Go Where Lewis and Clark Didn’t


In 1805, when Lewis and Clark ventured west, they worked their way through and around many barriers  during their search for an inland Northwest Passage. One such obstacle was the Salmon River near North Fork, Idaho. When they got to that point, the local Indians told them that if they continued downriver, they would “no return”.  Thus, to this day, the Salmon river in Idaho is known as the “River of No Return.”

While Lewis and Clark by passed by the Salmon River to find passage over the Lolo Trail and old Nez Perce Indian Trial along the Lochsa and Clearwater River’s, they missed out on floating through the second deepest gorge in North America. Actually, the early explorers, fur trappers, and miners, built wooden scows with long sweeps fore and aft to propel them downriver, floating the section of river, Lewis and Clark didn’t.

They spent 5-6 months at a time, floating from North Fork to Lewiston, living off the land, hunting, fishing, trapping, and looking for gold. Once in the city of Lewiston (Idaho’s first capital) they cached in all their treasures and dis-assembled their boats to sell the wood. Then they bought a pack string of horses or mules and packed all the way back to North Fork to do the same journey again the next year. Thus, “The River of No Return” resumed its notoriety for being a one way river.  That is, until jet boats arrived on the scene and changed man’s ability to ascend the river, too.

We, here at Wapiti River Guides live along that famed “River of No Return” in Riggins, Idaho – on the bottom hundred miles of river. The Salmon is the longest (425 miles) free flowing river contained within one state (aside from AK) in North America.  It originates in the Sawtooth Mountains and Redfish Lake, near the small town of Stanley, and makes confluence with the Snake River in the bottom end of Hells Canyon. which borders Oregon on the west side.

Our 5 day trips take route on the remote section of canyon comprising the bottom 60 miles of river, where it eventually merges with “grandmother” Snake River.  The Seven Devil Mountain Range (nearly 10000′ elevation) form the divide between the Salmon and Snake Rivers between Riggins (1800′ elevation) and the confluence of these two rivers. With only 500′ difference in elevation between the two-mile deep canyons, similar geology make these canyons more or less twin sisters in geomorphology.  Both are deeper than the Grand Canyon, much to the surprise of many of our guests.

But, dazzling views, between daunting rapids, make this journey one of the most beautiful and exciting adventures on the planet. Oh, did I mention we might be a bit biased in our assessment of our favorite river run? Well, based on miles of smiles from previous river guests, surely we must not be too far off in our inflated assessment of the canyon splendor.

Also, for those who like more solitude and the sound of nature, rather than engine roar, the lower gorge has less jet boat traffic than the main salmon which flows through the Frank Church Wilderness Area.  Ironically, designated wilderness gets more man made noise in the canyon than non-designate (though very remote) wilderness. But that is fine with us. While people herd voraciously  to see sanctioned wilderness, we escort fewer folks into country just as spectacular, yet less popular. After all, people are like sheep and seem to want to go where everyone else does.

Not a sheep? Then travel with us, we will take you where Lewis & Clark dared not go, to uncrowded country where your elbows touch only the wide expanses.

The River’s Spell

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Whoa!  Where did all that time go?  My lapse in adding more story material to this blog slipped by me faster and farther than I had realized until now. Now that I am trying to catch up, that is.  In part, I attribute this to the power of the river’s spell.  After salmon season, and my last post, several weeks of river time has put much water into the ocean. Such is the power of the river’s medicine.

Like any kind of medicine, it takes a certain amount of time to become effective,(efficacious in technical terms),  and occasionally has some unexpected secondary side effects.  While in doctors lingo, side effects are normally considered in the negative, to us river guides, side effects are an additional positive. So, not only does the medicine work, the side effects just add more good magic to our collective psyche.

However, like the semi-trance like states medicine sometimes put one in, so too does the river.  It lingers in consciousness, reverberating around the convolutions of our mind, and makes one lose track of time. Thus, before snapping back into the other world, of everyday-ness, some amount of time seems to have been lost. Like being abducted by some alien force, zapping our memories, the river tends to jumble our sense of time, forgetting how much chronology has happened between experiences on the water. One event runs into another, and it sequences blur into a euphoric bliss of compounded collective fun.

The important thing:  your human spirit is lifted to the heights of brother eagle’s kingdom, where one’s wings experience the loftiness of therapeutic freedom gained from such extreme elevational rise and lightness. The feel of dancing in the clouds, is one of those wonderful side-effects produced by river medicine.

From running rapids, transferring amps of the same electricity that lights our more structured homes, to the awe-inspiring campsites and side canyon exploratory hikes. It all adds up to enrich the soul with the power of experiences long to be remembered and aid our extension of physical time here on the planet. Our home in the universe – our real one – not the one we build with walls to separate ourselves from nature, but the one where natures boundaries are formed by elements in the raw, is the foundation upon that which makes us human.

The river’s reduce us to our primal minds and allow  us to feel the power of nature again.  for that, I am grateful, and will continue seeking the currents that run deep through my veins and very being.

And too, am I grateful for all the river guests who continue to run with us and keep our abilities alive, to be like river doctors, prescribing just the right medicine (which river and when to run it) based on the needs of each person.  This time of year, I am busy on the Salmon River of Idaho. It is now at a level where it is at optimum strength and fun. Rapids are big, but not terrifying. Water temps are warm, like 72 F -ish, which means no wetsuits, but much swimming. It provides great relief and self-regulation from the summer heat, often in triple digits this time of year.

Additionally, this season we have found a new recruit to help us escort folks down the beautiful Salmon River. Misty Johnson, is her name, and she is a true lover of water and river fun.  She lives on a farm, caring for family, crops, and animals, yet has time to run rivers in-between those various other responsibilities.  With a live-wire personality, full of spunk and vitality, she transmits that high level of electricity to everyone around her. Her enthusiasm captures anyone within her sphere of influence and exceptionally  enlivens them with the same power of that surge of high potency energy from the river’s medicine.

I’m not certain, though pretty sure, her motto is: “go big, or go home.”  She loves high adventure and is inspired to any challenge the river presents. However, she is guide enough, to know when to skirt the big rides, depending on who is in her boat, as some guides are not quite so tuned into doing.  She realizes trips are about the people in her boat, not the guide.

So, we are glad to have her helping us out with advancing the call of the wild and helping people build their own stories based around the power of their own engagement with nature and experiences on the river.  Welcome aboard, Misty – Amazon  Woman of the River.

“Night and day the river flows. If time is the mind of space, the River is the soul of the desert. Brave boatmen come, they go, they die, the voyage flows on forever. We are all canyoneers. We are all passengers on this little mossy ship, this delicate dory sailing round the sun that humans call the earth. Joy, shipmates, joy. ”  — (Edward Abbey, The Hidden Canyon — A River Journey)

Rivers make good medicine with us, we make good medicine with rivers.

For more river trip information, please go to our website: www.doryfun.com

or (more pics)  Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/Riverdoryfun

Or for fun on the big creek:

call 800-488-9872