A wall of green water rose up before us. “Dig in!” called the guide, “All forward!” As we crested one wave, all of us readied ourselves for the next set of rapids. This is the way of floating Idaho’s Lochsa River during the typical high water of Memorial Day Weekend, also known as Lochsa Madness—the unofficial festival to kick off the Inland Northwest whitewater season.
Memorial Day weekend 2022, I finally made it down to Lochsa Madness, which had taken on a mythical air for this intermediate boater. Over the weekend, I floated, paddled hard, and even swam with the guides of Mammoth River Adventures. Multiple times that weekend they took us down a 20-mile stretch of some of the most technically challenging water in the region. With 40 named rapids and a dozen of those rated as Class IV, this river is for serious boaters, although multiple outfitters offer thrilling trips down the Lochsa that most healthy adults and older kids can take on.
Like much of the whitewater in the West, the season on the Lochsa is ephemeral, dependent on the amount and timing of snow melt. Cutting a line deep through the Bitterroot Mountains, the Lochsa drops over 2,000 feet in its 70-mile stretch. Being high up in the watershed, the Lochsa has a fairly short season most years, and guiding usually ends around the beginning of July.
Jesse Stone, owner of Mammoth River Adventures, looks forward to the Lochsa Madness weekend every year. Growing up nearby in Grangeville, Idaho, he has been steeped in the whitewater culture of the Lochsa since he was a teen. Jesse loves that the community, even non-boaters, comes out for the show and camaraderie.
People line up chairs and tailgate at Lochsa Falls, the biggest of the Class IV rapids. You may see boaters running hard shell kayaks, inflatable kayaks, all types of rafts, and even unicorns and other inflatable pool toys. But it’s clear safety is paramount with people on banks with throw bags and all the boats on the water eager to pick up swimmers. Mammoth even uses river boarders—think going down the river on a kickboard with helmet and pads—both as an experience for clients and for extremely nimble safety boaters.
The weekend culminates with a screening of video from all the “carnage” and excitement from the weekend as well as a chance for the community to talk up past and future river trips. Look for more info on the Lochsa Madness page on Facebook.