Idaho Public Television

Outdoor Idaho:

50 Years of Wilderness

Behind the Scenes


Laying out the Concept

By Bruce Reichert
July 2, 2014

50 years, 50 miles. That's Nuts!

Bighorn Crags in the Frank Church Wilderness | Credit: Dave Pahlas

Ladle Rapid on the Selway River, at low water | Credit: Bruce ReichertIn July the Outdoor Idaho crew will travel across two of the nation's largest wilderness areas, for a show examining what wilderness has meant to the state and the West.

It's certainly one of the most complicated programs we've attempted – to report on every wilderness area in the state. The logistics are proving to be thorny and time-consuming; but we figure a 50 year anniversary comes around only once. Besides, we're not getting any younger!

My colleague John Crancer will join an outfitted river trip down the Selway River. The five day journey cuts through 1.3 million acres of unspoiled land that confounded the Lewis & Clark expedition in 1805. This is the third largest roadless area in the lower 48, surpassed only by Death Valley and the Frank Church wilderness. A Selway river trip is the most restrictive in the country, since the Forest Service only allows one group per day on the river during July.

Ship Island Lake | Credit: Dave PahlasAlso in July former IdahoPTV GM Peter Morrill will trek across the length of the Frank Church wilderness, a journey of more than 50 miles. He will be accompanied by my colleague Jeff Tucker. The two of them will document a journey that starts at Big Creek, drops down to the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, then ascends more than a mile up to the rugged Big Horn Crags and Ship Island Lake.

Right away you're probably thinking, “That's nuts!” And you would be correct. The normal route should be the other way, from Ship Island Lake down to the Middle Fork and out to Big Creek. But the guys wanted the Crags to be the payoff, and so they're willing to make the climb, just for us. I guess what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger!

In August we'll join some trout fishermen on a backpacking trip into the Gospel Hump wilderness, to explore a part of the state that most Idahoans know little about.

Finding Water at Craters of the Moon | Credit: Bruce ReichertWe have already spent time, in April, with the group that hiked 60 miles across the Craters of the Moon wilderness, to re-trace the journey of explorer Robert Limbert. You may recall that Limbert was the one who convinced President Calvin Coolidge to declare Craters a national monument.

Mountain Goats in the Hells Canyon Wilderness, in the Seven Devils Mountains. | Credit: Bruce ReichertOther wilderness areas already visited for the hour-long show include Hells Canyon wilderness and the wilderness areas in the Owyhee canyonlands. And in September we hope to re-visit the most popular wilderness in Idaho, in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

This program will also explore the challenges of wilderness, as exemplified by the Boulder-White Clouds Monument proposal and the desire of groups like mountain bikers and motorized users to have a say in what happens to Idaho's special places. Included in the show will be interviews with old timers and others who have played a role in Idaho's wilderness story. We'll also look at proposed wilderness areas, like Scotchman Peak, in north Idaho.

Oh, and just for the record, our wilderness filming permits are in order. We worked closely with Andy Brunelle and Dave Olson of the U.S. Forest Service, and we appreciate them running interference for us. Without their efforts and that of a few other folks, this examination of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act probably would not have happened.

The Selway River by Moose Creek Ranger Station | Credit: Bruce Reichert


My Journey Through the Frank

By Peter W. Morrill
August 1, 2014

The 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964.

Ship Island looking west | Credit: Peter Morrill

Slide at Big Creek | Credit: Peter Morrill“Did you see bears, rattlesnakes or mountain lions?” “Did you take a gun?” “Did you get hurt?”

These are some of the questions I've been asked about my recent 10 day trek across the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in central Idaho. My objective was to film for Outdoor Idaho the sights and sounds, the beauty and utter ruggedness of the second largest wilderness area in the lower 48.

By the way, my answer to the above questions was “no.” Actually, my worst trip problem was with eutamias amoenus. But, more about that later.

This is the 50th anniversary of the landmark Wilderness Act of 1964. It set aside special places across our nation “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

For this golden anniversary, Outdoor Idaho is focusing its lens on our state's seven designated wilderness areas in an unprecedented, one hour documentary, coming this December.

What drew me to this project was that I've always wanted to hike across the Frank. There is something about this place and its human history that captured my imagination. I have piloted several rafts down the fabled Middle Fork of the Salmon River and briefly visited Cabin Creek and the research center at Taylor Ranch. But there is much more to the Frank that I wanted to experience.

Confluence of the Middle fork and Big Creek | Peter MorrillLast August, I retired as general manager for Idaho Public Television; so I had the time to both prepare and make this journey. Outdoor Idaho wanted to include a broad video profile of the Frank, a 2.4 million acre wilderness managed by the Forest Service, and I was interested in volunteering my time to the effort. Luckily, Jeff Tucker, director of content for Idaho Public Television, agreed to join me part-way down Big Creek River at Cabin Creek airstrip. A good thing, because I didn't relish the notion of a solo trek. Together, we tackled the challenge of capturing, on video, the sights and sounds of this immense and diverse landscape.

The Frank has intrigued me for decades. It is big and remote, with its deeply forested reaches on the west side, its crystal clear rivers of Big Creek, Monumental and the Middle Fork of the Salmon, and the near-mythical Bighorn Crags of the east side. These elements, combined with the region's rich human history — both native peoples and rough-neck miners, ranchers and loners — provide the backdrop to a place few people will ever experience.

Peter being interviewed. | Credit: Daniel KingMy journey across the Frank began in mid-July at the western trailhead entry point near the landing strip at Big Creek, 50 bone-jarring, dirt-road miles due east of McCall, Idaho.

The route would follow Big Creek River due east, past several large recent landslides, past Monumental Creek, Cabin Creek and Taylor Ranch (the University of Idaho's wilderness research center), to the confluence with the legendary Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

The path then ascended the aptly named Waterfall Creek Trail more than 5,000 feet over 11 miles, into the remarkable Bighorn Crags mountains that border the east side of the Frank. Our destination was beautiful Ship Island Lake. All told, with side trips, the hike would be more than 85 miles, spread over ten days.

Jeff Tucker at the outlet to Ship Island Lake | Credit: Peter MorrillThis hike, and the entire Outdoor Idaho project, required special permits from the Forest Service for our video cameras, even though we would go lightweight and carry all that we needed for the trip. This meant carrying backpacks weighing in at 45-plus pounds. Traditional (heavy) HD cameras and tripod were too much, so we outfitted ourselves with new generation, light weight, DSLR high definition cameras.

What was the journey like? Well, naturally you'll need to watch Outdoor Idaho this December to get the full story! But, I must tell you that I gained a deeper appreciation for this beautiful and ruggedly unforgiving country. Where the Sawtooth Mountains are easily accessible via paved state highways with great signage, stores, accommodations and visitor centers, the Frank is a very different experience. It takes hours on unimproved, dirt roads just to reach a trailhead. There are no visitor centers at its entrances, and minimal signage is the norm. In the Sawtooth, you can easily hike to a lake in the morning and be back in time for afternoon beers, with time to spare. The Frank requires equal parts time and sweat, and maybe a little craziness to boot.

So back to my trip problem. Eutamias amoenus is the chipmunk, that sweet little critter that scurries around the campsites looking for stuff. Well, on the sixth night of the hike, Jeff and I camped at Birdbill Lake in the Bighorn Crags, elevation 8,330 feet. I went to bed early to escape the swarming mosquitoes. The next morning, I crawled out of my borrowed bivy sack (think minimal tent, more like a body bag) and I saw six holes in the foot of the bag, chewed overnight by the neighborhood chipmunk. Arghhh! What am I going to tell my friend?

Peter and Jeff at the end of the trip. | Credit: Bruce ReichertBut, if that was the worst that the trip threw at me, I feel fortunate. The Frank has always been a place that has challenged people to be better than they are. We humans come to this land seeking what it has to offer, but typically not for very long. For hundreds, maybe thousands of years, native peoples traveled here seasonally to hunt and fish its river sections, as well as visit the high lakes of the Crags. Miners sought their fortunes in the mountains. But most everyone would retreat to the low lands to escape the harsh winters. No year round towns sustained themselves for very long. The Frank was just too harsh, too remote and too darn hard to live in.

This is what drew me to hike across the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. I wanted to experience the incredible wilderness backdrop and retrace the steps of native peoples, pioneers and others. I wanted to embrace the challenge of capturing on video a place that few will ever visit.

I hope you can join us in December as we relive what for us was an epic journey. It will be coming to you only on Idaho Public Television.

Ship Island looking west from up the trail| Credit: Peter Morrill


Rafting the Uncrowded Selway

By John Crancer
November 18, 2014

Thousands of people apply each year to raft the Selway, for just sixty private launches.

Filming on the Selway

River SelfieIdaho's whitewater rivers are incredible. I've been fortunate to have floated many of them on personal trips or for shoots with Outdoor Idaho. For many years the Selway was near the top of my list as a must do trip. But getting a private permit to actually raft the Selway is tough. Thousands of people apply each year for just sixty private launches.

A few years ago a group of friends nabbed a Selway permit and I was finally able to get on the mysterious Selway. It was a memorable trip, not just because of the pristine scenery and challenging rapids but also because we saw very few people during the entire float. The one launch a day policy really keeps the numbers down.

Floating the SelwayWhen we came up with the idea of fifty years of wilderness for Outdoor Idaho, I knew returning to the Selway would be a wonderful assignment. It's a perfect waterway to take you into the heart of the Selway-Bitterroot wilderness.

The first thing we had to do though was to go through the lengthy process of getting a permit from the U.S. Forest Service to videotape in the any of Idaho's wilderness areas. Once that was finally approved we started making plans to document a trip down this magical river.

One of the newer tools we've been using for shooting river trips in recent years are go-pro cameras. They're small, light and most importantly waterproof. I remember shooting many river trips with our larger cameras and having to hurriedly put them away as we approached larger rapids.


Showing the GoproThat's not necessary with the go-pros. They deal with waves and can be hand held on a pole, strapped to a life-vest, put on a helmet or rigged at any other angle you can think of. Finding that perfect angle was what we were going for on this trip. The shot from the front of the boat or from the guide's seat is nice but we were hoping for more. We wanted to place a camera high and at the back of the boat so we could see the whole raft going through the big rapids. Securing even a small camera in that position is a challenge.

Fortunately our videographer for the shoot, Dave Butler, is also a part-time river guide who had given this some thought. He brought some curved metal pipe, heavy tape, and many straps and accessories to get the camera where we wanted it. So before we reached Ladle, Wolf Creek and some of the bigger rapids we spent quite a bit of time working on rigging the go-pro and hoping it would both stay on the raft and provide a stable well framed shot.

We put it behind lead guide Dennis Jesse, showed him how to roll the camera just before the rapids and crossed our fingers. After Ladle and some of the other rapids that make up “Moose Juice” we were thrilled that the camera not only stayed in place but also gave us some memorable images.

Through the RapidsOf course, we didn't want to do the entire segment with just go-pro footage, so as usual we hauled our large camera along as well. It was safely nestled away in a big waterproof pelican case during rapids and we'd only take it out in calm water, for shots from the shore or once we reached camp and the forest trails. There's no question the larger cameras with their better lenses allow us to gather a greater variety of shots so I'm glad we can still haul them anywhere we see a compelling scene.

We hope we've covered all the angles in this segment so viewers who've never had a chance to experience this wilderness waterway can get a little taste of what makes a Selway River trip one of the best adventures in the state.


Dropping in


Shooting the White Clouds with Outdoor Idaho

By Kris Millgate /
September 4, 2014

The Clouds Come Calling

Aaron Kunz, Jay Krajik, Rick Gerrard, Kris Milgate, Bruce Reichert, John Crancer, Peter Morrill, and Tim Tower | Credit: Aaron Kunz

Kris with John and Tim | Credit: Jay KrajikIt's my 15th wedding anniversary. I lay my fly line on the East Fork of the Salmon River at sunset. I help cook dinner on my truck's tailgate turned table. I mingle with every man in camp, but my husband. He's not even here. I'm on the road with Outdoor Idaho. We're heading into the White Clouds to shoot scenics from every route, angle and way possible. It's not exactly the anniversary I had in mind, but it will do.

When Outdoor Idaho producer John Crancer called with the invite, I couldn't say yes fast enough. I rattled off my strengths to prove myself an asset on the crew. I'm running a wilderness race in that area. I'm floating the Middle Fork and chasing salmon close by. I'm in shape on water and on ground. I can carry my fair share of weight while I work. I know how to shoot with four different cameras. Crancer liked what he heard. My husband didn't, but he gets it. We usually have to celebrate our anniversary in the winter because summer is peak shooting season and my production schedule is always in the way of our actual wedding anniversary.

I said ‘I do’ to the trip, met the crew for dinner at Little Boulder Creek trailhead then started hiking the next morning. The first few miles are treeless and steep. It's hot and dusty. I quickly realize the White Clouds kick the endurance right out of you. The elevation, the distance, the bugs. All three try my patience, but I don't give in easily.

The terrain changes about mile four. It's still hot and buggy, but trees start shading our trek and the ground is meadow green instead of desert brown. I'm studying the changes in the landscape when I spot the Cloud's crown jewel—Castle Peak pushing almost 12,000 feet in elevation.

Castle Peak looks like home. I always point myself homeward when I feel lost so I give myself a moment to stare at home before I go into pro mode and dig a camera out of my pack to start shooting footage.

White Clouds | Credit: Aaron KunzCastle Peak doesn't sidle up on you with a shy introduction. It shoots out of the ground with a look-at-me presence just like Utah's Wasatch Mountains. That's the playground of my childhood. The trunky tug on my heart pulls instantly. I wouldn't trade the Snake River for the Wasatch, but I relish seeing peaks that look like home. That's a comforting feeling when you're the lone woman on the White Clouds crew.

As an outdoor journalist and filmmaker, I spend a lot of time in the woods with men. Most of them hunt and fish and that's the talk around the fire, but the Outdoor Idaho crew talks of more. We all enjoy the outdoors in various forms and tall tales run rapid through basecamp, but we are also lens lovers. We see the world as frames of visual perfection. We compare tips and tricks, brilliance and bumbles. That's our fireside chat until it rains and we all run for cover.

I'm seven unlit miles from the trailhead. There's no easy out so I give myself a pep talk and crawl in my tent. I'm thinking of home as I prepare for a solo sleep in pitch dark. I don't like the dark. Mother Nature must know that. She distracts me with a 12-hour thunderstorm. Lightning illuminates the fabric walls of my tent, rain pours, hail piles, but I stay dry with eyes wide open and limbs unmoving until the White Cloud's and its Castle come calling at daybreak.

We all emerge from our soggy tents with bed head and bad breath. The bed head stays. The bad breath is brushed away as talk of the day brews like camp coffee.

In true shooter fashion we are all grateful it rained during the dark hours. A downpour during daylight shooting hours is heartbreaking. We have no rain when the sun comes up. The shooting festival in the White Clouds is glistening with potential.

Kris Milgate Photographing the flora | Credit: Peter Morrill

We divide into three teams and go our separate ways for the day. I climb closer to Castle Peak to shoot in a meadow. Along the way I mentally wish my husband a happy anniversary. It's a good thing he doesn't mind me spending our wedding anniversary in the woods with seven other men. I decide we should spend an anniversary in the White Clouds together. My husband needs to see peaks that look like home too.

Surviving a White Clouds Rain and Hail Storm | Credit: Tim Tower