Words & Photography by Seth Dahl, Big Cedar Media
Originally posted on Go Idaho.
During the grey and cold days of winter I find myself sitting in my apartment daydreaming about a place and a people I’ve grown to love. This deep admiration started ten years ago when I first experienced a six day river trip down Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River. I soon traveled from Montana seasonally to work this stunning stretch of water and for eight years now I have accumulated many fond memories.
The Middle Fork flows wild and free for 100 miles through the heart of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. It drops almost 3,000 feet during its trip, crashing through numerous rapids with names like “Pistol Creek” and “Devil’s Tooth.” Its scenery changes from high alpine forest to mountain desert and finishes with a bang as it cuts through a steep rocky gorge named the “Impassable Canyon.” It is a unique trip and a natural treasure.
I often think about those warm sweep boat days bathed in golden light. The sun drops low in the sky and the craft is pulled by a free current. The flying insects are illuminated amongst the tall grass and the pine and fir trees cast shadows across the river. The birds sing with the sounds of the river and water laps the floor of the sweep. Together, their voices became harmony to my ears and in that moment I feel truly alive!
I think about the guides around me. They seem to complete this place with their smiling faces and wild eyes. They are strong, genuine, and friendly. Their lives, in many ways, reflect the wild and scenic river they work. As the season turns to spring they emulate the Chinook salmon and make their way back to the river, year after year.
These men and women come from many backgrounds and range in age and experience. They are the river’s ambassadors sharing its history and stories. Some are artists and musicians and others study the plants and animals of the area. These people are backcountry medics and Dutch oven masters. As river guides they are skilled boatman and they are a crafty and resilient bunch. They are Idahoans.
I think about the coming river season. Soon we will move downriver and gather around a campfire. There will be stories and good food. At night I will sleep under the stars and be filled with gratitude, forever thankful, for a community, and a wild river that has carved its course through my life.