As an Idaho based company, NRS is proud to sponsor the Redside Idaho Guide of the Month Award.
Name: Sadieanne Susan Grossbaum
Hometown: Ketchum, Idaho
Current Residence: North Fork, Idaho (but most of my time is spent in, or traveling through the Frank Church)
Job Title/Location: River Guide - Middle Fork of the Salmon & Main Salmon. Ranch Caretaker/Manager/Cook, Root Ranch (Chambelin Basin Area of the Frank Church)
Years Guiding: 4
What path led you to guiding in Idaho?
This might be a pretty long answer.
When I was a Junior in college at University of Idaho (Go Vandals!) I did this program called Semester in the Wild. It was a semester at the Taylor Ranch. The Taylor Ranch is an in holding owned by the University of Idaho, it’s about 6 miles up Big Creek from its confluence with the Middle Fork of the Salmon. I didn’t really know what the Frank Church was, but a semester away from town sounded really nice so I signed up. Three months there and I kind of fell in love with this wilderness area. It was the fall semester and I think watching the seasons change from late summer, to fall, to winter is part of what did it. I had moved around a lot prior to my guiding career - I liked traveling to different countries every year, and I was big into climbing, which meant driving all over the west to different climbing spots at different times of the year. I went to school in Moscow, Idaho and I saw seasons change there, but I was always leaving whenever possible. I didn’t ever pay attention to a place changing.
I felt so rooted at the Taylor Ranch. I was exploring all these different little drainages - learning the characteristics of the hills and the plants and animals. In the process I got to watch it all change. I developed this sense of place in the Salmon River drainage. But another huge thing was this class I took while there - Wilderness Area Management.
I learned so much about the Wilderness Act, and the Frank Church specifically. It’s such a beautiful act of Congress - all these intangible characteristics that go along with it, which have to be interpreted by forest managers. I guess I also developed this love of the human boundaries in the Salmon River Drainage.
This long diatribe is an explanation why I would ever end up a river guide. Prior to Semester in the Wild I had no desire what so ever to be a river guide. I had never rafted, I did some whitewater kayaking (swimming class II rapids) in high school and knew the whole whitewater thing was not for me. It scared me and I couldn't imagine getting myself down the river, let alone being responsible for guests! However I was good buddies with Jake Mitzultski and I convinced him to go to the Taylor Ranch with me. He was a river guide and I heard him mooning about the Middle Fork for 3 months straight. He said I could try “swamping” I wouldn't have to know anything about white water and I could see the Middle Fork - this apparently magical part of the Frank Church.
So, the following summer I gave it a try. The first time I saw the Middle Fork I was sitting on an oar boat on a deadhead down Marsh Creek in the snow at 6 whatever feet. It was magical but damn, it was terrifying. I fell out and swam power house and I didn’t feel something in my heart telling me that this was what I needed to do with my life. But, I decided to keep on (I didn’t have another summer job lined up).
Over the summer I did fall head over heels for the Middle Fork, I'm not going to try and describe why, you know. However, when our boss told me I was going to be guiding the next year I thought about quitting. I didn’t quit, but what I’m trying to say here, is that I didn’t want to be a Middle Fork Guide, I didn’t want to be a guide! I just wanted to spend as much time in the Frank Church as possible and a swampers wage wasn’t going to make that lifestyle possible. I do it because my heart is in this place, and yes, now I love guiding and whitewater, and even boating different rivers, and maybe hard shell kayaking sometimes. I learned how to fly fish and I love telling the guests about the place they are in and why it is here. But I’m not here for the whitewater, I’m not here for the Chaco tan or the beer break on the boat, or even the people (though I do love all those things). I’m here because this drainage, in this man made boundary seems to fulfill me. Getting to watch the seasons change year round, the sense of place I have developed, getting to explore more and more of it, being able to float by a creek and know not just its confluence, but its headwaters and everything in between, it does it for me. I’m sure that is true for so many people. I guess I’m trying to say is that it’s the place that made me a guide and the place that keeps me one.
What is the most rewarding part of your current guiding career?
I think I answered that up above, but the rewarding part is more than just me feeling fulfilled and exploring. I find taking people down the river immensely rewarding. On my first trip guiding I was in a paddle boat and I had this family that stayed on my boat the whole time - mom, dad, 16 year old sister, 19 year old brother. They were great, I enjoyed boating with them and being able to facilitate their wilderness experience and they loved it! You know those guests that are always looking around and pointing out cool trees or waterfalls and when you tell them about Whitey Cox or the Wilderness Act or the Sheepeater Campaign they really listen and ask questions, those where these people! They had such a blast and so did I, I got to see the river for the first time again, through their eyes. On the 4th night of the trip the Mom told that their 19 year old boy had a twin sister and a year ago, she had killed herself. She told me that this was the first time since that they were a family again, that her Husband had smiled, had laughed, had looked up and seen the world around him. I know a year is a long time, and they had probably been going through a lot in that time. The Middle Fork didn’t save this family, but It helped, and being away from phones and distractions and bullshit, it helped, and I got to be a part of it.
I know that not every guest is like that, not everyone has things like that that tear at them. But everyone who goes down that river, they need it in someway or another. Since that first trip I try and remember that. Even when I have a guest that is board and miserable, I try and remember that family and know that even if this person hates me and my unkempt hair, they need this too. I find it very rewarding, and it saves me too, on trip 11 when I’m tired and grumpy, when I have cracks in my feet and hands, I see these people who have never been 6 days away from the world and it seems more important than my coworker who keeps putting the Dutch Ovens in the dishwater.
The most frustrating?
Dutch ovens in the dish water.
Have you ever thought of moving on from guiding? Why did/didn't you?
This year I thought I might want to do the on land side of working in the Frank Church during the summer. I did this trail clearing mission from the Root Ranch to the Flying B - It was hot and miserable and probably the hardest work I have ever done. I don’t mind hard work but the river pays better and you get to jump in the water when you are hot. I think I’ll stay on the water for quite some time.
Who inspires you as a guide?
Oh man, so many people, Blake King, Ron Ens, Jessie Jarvis, Dave Handy. Blake inspires me because he always wants to learn more about this place. This year day 3 (or 2 if you are deadheading) was his favorite day. He explored a new spot every week. That is the most boring day! He has been guiding for 12 years and he is still always looking to see something new, something he has never seen before. I find it really inspiring to be around that.
Ron, well I think Ron is a great teacher. I started my fall seasons with Ron, I was just a cook, but he wanted all his guides, cooks and packers to know how to work with the stock, saddle, and pack. That was huge for me, to be in an environment where I didn’t need to fight for the opportunity to learn something difficult I had no experience with. He could have so easily just said that wasn’t my job, but he encouraged me and I really look up to that attitude, in co workers and bosses.
Jessie is a bad-ass river woman. She taught me a lot about guiding, especially the whitewater aspect. She is always pushing herself to be a better boater, even if it means running a sweep through pistol at 5 feet. I know some guides that just don't do that anymore, they are over it. We don't work together anymore but I’m still inspired by the time I spent working with her. I know she is always 3 days behind me, laughing and screaming and dancing her way down the river.
And Dave, Dave has been doing this for so long, and I think he might be the hardest worker I know. When I was working at Loon I spent a week there with just me and Dave. He got up before dark every morning and worked all day. I think being around people like that increases my work ethic. When I’m out here at the ranch and I could just sit by the fire and read all day because there is no one here and nobody would know the difference, because of Dave I can’t. I get up and work and try to do my best because there are people like Dave working out here somewhere and I want to be one of them.
What are the similarities and differences between the river industry and hunting/ranch industry in the Frank Church?
Similarities- The people, I think the seasonal work attracts a like minded group of people. I have worked with a lot of river guides in hunting camp. The place, I love riding up and down the Middle Fork Trail. The service, you are cooking for people and cleaning up after them, facilitating an experience.
Differences - On the river people are paying to go down the river, that is going to happen no matter what. It may rain or snow, it may be beautiful, but either way they will probably make it 6 days. It’s relatively easy to fulfill that expectation. In hunting camp people gave a goal, typically a trophy or meat in the freezer and so there is this different attitude towards the experience. However, this country isn’t easy to hunt, hunters are on horseback or hiking, not ATVS and even when they come back empty handed I think there is an accomplishment that satisfies some need.
How do you take care of your health and wellness during the guiding season?
I have to find time to myself. Whether it is at 5am, starting coffee and watching the sunrise in the river canyon, during lunch on the river, or a hike and foraging in the middle of the day while the hunters are out. I need that time or else I go crazy. Also, salve on my feet and hands, and boots in camp on the river.
What advice would you give someone who wants to extend their guiding or Frank Church season into the Fall?
Like I said I’m not a hunting guide, but I can give advice to someone looking to extend their season and work out here in the fall. I didn’t have any previous skills when I started working in the fall. I had never worked with horses, or hunted. My qualifications were that I wanted to be out here and I was willing to work hard. Being a river guide also helped - river guides understand the service industry, presentation, working with people, multi-day trips, and all sorts of other skills that are useful in hunting camp. My advice, if you are like me, is go email and talk to different outfitters. If you are on the river, stop in, let them know you want to work, let them know you will work in exchange for training and experience, and be persistent. If you really want to spend you falls out here, I think it is totally possible. You might be clearing trail, cooking, cleaning, what ever, but you can get your foot in the door, show that you can work hard and learn some skills too.
Tell us about a typical day during hunting season.
A typical day at the ranch is a little different then in a spike camp. But the past two years I’ve been at the Ranch, so I’ll talk about that. We get up around 4 am, I head to kitchen and get coffee and breakfast going, Blake heads out into the pasture to find the horses and bring them in. While I make breakfast for the hunters, Blake saddles their horses. Breakfast at 6am, an hour before light. Hopefully the hunters are all out by 7am. We have 2-10 hunters here at a time.
If someone got an animal the day before I help Blake saddle up and he heads out to quarter and pack it back. I clean up and take care of stuff around the ranch - splitting firewood, food inventory, fixing fence, cleaning and stuff. I bake some bread, make some dinner, and hopefully there is a nap in there somewhere. Dinner is ready at 7, but most of it goes in the oven to stay warm till the hunters get back at whatever time.
My favorite days out here are when the hunters are gone and we are setting up or taking down a camp away from the lodge, it means a lot of time on horseback riding through the area and working with the animals.
Good luck to Sadie finishing up the rest of her season at the Root Ranch!
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