it's okay, but it at least means it doesn't fall apart when wet, which is the commonly cited reason they are bad. I don't really need to be hitting my head on a lot of rocks underwater on a route like this anyway. I can't even combat roll yet.
No bow bag. This is partial justification for keeping my whitewater PFD, which is heavier but has incredible pockets, and is also safer. On the final day of paddling, I put 4 Larabars in there and could fit way more. I put my inflation bag down the leg of my drysuit. I can deflate my boat for lunch, it's not hard ( I deflated and reinflated it in a few minutes to retrieve the spare paddle). I strapped my bear spray and water bottle to my seat with a ski strap.
That's 8.5 lbs saved, which would be awesome. The final pound that is still controversial in my own mind comes from the throwbag, which weighs even more when wet. I was glad to have the throwbag on this trip - we wanted them when we found ourselves in the 4th gorge. But, I think that's the only occasion on the whole trip where throwbags had the opportunity to be useful, besides maybe on river crossings. I envisioned us maybe being interested in trying some of the class 4 sections, which would definitely involve scouting and "setting safety" by having throwbaggers ready. As it was though, the entire trip except the fiasco was "read and run", which I think means no opportunity for throwbagging. I'm unsure about all this, so I reached out to Dan Thurber (expert packrafter and instructor of the course I took) for some opinions. His reply:
"It's a perfectly reasonable question and with all safety equipment, we have the opportunity to make compromises in the interest of shaving weight and bulk. I'm constantly considering where to strike a balance. I'm sure this question will continue to be a point of discussion for a long time to come. It'll be a personal call for everyone, though I doubt I'll ever choose to intentionally leave a throwbag behind, even for class II.
My takeaway is that I was reasonable to consider leaving a throwbag behind, but wrong to assume that they cannot be useful on "read and run" rivers.