Underwriting provided by:
The Laura Moore Cunningham

Early Middle Fork Adventures

Idaho's remarkable rivers – particularly the Middle Fork of the Salmon River – have attracted plenty of adventurers. Author and former river guide Cort Conley has collected film from some of those early adventures, starting in 1926 with Henry Weidner's three month trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

Henry Weidner's 1926 Middle Fork trip
Henry Weidner's 1926 Middle Fork trip

"He obviously was interested in seeing a river no one had been down," explained Conley. "He took two canoes. He'd learned everything he could about the river in advance. Of course, he was partly motivated at making some money by making a movie; but he took his 16 year old son, Wes.

Wes caught a 29 inch trout; he shot his first mountain goat; he shot his first elk; he got to meet the hermit of Impassable Canyon, Earl Parrott. That had to have been the great adventure of Wes Weidner's life."

Cort Conley
Cort Conley

Conley also has film of several river trips in the 1930s. "We have Hatch and Swain and Captain Mowrey from Vernal, Utah, and that group that came to the Middle Fork in their own boats that they built in Vernal.

"So they learned and contributed as well to the knowledge we have of the river today and certainly of boating techniques: what kind of boats to build and that sort of thing. And they had misadventures or accidents. So again, there was this balance between risk and learning."

"If you go forward to 1942, you have Elliot Dubois, a college kid at Yale. He canoed some Maine rivers and heard about the Middle Fork. He talked to a friend who knew more about it, and he decided on the break between finishing his junior year and being drafted into the military to fight World War II, that he would take his fold boat and go by train out to Shoshone, Idaho, with two friends who had boats.

Henry Weidner's 1926 Middle Fork trip
Henry Weidner's 1926 Middle Fork-trip

"And they got up to Sun Valley and then to the Middle Fork in high water, and the two friends wrecked their boats in the first 4-5 miles. He decided to go on by himself, so he made the first solo run down the Middle Fork in a fold boat.

"He had some maps but he didn't really know what was ahead. He had lots of misadventures. He turned over at Weber Rapid; he left a note in a bandaid can for his girlfriend, not knowing if he'd make it all the way because he'd lost his whole spray skirt. He was in an open boat essentially, to finish that last 13 miles. But that was the great adventure of his life. He came back 40 years later just to revisit it."