Why Are They Called Life Jackets?

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It would seem like the answer to this question is quite obvious, but apparently there are a lot of people who fail to understand the gravity of what it means to wear them or not.  As prima facie evidence for such, two recent drownings on the Salmon River near Riggins, on separate days (June 8 and June 10) bare this point out. In both cases, neither victim was wearing a life jacket.  The flows and water temps for those respective dates were – June 8 –  9am: 43400 noon: 43100 4pm: 42500 (11.5c=53f) and June 10– 9am: 41200  noon: 41100 4pm: 40400 (12.3c=54f).

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While I suspect alcohol may have contributed to the poor decision not to wear a life jacket, I don’t know that for sure. In either case, it was a costly decision for each person involved.  When this kind of news gets out, it sometimes scares people away from the river or running it when flows are high.  In reality, it high lights the fact that wearing life jackets is a crucial decision, that too many people ignore.

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I don’t know all the details to each accident, but heard that the first one occurred at Black Rock rapid, when one person fell into the water without a jacket on and lost contact with the raft.  But, what I do know for sure is that the hydraulics on the wall at the foot of the rapid are tremendously turbulent and powerful.  It reminds me of a huge coffee pot with boils and giant whirlpools, and even in a lifejacket would be a nervy swim. But, without one, a fatal consequence.

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The day before, I was in my dory boat and a violent eddy line grabbed my boat and pulled us into a whirlpool. The stern was sucked down with-in two inches of the gunnels (hand-rails) on both sides (on a boat with 28inch sides at the stern end) before spitting us out back into the main current.  Often the chaos water is as challenging as the big waves and dynamics of the rapids themselves. All parts of the river become plenty of good reason for keeping alert and paying attention.

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The second drowning I know a little more about, due to the fact, that my party was the one who rescued the body and performed CPR, but too late to bring the person back to life. The other person is still missing from the first drowning, but at least this second incident will offer some sense (sad as is it is) of closure to the family in at least not knowing where their loved one ended up. Closure is a relative term, as no one ever really gets over losing someone dear to them.

This person did not have a life jacket on, nor did any in their party of four guys, whom all tipped over in Lake Creek Rapid (at least is what the paper said) as opposed to Ruby Rapids which normally flips more boats, and apparently they luckily made it through right side up.  Correction (just learned it was indeed Ruby Rapid where they tipped, and that now makes more sense). Three in the party were able to keep a hold of the raft, while the one who drowned didn’t. Also, when he was found by the gal running a safety cat for my group and dragged to shore by a jetboat she flagged down for help in the process, he was in his underwear,  tee shirt and tennis shoes only. The river hydraulics had pulled his pants off his body.  With no wetsuit, his body was turning blue in places from the cold water and is precisely why we always where wetsuits in high water, even if it is over 90 degrees in air temps.

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It is also why we cinch life jackets on all our guests good and snug, sometimes to a little dis-pleasure to some, thinking they are too tight. But, better that than getting sucked off your body, which can happen if not secured properly.  High water trips are not for the timid, but plenty reasonable for those who like adrenalin and are properly equipped and prepared. So as intimidating as it is to hear about, or actually see the aftermath  of what poor decisions leave in their wake, it is no reason to not go boating.  Nature plays by harsh rules, but by paying attention to those rules with proper respect, your chances of having a safe, fun trip, are far higher when engaged in any adventure that comes with some degree of risk.

Another aspect to how people sometimes find themselves in trouble with the river is due to perception. Often, as an observer on the land watching the many guides and experienced river people running the river and making it look easy, can be quite misleading to them.  More than once I have salvaged a sunken drift boat that did not have enough floatation in them, or inexperienced  oarsman to negotiate simple water that experienced people have little problem with. Or helped rescue people who jumped on the river in their own gear but over their head in expertise and found themselves without a boat and in a precarious situation.

This is part of the reason I offer driftboat lessons for those whom have their own boat and want to improve their skill level, or wish to get a boat and learn how to read water and maneuver their boat through troubled current.  Using a mentoring service is a good way to improve on one’s learning curve.  It takes a lot of time to learn about the nuances of fluid hydrology and how to apply small tricks that make the big differenced in keeping a boat right side up and good stories as a conclusion to your trip.

As a commercial outfitter, we often get people who tell us they were thinking of doing a river trip, but in seeing the rapids from the highway, they thought they were too small and would not be much fun. When we convince these folks not to be deceived by the sense of scale (big rivers and canyons have a tendency to dwarf reality) and that they will enjoy it, (and if  we actually get them on the water), they will invariably ask: “is this the same river we saw from the highway?”  We have to bite our tongues and not make them feel like this is a stupid question, but common sense isn’t that common.

While we in the outfitting community would like to avoid bad publicity in the media and say it is perfectly safe to run the river when it is high, or at any other time, that would be a farcical claim.  In nature, nothing is free or without risk.  To us ecologist types who appreciate the reality of evolution, we call the consequences of choice and behavior  in the wilds, “natural selection.” That is how the real world works.

The moral of the story: there is no such thing as a risk free river trip, anymore than you can walk across the street without getting run over by a car 100% of the time.  Bottomline: pay attention. It increases your odds. But, don’t stay home. Two old saying I  I always liked are:  “those who do not do things because of their fear of dying, never  really live,” and “man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

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Gary Lane
Wapiti River Guides
http://www.doryfun.com
208:628-3523  (if calling us by cell)
or

800-488-9872

 

 

 

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What Does The Devils Slide Have in Common With Colt 45?

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Nothing. Water and alcohol do not mix, especially when that water is funneling through the second deepest gorge in America where solid cliffs on one side and a rock slide on the other pinch the longest free flowing river within one state down to a narrow chute maybe 50 yds wide. You could shout at someone on the other side of the river and hear them quite easily, that is,  if it were not for the thunderous roar of the monster rapid created by this splendid geomorphology called The Devils Slide.

The Devils Slide is  only a nemesis of a rapid in high water on the Lower Salmon River, but disappears entirely in low flows. (less than 4,000   cfs) While some may need the liquid courage of one can after another of Colt 45 beer to muster up enough steam to run the fearsome rapid when it becomes fearsome, it in no way helps keep a raft right side up.  Such was the case in 1978 when I was working for Grand Canyon Dories and we had a commercial trip in high water and found ourselves where we didn’t want to be.  We had  one guest-guide (let’s call him Factor A) the company had hired to run a baggage raft for a three dory boat trip, who thought us dory people were elitist snobs and worried too much about getting our little wooden boats through a rapid he thought looked like just some big fun and no big deal.

He took one quick look at the same rapid we spent considerable time scouting in earnest, went back to his raft and began pounding down Colt 45’s as he waited impatiently for us dainty dory guides to figure out how to get through the whitewater chaos that churned our stomachs and wracked our nerves.

The 13 day trip started from Corn Creek, and was led by Clarence Reese in his dory boat, along with Barry Dow and myself in our dory boats. Normally one of the company guides would row a baggage raft, too, but this time we had to hire an unknown guest guide whom none of us had worked with before.  He was a nice enough guy, but had more of a caviler cowboy attitude at the time, that didn’t quite jive with the finesse fanatics that clean run attitudes in wooden boats require. Like alcholol, water and wood clash, and rowing boats is much preferred over fixing them.

Because of high water, which was hovering around 30000cfs-ish when we started off, we were worried about the Slide if the river came up much. The back-up plan was that the company was going to pull us off the river at Eagle Creek, which is the last place possible that has a bad access road into this remote area, if the flows came up too much. Before our trip a scouting mission of guides only ran some dory boats through the Slide at about 34,000 cfs and barely made it right side up. So, they assured us that if the river went higher than that they would come to our rescue.  But if is was above 30,000 cfs they would send a jetboat for an extra margin of safety for our runs with commercial guests.

Well, we had been keeping track of water levels vehemently, and knew it did nothing but rise. We guessed it was too high for us to run the Slide, so had a great time the night before, knowing we would be pulled out the next day…or s we thought. But, the next morning when we began floating down to our take out, there were no rigs. We waited around, in case they were late, but soon discovered they were not coming and we were committed to a different date with destiny.

All us dory guides were direly worried, but tried not to let it show, as we drifted on downriver. The sky was blue with not a cloud in sight. But as we stopped for lunch at the head of Blue Canyon on a big sand beach, we could see clouds starting to drift in from the west.  None of us guides could eat, as we were so nervous as to our rendezvous with a frenzied rapid, and as we got back into the boats and began drifting  closer dark clouds began creeping in from the west. The current was fast and as we pulled into the small eddy to scout, thunder and lightning clashed adding a bad omen as prelude to what was about to happen.

When we got up on the pile of boulders to see what was in store for us, it soon became apparent this was a serious situation.  It was the first time I had ever looked at a rapid and tried to figure out where the place was to be with an upside down boat. On the far side of the river (east bank) about a third of the river is a back eddy that itself looked like a river doubling back on itself. It contained two giant rolling ocean-like waves that we dubbed “The Things,” that surged upstream into the vortex of the middle where all the “mayhem” converged. Giant diagonals were rolling from each side of the river into a center collision that exploded sporadically high into the air.  Nightmare material.

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On the left side, there were two diagonals, one above the other. The upper one looked small, compared to the lower one, but was big enough itself to stand a dory high on its bow.  The larger one had a soft spot between the largest part of its curl and the vicious vortex in the middle. It looked do-able, but the consequence for error looked awe-fully troubling. Below it was a depressed eddy full of wild swirls, huge boils and bottomless whirlpools. They blended together like a giant mix-master that would be a “Forever Eddy” for any body or boat that got trapped in it. So my plan was to be in the very middle where we would get shot through between all the more dangerous looking stuff on both sides.

The other bad thing that happened was that there was no jetboat back-up. We had people, some women and children who did not want to run the rapid, nor did we want them to.  But we also did not want to run empty boats through.  So Clarence told the group that if there was anyone foolish enough to run this rapid with us, meet on “Fools Rock”, to scout and plan our runs. All this, while Chip pounded 45’s.

I still remember the dead salmon in a tiny pool on top of Fools Rock, where they got trapped when the water dropped.  Even at that, we were still maybe 10 yards higher than river level, so it was hard to imagine what the river looked like when the salmon were getting bashed. But, we were glad that there were enough volunteers to put two passengers in each of our boats for much-needed weight and high-siding. Also, the promised jetboat finally arrived, with company guides whom actually helped all the guests not wanting  to ride, do the class V climb-around over a treacherous maze of boulders, almost as bad as the rapid itself. In fact, a few minor wounds  that resulted when the smoke all eventually cleared happened there.

With jetboat in place, and butterflies in formation, we began the task of getting our flotilla through the troubled water. Barry Dow led off, with Factor A  following in the raft. Barry’s plan was to plow through the soft spot on river left. He had a good entry through the first diagonal and nailed the soft spot. But the soft spot wasn’t that soft. As his bow went skyward, he went stern ward with an oar in each hand as he left the seat and landed backwards all sprawled out. But the boat made it over  the top, then slammed down the back side, caught an ugly eddy boil and did a 360 degree spin faster than the blink of an eye (or so it seemed). The bow of his wooden boat missed the solid cliff-side rock by less than a foot, (which would have turned it into mere match-sticks) but he was able to crawl back into the seat and gain enough control to not get sucked back up river into the land of the “Forever Eddy.” Then made it to the first place downstream he could get his boat in to wait for the rest of us.

Factor A  followed Barry, but when he came around the blind corner of our eddy stop and could see the rapid from river level at full strength perspective, he froze like a deer in the headlights. He did manage to square up for the same not-so-soft spot that knocked Barry off kilter, but his raft flipped as fast as Barry’s boat did the 360. Fortunately, he too did not get trapped by Forever Eddy, and the jetboat was there to pick up the pieces.

My turn was next. Clarence would wait, watch my run from Fools Rock and then run sweep. While we normally run two boats at a time, for safety, this time was different. Having only one jetboat to collect us up, meant it would be wiser to run one boat at a time, so we didn’t have people scattered all over the river to make carnage even worse.

Watching other boats run bad stuff first can be good and bad. Good to see where to make corrections, but with better options lacking, it is more like lining up behind the lemmings about to make their last plunge.  Even though Barry made it through right side up, it was all so Russian-roulette and iffy looking , that I opted for the middle route. But,  when I round the corner to see the spectacle at real scale, that soft spot looked good.  I thought about taking that line, and in 20-20 hind-sight, that hesitation on my pre-determined line may have been my crucial mistake.

My original plan was to hit the vortex precisely where both left and right mega-waves slammed into each other, both capable of flipping a dory like a pancake on their own, so that each would hit me at the same time, thus off-setting each other. But, in my moment of hesitation, I was about 3 feet off of where I wanted to be, so my theory didn’t get tested properly. Instead, it was if some one on shore had a plunger connected to dynamite in the vortex and set it off when we arrived. At least that is what it felt like as the right wave exploded and we all went flying through the air as the dory tipped violently upside down.

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Luckily one guest had never lost contact with the boat and I felt his leg on my way down to grabbed it to crawl up alongside him, where we both then climbed on to the bottom of the boat, grabbed the other swimmer who made it back to the boat, then threw my stern line to the jetboat that held us in the current, so we could tip the dory right side up and recoup  before entering the next big rapid immediately downstream. Once we were ok, the jetboat went back to wait for Clarence.

He too went for the middle, but had the same result as me, though I don’t remember all the details of his run, because I was in similar shock mode, as was Barry, who I saw sitting on shore shaking his head when I floated on by him to find my own debriefing eddy.  We waited for the jetboat to help pick up all the aftermath of Clarence’s run, then met somewhere downriver in calmer water to reconnect with the walk-around folks and head on down to Cottonwood on Snake River for our last nights  camp and cathartic carnage stories.

As guides, fully responsible for the welfare of commercial guests, we were furious with the management end to having  sent us on this folly expedition when the river rose to such ugliness. They didn’t think a mere thousand or two cfs higher than the exploratory run at 34,000 cfs would be a big deal, at such high flows. But, they were wrong. It is. But that was a long time ago, and is how evolution works trying to figure out when to run or not run a river in question.  Educated guesses work sometimes. Sometimes they don’t.  Other than tippage, fortune rode with us that fateful day on the big water.

The date was July 2, 1978 and The Slide was at 35,200 cubic feet per second. (which is tons of Venturi Effect – or Nozzle Effect).  Since that time, I have run The Slide many more times and have other carnage stories to tell, as do many other people on various other trips that all add up to give this rapid legendary status in the river world. This would include one time when the Slide surfed my dory in the vortex. Notice, I didn’t say I surfed the Slide, because that usually means that was my original plan A intention.

An interesting side note about the Slide is that because it is located in a remote canyon it isn’t something that is run everyday. So, unlike day trips on more accessible stretches of the Salmon River, where all the nuances of various flows are possible to learn by those who spend a lot of time with back to back runs, the Slide isn’t seen as much. Some rapids are worse in higher flows, some lower. Yet sometimes, in-between flows can present weirdness that higher or lower flows miss-out on.

Many outfitters, with different kinds of craft, or private enthusiasts  who like hair-boating, have different cut-off levels that determine when they don’t run the Slide. My personal level, as an outfitter is now 25000cfs.  But there are those who have higher level cut-offs, and when the sun goes down, and if the rapid could speak, it would have much to tell.

But whatever the story, the moral they have in common is: from dory boats to 33 foot pontoons, to triple-rigs, highly beware if you ever have a date with the Devil.

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 PS – The only craft I would ever run The Devils Slide in at flows above 65,000 cfs is an aerial one.

See youtube video of the Devils Slide at 80,000 cfs from the perspective of a Hughs 500 helicopter:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZ2mI8L4mqU%5B/embed%5D

For a good time:

Gary Lane
Wapiti River Guides
http://www.doryfun.com

 

How River Guiding is Like Farming and Ranching

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If you like certainty in your life, then you won’t like guiding, farming, or ranching.  There are too many variable in all these ways of life to satisfy those who like or need black and white solutions to the trials and errors of any life style.  If you like the stability of knowing what will happen between 8am and 5pm of the common work week, then following a job that is more like a 24/7 proposition won’t be for you.

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All three lifestyles, guiding, farming, and ranching are enmeshed into the framework of nature and all the tribulations of adapting to constantly changing situations and challenges.   But that is also the beauty of not knowing before-hand what each day will bring, as the mystery is always just that. Something unknown waiting to happen, and not knowing for certain can be exciting and never dull.

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Climate, what is expected over the long haul,  and weather, which is what happens daily,  are the two things that are a baseline to lifestyles that are  foundationally tied to mother nature.  Each day counts. Going out in the middle of the night during  a snow storm to tend to a cow having a calf,  watching a hail storm destroy a crop of cherries, or rowing a boat in the middle of a down-pour to get down river are all a part of the bargain in these livelihoods.  Of course, it also includes cute little newborns in the spring sun, the sweet fragrance of a blossoming orchard, or the view of bighorn sheep drinking by the river’s edge as you float down stream.

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Sometimes, droughts control crops, be it animal or plant, and even the amount of water that rolls down the canyon, or not, that determines if a river can be navigated.  Whims of the weather shape behavior on our planet, for  all biological entities. Realities face isn’t always one we wish to kiss or a medicine we wish to taste. But, there isn’t a coin made that has only one side, so flipping it we must and live by the consequences that result.  Chance is always uncertain, while change is always a constant.

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The good, bad, and ugly all play out in  the grand uncertainty of it all.  Of course, the balance weights heavily in the positive aspects of the whole, otherwise, why would anyone wish to live this way? And why else would people who do these things wish to share it with others?  Seeing the smiles and content in the heats of others is reward enough, not counting the immense joy it brings to oneself.  Ears, eyes, and voice evolved for a reason. It wasn’t to be deaf, blind, or silent. All these things came about to share and develop community. Just like it takes all organs to make the body function properly, it takes a collective community to make a social system work well.

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Though I am a river guide, I have also worked in both other professions at some capacity during my years, so can appreciate the commonality between them all.  Though river guiding can be a lot of work, compared to the other two, I think I will stick to river guiding. Given the choice between shoveling cow and horse manure or viewing natural beauty of a river flowing through white-washed rocks from birds of prey, white always wins over brown in my world.

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Gary Lane
www.doryfun.com

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It’s Hard To Find a Good River Guide These Days

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“It’s hard to find a good guide these days, “is an old saying we like to use when things go wrong out on the big creek.  But, contrary to the old saying, it seems good  river guides are actually quite easy to come by.  All you need check is most any river touring website to learn that most outfitters have only the very best ones working for them.  Apparently, it is much harder to find a bad one or even an average one.  If everyone is already a member of the crème del crème club, then it isn’t likely many will be reduced to the mere riffraff gang.

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Somewhere back in the beginning, everyone has no experience and starts off with a clean slate.  There are many different ways to get experience, but aside from that, there are a lot of rules and regulations to become a bona-fide river guide.  Initially, in Idaho it is required that 3 trips be conducted under supervision of a licensed guide for each river or section you wish to be legal for.  Now that doesn’t make a real guide, but, along with first aid it does meet the required criteria for becoming a documented one.

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Many hoops come with the territory to help gain official job status as a guide and access to experience is highly varied.  There are numerous books, whitewater schools, or private boaters with enough trips they decide to transmute over to guide status.  But teaching good relationships and developing healthy people skills is a bit trickier and time-consuming.

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A common malady in this profession is that  once  some potential guides develop the proper river skills to run a successful trip, or like  what happens to some of the  more experienced people whom have already guided for a few years,  sometimes egos morph over into self-absorbed show-boating.  Unfortunately, grandiosity is like a disease that makes everyone sick.

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Perhaps susceptibility to this big headed-ness is partially due to the “spotlight effect.”  Commanding attention is an attribute that comes with the guiding territory, as escorting people through the wilds requires such for good leadership. This aspect  can sometimes transgress into behavior for some, similar to a performer being on stage. There is a subtle temptation of always trying to keep the plate spinning and be the center of attention.   The power of theater and drama sometimes magnifies the scene into something more than it really is.  Place is the important quality people usually sign up for when selecting a river trip.  Movies are where you go to purposely be entertained by actors.
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When the run-away horse of such illusions show up, a smart guide should grab the reins to regain the essence of what guiding really is.  Any guide worth their salt should recognize it isn’t about being the focus of the beam; it is more about spreading out the light for others to see things they might have missed without a little help.  There are many things to read from nature’s manuscript, and those who are more familiar with it are better able to help interpret what it is revealing to those who live more sheltered lives while in pursuit of other things.  Attention is the grail by which we see the message. That is, wherever our attention goes, so go we.

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One thing I observed in my early professional years was that the language used by a lot of guides towards guests was often quite condescending.  Calling people degrading names like dudes, peeps, city slickers, or some sort of business referral like customer or client was always a little  embarrassing for me to hear.  If I went to the city,  and being mostly out of my element and lost, it wouldn’t make my experience any better by being called a hill billy, country bumpkin, or ignorant backwoods okie. To me the word “guest” seems much more appropriate in either case when referring to any kind of visitor. It is much warmer and conveys a more welcoming spirit.

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Helping people have an “ah ha” moment is the compound interest gained in an unusual outdoor adventure experience.  You never know when it might happen, but it helps when a guide is able to facilitate that potential by knowingly putting people in special places that are a rich seedbed for such growth to happen. Wisdom comes from nature, and once guides learn this value they can appreciate the importance of setting up circumstances where guests can be put into the middle of that garden of enlightenment.

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If you could ask Lewis and Clark what value a guide has, you would discover how important their guides were to the success of their mission. For example, on the 1806 return trip in June, Lewis and Clark had great apprehension about crossing the snow-covered mountains without guides. They felt they could not cross without them and luckily were able to persuade Speaking Eagle, Black Eagle, and Ahs-kahp, who were three of the very best Nez Perce guides to lead their way. Of course, these were not their only guides, besides them, and Sacagawea who led them a good part of their distance in uncharted territories.

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These guides were as excited then, as guides of today often get when taking modern people into some of the same rugged and beautiful landscapes of today. The Nez Perce were paid with guns which made their hunting easier, while guides today get paid in money which make their livelihoods possible. Though the more esteemed value to both was deeply felt in the heart and spirit where no material thing can be taken. What is life really about, if not to get out and see what there is to see? Inspiration keeps depression at bay.

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But, in the process of getting out and seeing things we have never seen before, it is only reasonable to find a good guide. It can be a writing guide, or human guide, but in either case it is the information and knowledge they contain that we seek. Sure, anyone can go out on their own without consulting any form of guide for true unadulterated exploration. But, aside from that goal, guides help us save time and offer more opportunities to see wonderful things we might otherwise miss. It takes a large chunk of time to make your own trial and error path trying to learn anything new. The learning curve is greatly reduced by piggy-backing someone else’s consumption of time to figure things out.

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Even guides consult other guides, maps, guidebooks, and any source that might provide additional insights into becoming more intimate to an area. Rather it is new country, or a different perspective in familiar country, one can never learn too much. So while adventure isn’t the map, a map still has the advantage to make the adventure less risky and a time effective endeavor.  Dead end trails eat away time and back tracking efforts might cut a designated time trip, to a shorter length, and possibly to even miss the final planned destination.

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Hidden dangers, and dangers not even suspected to be dangers that are known to guides, but not the uninitiated, can mean the difference between failure and success, or in extreme cases life and death. All through time humans have sought the advice of guides, from soothsayers to YouTube, people continue to seek sources to guide their way forward through the march of time.

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As a river guide, I often find myself in places, such as where the Nez Perce guides of yesteryear once stood in awe of their surroundings. Like a special place in the mountains where Speaking Eagle, Black Eagle, and Ahs-kahp stopped before a rock Caryn built by their ancestors to remind travelers to pause and wonder at the meaning of their world. It is said that the voice of Itsiyiyi,  or spiritual Coyote, would sometimes speak to those who listen:

“Frail Human, standing tall with head near the stars above,
Proud-standing, with feet on the birthing-place of rivers,
Safely have you come thus far through these mountains.
How could you tell which way to go?
Looking up, what do you see? Nothing but sky.
Looking down, deep canyons.
Behind – mountains. To right and to left – mountains.
Looking ahead – mountains. Mountains as far as eyes can see.
You, who are a mere Human! How can you find your way?
Something Greater than you has been your Guide.”

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Gary Lane
www.doryfun.com

 

Ecological Cogs – What is Education For?

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River trips are more than just an engagement with the water.  Our boats are vessels  into a world full of exciting mystery where something new can be learned at every  bend.  Adventure is more than a “doing, ” it is a way of  “being.”  And we can only “be” by the “becoming” that additional knowledge helps create as we move along the course of the river.

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Here at Wapitiland, we like to think of ourselves more as navigators and facilitator for people to help expand more understanding about our natural world. An ecological education is fundamental not only for the benefit of human growth, but also to the ability of humans to live more harmoniously with everything else in the world. Why is it so important to know more about the basics?  Perhaps a few quotes and wisdom from some highly respected pillars of the academic  community are in order here:

“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a
whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”  – Aldo Leopold

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“The question is, does the educated citizen know he is only a cog in an ecological mechanism? That if he will work with that mechanism his mental wealth and his material wealth can expand indefinitely? But that if he refuses to work with it, it will ultimately grind him to dust? If education does not teach us these things, then what is education for?” – Aldo Leopold

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The other reason any kind of education is important, is because, as Mahatma Gandhi put it: “A man is but a product of his thought, what he thinks, he becomes.”  What we become determines where we go and what we stand for. And if we don’t stand for something, we will fall for anything, a famous song line warns.

Closed eyes are as good as no eyes, and only leads to a blindness in the mind. So it pays to keep eyes open, so the brain can see better.  Yet, as Carl Sagan once said: “it pays to keep an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out.”  This is why critical thinking is so important when it comes to evaluating any new material that comes before you.

So what is the cost of a good education? Well, it is far less than the cost of ignorance.  And to us in the Wapiti Clan, the real value of education is that the more you understand of nature, the more likely it is that you will help protect it. It is after all, the foundation of our home, no matter where it is.  More importantly, as Einstein warns: “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything”.

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One of the fundamental survival mechanisms of any biological organism is adaptation; how something adapts to a situation to increase the likelihood it will live on. So when it comes to how we deal with ecological processes of the natural environment, we might do better to question how we can become good adapters.  Or perhaps, more  appropriately, as the educator David Orr once said:  “It makes far better sense to reshape ourselves to fit a finite planet than to attempt to reshape the planet to fit our infinite wants.”

What to do?  Finding truth and understanding is no easy task. This is made all the more difficult in the  massive information-swamp created by the internet and social media.  As the country with the highest rate of natural resource consumption on the planet,  comes the highest order of making responsible choices.  Like trying to find gold, you have to move a ton of dirt  just to find an ounce. Such is it to sift through the vast sea of information to find that tiny ship of facts.  Not easy, but necessary if you plan on  making a good decision.

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Even with all the facts it isn’t always easy to reach a good understanding or know which direction to lean. However, an old native tale of truth and wisdom story might most aptly apply here:

“An old Cherokee is telling his granddaughter about a fight that is going on inside himself. He said it is between two wolves. One is evil: anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.  The other is good: joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. The granddaughter thought about it for a minute and then asked her grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one I feed.”

 

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Reading about how to track a wolf , is not tracking  the wolf. You have to first go into the wilds for that.   Simply reading about nature, is just not the same as knowing it.  You have to go to know, and there is no better place to go than to the river. That is where the essence of the wild resides.  It is, as stated by the signature phrase of Sherlock Holmes fame: ” Elementary, my dear, Watson, elementary.”

“Only those who partake of the harmony within their souls know the harmony that runs through nature.”

-Paramahansa Yogananda

At least, if we are but a mere ecological cog, then why not an enlightened one should we not aspire to be. Which wolf inside, will you choose to feed?

Remember, holistic thinking sees the forest, while individual thinking sees the tree. But, you can’t have one without the other, because all ecology is a system that requires interaction between the two.  But, you have to start somewhere. Where?  One link, that’s all: www.doryfun.com  for confronting new experiences and ideas pushed  to a greater depth of appreciation.

Nature Einstein

Pushing the River’s Last Frontier – Looking Back

2 Comments

steelheading dave baum nov 2-3, 2013 002

Being human on planet earth contains a yin and yang dynamic during the process of living.  Unfortunately, living life is time limited. That can be  both good and bad.  The bad thing is that the older one gets the closer they get to the terminal end.  The good thing is that the longer one lives, the  more experiences and stories are gained to better appreciate acquiring potential wisdom along the way.  As each additional experience accumulates to the total sum,  the more meaningful becomes the big picture of existence.

Looking back over my career of river guiding, enough time has now  elapsed to allow me a chance to see a broad spectrum of change over the years.  Unfortunately, meaningful does not always equate to better.   Like any antipodal position, anything can be seen with  an optimistic or pessimistic  worldview, depending on which way is chosen to look at the glass when it is at the half way point.  However, it is rare that the glass if at the half way point and in any case the more water that we drink, the less there is to satisfy our thirst.

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What do you thirst for? Thrills and adventure? Security and certainty? On a planet  defined by multiple boundaries, we live in a world that might best be described by containing a limited supply of  glasses.  Even concepts contain boundaries and are limited by our thinking, so lets just say one of those glasses holds our thoughts.

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If the earth contains ten full glasses of water, where each glass represents a frontier and water its natural resources, then the more glasses we drain, the less frontiers we have left. Once empty it is gone forever. Water is a closed system, which means there is always the same amount of water. However, how humans appropriate  that resource determines how much is usable.  Exploitation results when natural resources are victimized and extracted beyond sustainability.  Aside from human behavior, our own population numbers can also accelerate the rate of resource decline.

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Each time a glass reaches empty, we must find another full one to satisfy our thirst.  The more people we add and glasses we drink, the less chance of living longer we have. Even concepts like undeveloped and unpeopled areas, where we can still go in search of unlimited opportunities to  engage nature and experience new things, is diminishing at a faster rate in our modern times.

Each human we add to the equation, acre  paved over, tree  cut down, element mined, soil tilled, fish caught, or animal killed, at a rate where mortality exceeds recruitment, resources diminish until eventually extinction results. Likewise, concepts like frontiers are also not exempt  from total exhaustion in this same process of diminishment.  In my example, the tenth glass is the Last Frontier.  What will be do with it?

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In the early days of river running, I often went alone, exploring uncharted waters or rivers  that escaped the exodus of mass transit  wilderness travelers. Even when I eventually began guiding, we often had the drainage to ourselves and we certainly had only the most rudimentary of equipment.  Anyone and everyone that traveled with our own group, was an integral part of making a success of the shared adventure.  Unlike the more passive corporate rafting of today, we engaged raw nature eye to eye.

These days what passes for adventure, is more of an illusion and artificial experience.  Many guides are becoming more like glorified baby sitters. With the aid of modern highly advanced technologies and hyped up, but non-engaged type of encouraged zombism, trips today perpetuate more of a filtered experience.”  The entire affair is often dominated more by its entertainment value – where inactive participants can view the show as they would from a recliner with a bowl of popcorn.  Corporate guiding has become more like a magic show, where guides do everything for people and fool them  into feeling they are getting something which they aren’t.

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Nature deficit disorder is promoted by this kind of trickery.  It also describes  how much of our educational system works, or more aptly, does not work in today’s world.   When we get absorbed by our highly sophisticated technologies we ignore the real world at a perilous expense.  Biology and ecology are never not real, and  abra-cadabra won’t ever make artificial things anything other than what they are.

In the business world today in our country, everything  possible is done to reduce every possible risk because our culture has become so litigious. The entire system feeds itself and encourages more people to become less responsible. It is an atrophy of accountability at its nadir. Corporate rafting is a highly regimented,  overly scheduled, and extremely organized  to reduce risk and potential lawsuits.  In some cases, it reminds me of rafting with a straight jacket on.

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No amount of technology can replace understanding raw nature. The real beauty of education is that the more you learn and understand something, the more likely it is that you will work at protecting it.  Peeling back the onion, that is, disrobing ourselves from the machinery of sophisticated contrivances will better  reveal the center of the onion.  That is where the essence of an onions onionous resides.

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Why is knowing nature more intimately, important?  What if you are in the middle of a wilderness area and your gps breaks down  or loses power?  And you have no compass. What then?  What if your guide falls out of the boat, never to be seen again, then what? Will you panic or keep your wits? Throw your arms up and run, or sit back and relax to give your brain a chance to work more coherently?

FLAMES

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Do you know how to read nature so as to determine which way to go and how to get out? Can you start a fire, find safe water, make a shelter, crudely net a fish, navigate rough terrain, and have enough self-reliance to get yourself back home? Not that this would happen on one of our adventures. But at least, with us you will build confidence by actively living in nature for a brief pardon from the busy, hectic, high paced  world. There is no substitute for real world experience. “Good judgment comes from experience, and  experience comes from bad judgment.”

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Ironically, my theory is that often concentrating hard on what not to do, may  have more of a chance of making what you are trying to avoid actually materialize. Also, the more responsibility you to give people for their own actions, the more they will pay attention to what they do and their own well-being.  Inclusion, adds to group strength, exclusion reduces it. This in turn reduces risk in potentially harmful activities.

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Different rivers and rivers at different times provide various moods that affect experiences of those whom choose to travel these waterways to adventure. Having lived long enough to have floated far and wide, with a gazillion oar strokes along the way, I have been fortunate to have witnessed a lot of natural beauty “the river” always reveals. I’m also stubborn when it comes to keeping things simple, and focusing on sharing the essence of active engagement with nature to  more fully appreciate our common world.

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So, if you would like to join with us in an old-fashioned, more traditional, unadulterated, dance in the untamed wilds of otherworldly river adventure, give us a call:

Wapiti River Guides 800-488-9872 or if by cell phone, call 208:628-3523. For more info see: www.doryfun.com and our facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/Riverdoryfun

Philosophers with more wisdom than us have offered more profound words that better describe the mysteries and experiences you may feel on one of our trips:

“You cannot understand life and its mysteries as long as you try to grasp it. Indeed, you cannot grasp it just as you cannot walk off with a river in a bucket. If you try to capture running water in a bucket, it is clear that you do not understand it and that you will always be disappointed, for in the bucket the water does not run. To “have” running water you must let go of it and let it run. “

Alan Watts

from The Wisdom of Insecurity

“Life is like a river. There is no precharted way; there are no maps to be given to you which are to be followed.  Just be alive and alert, and then wheresoever life leads you go with full confidence in it. ……Allow it to lead you, don’t force it. Surrender to it and allow it to lead you towards the sea. Just be alert, that is all. While life leads you towards the sea just be alert so that you don’t miss anything.”

 -Osho

 You’ve been walking in circles, searching. Don’t drink by the water’s edge. Throw yourself in. Become the water. Only then will your thirst end.

-Jeanette Berson

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Topophilia – When You Become the River

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n fk payette june 17, 2013 015

Topophilia is a word that comes from the Greeks, meaning “love of place.”  Often I find that the more I run a river, the more it becomes a part of me, and me, it.  I find that the more I engage with the same environments, my learning improves and  a deeper understanding of the place increases. It is as if by some kind of osmosis that the spiritual entities enter my body from those unseen, but ambient presence’s that enrich the very  land and water through which I travel.

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My identity soon gets absorbed as much by the place, as the place drinks in me and makes it a part of the very geography itself. Later on when our earth time eventually passes and our personal histories are remembered by the next generation, does our spiritual vapor-trail  help keep the ancestral ties connected to the living.

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For time immemorial, all places get impregnated with behavior of humans engagement with raw nature, and can be remembered by those who do not forget their past connections with those that came before them.  The longer a people live closely to an area, as opposed to sporadically moving around and transplanting new tendrils elsewhere, the stronger is their love of place and sence of connection to it.

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Thus, the original native people, who were first to inhabit any region, have gained the greatest amount of common history tied to a singularity of place. They are closer to the roots of the tree that gave them life, compared to the seeds that get wind blown to the four directions, which start new trees in other places. A seedling is like the tree that gave it flight, but not the parent tree itself.

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Various cultures develop as time progresses and histories are built on experiences that happen between people and their engagement with the places they share together collectively.  Groups get defined by their common pursuits, such as mountain people who travel the high country, or river people who run  rapids in the canyon country. Each becomes a kind of tribe or clan, with specialized abilities that improve their skills and increase their survival  amidst the innate dangers that come with the territory they inhabit.

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As a river person, I appreciate many of the names of rapids that are born of bad experiences others have had there before me. It is a curious aspect of human nature that we like to name things after personal disasters, with the person’s name, like “Scottie’s Drop” or “Wendy’s Rock.”   Though, often it is the trouble itself that gets the name, like “Hell to Pay,” or “Widow Maker.” Or it can even be for some aspect of a certain inherent nemesis a rapid might represent, like “Demon’s Drop” or “Room of Doom.”

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These rapids continue to challenge the people who run them, and the stories created each time add to the power of place. It builds character both to the people and the place. Each becomes something that drives more meaning deep into the planet to make our home in the universe highly charged with life.  The blue dot, seen from space, is due to the watery nature of our planet and the life blood it gives to every form of the living that could not be, without it.

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