“The first river you paddle runs through the rest of your life.
It bubbles up in pools and eddies to remind you who you are.” - Lynn Noel
Fall semester last year, I took Rafting 101 – “An Introduction to Whitewater Rafting and Equipment”. It wasn’t exactly like I needed the class, I’ve been rafting for five years and working at NRS for over two years. But, the class is required for my degree in Recreation & Outdoor Leadership and was only ½ of the semester. We spent one night a week in the classroom talking gear, sharing stories, trip planning and signing a half a dozen different medical release and liability forms… just in case. The meat of the class took place on a three-day float down the Lower Salmon River Gorge in the heart of Idaho.
A crisp fall breeze penetrated our bodies and cool rain trickled down as we stepped out of the crowded and muggy 15-passenger van at the Pine Bar Launch Site. After unloading our gear we started to rig the boats. Most of the students who hadn’t been on the river before changed two or three times before we actually got on the boats. Some students wore wetsuits and splash tops, others wore shorts and HydroSkin; it seemed we all had our own methods of keeping comfortable on the river. We divided the group between two big blue NRS Expedition rafts. Huddling together we kept our cold toes buried in the sand until the last minute, dreading the moment when we would have to put our bums on the cold, wet raft tubes.
Our first day on the river was long and it rained most of the time. We paddled down class II & III rapids and many miles of rather flat water with vicious eddies. Birds of prey flew above us and the hills were alive with chuckar partridges foraging for seeds and bugs. At one point in the river we pulled ashore near a set of rapids and hiked up the steep rock-strewn hillside to take a look at a Chinese stone house that was over a hundred years old. I tried to picture living there in the canyon through the hot summers and cold winters contending with the sheer canyon walls, rattlesnakes and isolation in the deep gorge.
We hit our largest rapid on the first day. Snowhole is a class III at that water level, but in higher water it’s a class IV. Our instructor, who was rowing the thousand-pound gear boat, ran the rapid first. The students watched from the bank of the river, hoping to get a good picture of some whitewater action. Much to the instructor’s embarrassment, his boat got stuck at the top of the rapid. While some of the “guides” in the class ran to grab the throw bags, he rocked the boat and got unstuck. He was able to recover quickly enough to hit the narrow line through the monstrous boulders and cold, frothy water.
A beautiful white beach welcomed us after six hours on the river, so there was plenty of area to spread out. After an early three-hour van ride and a cool day on the water, we had gotten to know each other rather well. Still, it was nice to have a big beach so we didn’t have to get too close and personal. Although everyone got along rather well, if we had been contestants on Survivor, there definitely would have been some whispering going on as to who would be voted off the beach.
It had stopped raining by the time we set up our tents and changed out of wet gear. Rocks and tree branches were littered with wetsuits and splash tops in an effort to dry things out. One of the less experienced students found a beautiful rock to dry her suit on. Unfortunately it was smack dab center in the middle of a patch of poison ivy. Fortunately, she survived the trip without any rashes.
Our second day on the river brought more sun and less wind. We again explored some Chinese stone houses, ran some beautiful whitewater and camped at a small, but nice beach at the mouth of Blue Canyon. Several of the students hiked to a point above the canyon rim. At the top we cracked some cool beverages and laughed about the field trip experience.
That afternoon, while hiking along the beach looking for round and colorful river pebbles I found an arrowhead. I tried to imagine what the person who made the arrowhead looked like, what kind of home they lived in and whether this arrowhead may have killed a rabbit, chuckar or salmon. Before we left camp the next day I reburied the piece of canyon history above the beach, hoping the next person who comes across that arrowhead will pay the same respect for the cultural resource.
Our last day on the water involved a hike through an abandoned mine shaft and another glimpse into the canyon’s history. As we came to the confluence of the Snake River, near the mouth of Hells Canyon, a jet boat engine could be heard in the distance. For thirteen miles we shared the river with jet boaters, hunters, fishermen and other river users. We were happy with the trip, but glad to deflate the boats and see the van at the take out. As we loaded our stinky bodies back into the passenger van, we knew our time together was near an end and our minds started filling with homework assignments to finish, exams to study for, e-mails to respond to and other concerns of most college students.
I get a lot of flack for studying “Recreation” and yes, my classes are not always the most challenging. I get “graded” for my participation in kayaking, rafting, mountaineering and other outdoor leadership classes. NRS has been great, working with my schedule by giving me time off for field trip after field trip after field trip. It’s true that I don’t spend as many hours with my nose in books as students who study chemistry, math, rocket science or the other “harder” degree options. But I know lessons I’ve learned on the river will help me more with life and my future…more than anything a textbook can teach.
NRS Customer Service
Some happy quotes…
"In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed
and the first of that which comes; so with present time."
-Leonardo da Vinci
"The river is inside me now, I know, and I need only wait and see
where the current takes me, and what lies beneath it."
-Jeff Wallach, What the River Says