Guide of the Month: Ryan Dudgeon, Lewis & Clark Trail Adventures

As an Idaho based company, NRS is proud to sponsor the Redside Idaho Guide of the Month Award.

Name: Ryan Dudgeon
Hometown: Farmington, New Mexico
Current Location: Idaho
Job Title at Lewis & Clark Adventures: Trip Leader & River Guide
Total Years Guided: 10

How did you become a river guide?
I always wanted to be a guide. I moved to Missoula to get my masters degree and there was a rafting program through the school, I signed up for the Lewis & Clark training trip on the Main Salmon and the rest is history! I worked really hard to learn everything I could about guiding through them and took the courses, then volunteered a lot of my time working on the Lochsa and I became a guide that summer. I worked on the Gorge primarily that year and then the next season was on the Lochsa and the Main Salmon.

What’s the most rewarding part of your work as a guide?
Seeing the reaction of people who have never been on a multi day trip and the change over the week. They come in really nervous and then they get away from work, the stresses of everyday life and come out and have a great time. The change over the course of a week is my favorite part for sure.

Do you have a favorite section to guide?
The Main is my favorite. The Lochsa is fun and thrilling and I love that… but the Main Salmon, because it is a longer trip, is my favorite.

What’s the most frustrating part of working as a guide?
Running out of ice! (Laughs) I think I’ve had a really good experience as a guide. Sometimes there’s confusion with numbers. Frustrations are pretty minimal, nothing comes to mind right now.

Have you ever thought about moving on from guiding and why did or didn’t you?
I did a couple years ago when I moved back to New Mexico I was kind of thinking I’d get out of it just because I’m thirty two, I was thinking I should do something else. But then I never stopped! This will be my third season coming up from New Mexico to guide. I just work for such a fun company… it’s a good tight family that I really enjoy and that’s a key to having a good guiding experience I think.

You’re now thirty two. What would thirty-two year old Ryan tell twenty-two year old Ryan?

I’d tell myself don’t be scared. I was really nervous when I first started, having never done anything like that before and getting thrown on the Lochsa, it was scary. I would say trust yourself and it’s going to be a lot of fun. Oh, and watch your toes! That’s always a motto I’ve had. Basically just to have fun. It was pretty easy to jump in and get into the game but I was definitely nervous and so my advice would probably be to not be scared and be yourself.

And do you think in those ten years your guiding style or priorities have changed?

I think definitely I’ve become more focused on seeing the guests change their lives. I’ve had trips where we are still friends today, we stay on touch on Facebook. It’s crazy to see how much the kids have grown and recently a lot of the young ladies I’ve taken down the river have turned eighteen and they’ve been asking me how to become a guide and that’s really rewarding.

Who inspires you as a guide?

The people I worked with when I first started, they had so much faith in me when I began guiding. Josh Mahan, who now owns Yellowstone Hiking Guides, he was really influential in me wanting to stick around and be a raft guide. It was tricky sometimes working with primarily guys who can get sort of irritated quickly so he stood by my side and was an awesome motivator. Jimmy Klapper, he trained me and he’s been guiding for something like twenty years, he’s a lifer and he’s been a big inspiration as well.

You mentioned that sometimes as a woman you’re one of two or the only woman on a trip. How do you navigate that?

It’s something that I notice on the Lochsa especially, there’s very few women out there guiding. But the guys that I work with are very supportive. If I get into trouble they’re not going to yell at me, they’re there to help. I think it’s been a pretty positive experience. We’re all out there doing what we love. It’s a technical river. It’s fun, it’s big and I think pretty much the guys and girls are on the same page as far as helping each other and supporting each other. We’re a team out there. But there’s always sometimes, back at the shop, “Why did you do that?”… but that goes for everyone, not just me being a girl.

And now moving into that role model position more and more, how do you think we support more women becoming big water Lochsa guides?

Right, I think it’s about working with ladies to create the confidence. I know lots of women that private boat the Lochsa but don’t want to commercially guide. I was in that same boat for about a year - I was very nervous but then I started getting into it and my clients were really helpful for an ego boost. I think it’d be great to set up a ladies guiding clinic, all ladies teaching it, on the Lochsa to give that confidence. There would be people that maybe want to try it out and see what it feels like to be a lady guide. I think that would be a good step and that would be something I would’ve appreciated having. I know there’s a few groups in Missoula that do female kayaking clinics and it’d be really cool to do a regional event where women could get together and learn how to guide from another woman, on the Lochsa.

How do you support your fellow guides and how do they support you?

We’re so fortunate at Lewis & Clark Trail Adventures, we’re such a tight knit family. We’re fortunate to have Wayne and Gia as outfitters too. On and off the river we hang out no matter what, all the time. Everyone is willing to be super helpful. There’s never a moment when other guides say, “No I wont do that for you.” There’s such a family aspect. I’ve had lots of friends work for other companies that don’t necessarily have that family aspect.

How do you take care of yourself during guiding season?

I’m pretty busy! I have a two day turn around between trips and it gets really tiring. I just take some time to chill, by myself, away from people. Because I’m constantly entertaining or on the move. I take some time to, you know, shower (laughs) and do some laundry. It’s a lot of lifting and moving heavy things so I also try to do pretty minimal movement, save my back! Air conditioning and ice water that I didn’t have to chip out of my cooler! I take a break.

What advice would you give an aspiring river guide?

Never give up! I didn’t know I could be a river guide, I didn’t know i could do it. Especially with there not being many women in the field. I didn’t have a lot of women as role models to learn from. I’m still one of the few that works for the company. I think what I learned from it is you can really do anything you want. When I started guiding I also became a snowboard instructor, I put in the application thinking I wouldn’t get the job but it happened, it worked out and it reinforced that you can do anything you put your mind to. Stick with it.

Do you have a most memorable big line?

Over ten years there have been a lot! I had a super low water flip at Grim Reaper, hitting the rock at the bottom. That was my first commercial flip just two years ago.

Wait back up. You ran the Lochsa seven years before your first commercial flip?


How did you celebrate?

Well, I took a bootie beer, went back home and started on the Salmon the next day. I knew it was going to happen but seven years was a pretty good stint. I had flipped before training and private boating but that was the first commercial guiding. I guess, I don’t know, there have been so many good adventures. Huge water on the Salmon… we put in 2011 at 8 feet on the ramp or something like that. It was right after Black Creek had formed and we were nervous but it ended up being the most beautiful v wave I’ve ever seen. Huge, your boat was tiny in that thing. The river dropped quite a bit during the trip so Whiplash was manageable but that was a memorable trip!

Why Idaho?

Why Idaho. Well, I kind of just lucked out working for Lewis & Clark. I worked really hard to get to where I was working the Main Salmon and I think I just fell in love. I fell in love with that place and I could certainly guide down here this summer and stay in the four corners but it would be really hard for me not to be on the Salmon. It would be really hard. It’s been hard enough missing the Lochsa season this year because we’ve been teaching. We usually at least will drive up for Memorial Day season. It’s beautiful and it’s a place I’ve fallen in love with. It’s a very special place.

How do you stay connected to your guiding community being far away during the off season?

I keep in touch with everyone over the winter via Facebook or texting. We’re close knit and we’ve made a special connection, within the company as well as within the whole guiding community from our nights at Corn Creek. The guiding community, we all step up to help each other. It’s awesome to get to the ramp and here comes MRO, we’re excited to see them and it’s just such a fun experience. There’s some Facebook groups that bring everyone together. Really, it’s the social media that keeps us together throughout the year. It’s fun to see photos of everyone flipping in the falls! And I can post about my adventures down south. It all keeps us connected.

Anything else we’ve missed? Guiding, Idaho…

Nope, I think that’s it!

Good luck to Ryan and Lewis & Clark Trail Adventures on their upcoming season!

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Guide of the Month Awards are sponsored by Idaho company NRS. Each Guide of the Month receives a $100 NRS Gift Card.