Transcript of 60 minute program
Bruce Reichert, Host:For almost 150 years, we have made them work, forcing them
through flumes and pipes, turbines, and canals. In fact, the
authors of Idaho's Constitution actually prioritized how rivers
were to be used and nowhere does it mention rafting.
But don't tell these people. For them, Idaho's rivers mean only
Peter Grubb:It's the fact that we have so many mountain ranges and vertical
relief that makes for all the great rivers.
Reichert:No other state in the continental U.S. has as much running water
or as much whitewater.
Grubb:And there's really no other state that even comes close.
Tom Long:Whitewater has the unique ability of equalizing life. If you can
negotiate and be around rivers that are definitely stronger and
never conquerable, it makes the rest of life seem somehow
Reichert:I still remember my first major whitewater experience. It was in
a rented raft on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. It was the
first of June, it was raining and snowing. The water was very
high. And just before we went over our first major rapid, Velvet
Falls, I managed to lose an oar. But the river gods were smiling
that day. Actually they were probably laughing.
Hi, I'm Bruce Reichert.
You know, once you've experienced the thrill of a raft full of
The Outdoor Idaho crew has had the good fortune of visiting many
They are Idaho's most vital natural resources. The engine that
The relationship we have with our rivers has evolved, has
At first we worked them, with little regard to the consequences.
Now, we already knew that Idaho was the home of famous potatoes.
Was it possible that Idaho could also be the whitewater state?
Well, we decided to ask someone who had spent his early years
Peter Grubb, River Outfitter:Through the guide grapevine, the places I heard to go were either
Idaho or the Grand Canyon. So I came to Idaho in 1979 and worked
a full summer on the Main Salmon, and the Selway, and the Middle
Fork and fell in love with the state and the whitewater here, and
So Idaho is an amazing state in that there are over 3500
And what's amazing about Idaho is not only the sheer volume of
There's dozens of floatable rivers here and I think people can
Reichert:And any kind of rapid. If you spend time on Idaho's rivers,
sooner or later you're going to run into some of the West's most
famous rapids, like Ladle and Wolf Creek on the Selway,
Lochsa Falls on the Lochsa River,
Wild Sheep and Granite in Hells Canyon,
Jacob's Ladder on the North Fork of the Payette,
Five Mile Rapid on the Bruneau,
Powerhouse and Rubber, Elkhorn and Big Mallard on the Middle Fork
Each rapid has its own special characteristics, a product of
Rapids are rated on an international scale of one through six,
Most of Idaho's famous rapids are usually considered Class IV
And needless to say, it pays to scout a Class IV rapid.
Denny Mooney, River Guide:When you start your rapid, you want to look for a safe way
through, the easiest way through, and after a couple of times
down, and once you're familiar with it, then you can start taking
other routes through the rapid, a little bit more exciting after
you've judged the rapid for your own personal abilities.
The is the top of Staircase. It's a good Class IV rapid on the
Reichert:One reason people can safely navigate rapids like Staircase is
because of companies like this one, in Garden City, Idaho. The
AIRE Raft Company manufactures about 300 inflatable boats a
Alan Hamilton, AIRE Raft Company:We've been the number one selling brand of whitewater inflatables
probably for the last six years. We're building as fast as we
can. And are right now trying to figure out how to put on a swing
shift this fall to meet the demands.
Reichert:These rafts are different in design, in material, and in color
from the World War II models.
Hamilton:Well the original Army surplus boats were flat and were hard to
maneuver. They were very stable and typically they had a glued in
fabric floor. The glued in fabric floor would fill up with water
and the boat would become hard to maneuver in the rapids and the
old bail buckets would come out.
Reichert:In the '70s raft companies began experimenting with laced in
floors. They called it a self-bailing raft. Then they began
experimenting with individual pontoons held together by a metal
Hamilton:The self-bailing raft and the cataraft have revolutionized the
sport in being able to allow people to run more difficult rivers
and to take less risk really because the boats are more
maneuverable and can handle the heavier water with less chance of
flipping because of their high tech shapes, the fact that they
can punch through and the fact that they are still highly
Reichert:But whether today's river runners are having as much fun as some
of those early pioneers is anybody's guess.
The put-in for the Lochsa River is along Highway 12, not far from
Grubb:The Lochsa is quickly gaining a worldwide reputation as one of
the premier whitewater trips that there is. There's a fine line
between really great whitewater that is runnable and whitewater
that is off the edge and really only suitable for extremists in
the sport. And the Lochsa is one of those rivers that just has
nice solid Class IV water that's reasonably forgiving and
therefore is approachable by a fairly wide audience of people.
Reichert:It helps to be able to easily scout rapids like Bloody Mary and
the Grim Reaper, both Class IV rapids in the peak June rafting
River Runner:What we're going to do is we're going to come just right of the
rock, okay, about 20 feet off. Literally we'll be about four or
five feet from the rock when we go into that first hole. What the
key is, is we don't want to come over into this one funky, we
want to just miss it. Just along the side of it. And then shoot
hard into that hole and hold on.
Reichert:If you make it through Bloody Mary and the Grim Reaper, you're
not done yet. There's always Lochsa Falls.
The word pristine was meant for rivers like the Selway, easily
Flowing through the heart of the Selway-Bitterroot wilderness,
There are no roads for almost 50 miles. If you flip in Ladle
Doug Tims, Northwest River Co.:
I have a very personal respect for this river. I've taken a swim
in it a couple of times that it reminded me that I need to
continue that respect. I think I'll always have it.
It's a foolish person that approaches this river thinking, you
Garrett Brown, Guide, Northwest River Co.:
It's fast moving water. It's 37 degrees. There's been a few
nights that I haven't slept where I've woke up at three in the
morning watching the river rising, and pace back and forth.
Tims:When you come up on Ladle Rapid, it's not far after Moose Creek
has come in and has doubled the volume of the river. So all of
those categories, you know, the gradient, the shape of the stream
bed, and the volume of the water combined at Ladle Rapid to make
it a very difficult place to get through. At higher levels it's
power and speed, at lower levels it's obstructions and
technicality to get through. It's never easy.
Sheldon Coleman, Client, Northwest River Co.:The first time I ran the Selway was 12 years ago. It is amazing,
because the Selway is the same quality experience, the same
quality river as it was back then. The campgrounds are clean,
untouched. It looks like nobody's ever been there before. And
that's the same way it was. The clarity of the water is
unbelievable too. A lot of fish.
Tims:The Selway is one of these places that early on was captured in
its pretty much primitive state and preserved in that manner. And
a lot of the management policies were in place, were designed to
continue that. The use levels are restricted so that the Selway I
think will be 100 years from now just what it is today.
Coleman:It's well worth the effort. There's no experience that can
parallel it now in America. It's a lot of heaven, it's pure
Reichert:It's easy to forget that Idaho's rivers have a rich history that
pre-dates multi-colored rafts.
This guy didn't do this for fun, this is how he made a living.
The St. Joe River cuts through historic white pine country.
A century ago it was arguably the best softwood forest in the
But the 400 year old white pine were no match for the men with
Even today, logging is the dominant industry along the Joe.
But on the river, people are more concerned about paddling
Raymond Baier, Outfitter:If the raft tilts up you want to do what is called the high side.
You want to get your body up to the high side of the raft, so
that it doesn't flip over. That prevents the raft from flipping
over as much as possible.
Let's say that you happen to be thrown out of the raft for one
We will try to get to you with the raft or we will try and throw
You're the ones, to a large degree, in control of your raft; and
Reichert:The St. Joe is definitely a river with multiple personalities.
The upper half is wild and untamed, part of the National Wild and
Scenic Rivers system.
Further downstream, the river presents its other face, the
Naturally, it's the upper stretch where the Joe powers through a
Baier:There is a challenge to it, there is excitement, there is thrill,
there is danger, there is risk. Something about us wants to see
what we can do, you know, in a stressful situation or in a
Shane Moyer, Rafter:Rafting varies so much. This river, one second is wild, a few
seconds later it's different. I enjoy it a lot. It's real
thrilling. It's real satisfying. You feel like you've mastered
the river, I guess. And that's what makes it a lot of fun.
Dana Howard, Rafter:You have to work as a team, and so you can feel it go throughout
the whole crew of the raft as you are going down. And it's good
to be in a situation where everybody has to pull together as one
unit. This is where it becomes very cohesive and you come
together as a group as strangers too. And that's a very beautiful
part of it.
Baier:There's not a lot of people up here; it doesn't get overused. I
guess the other thing, you know, there's a lot of physical
beauty, there's some beautiful rock bluffs that just go straight
up off the river and there's the colors of the water are
fantastic. You know, there's deep blue pools, and you can see the
rock down through the water. And you can see fish when you're
floating down through the rapids. We actually see fish swimming
underneath the raft, and that's really exciting and fun.
Moyer:It's unusually pretty. It's unusually green. The wildlife is
incredible. And it's deep, it's fast flowing, and the fishing is
Baier:I get stressed out at work too, you know, and you can see it on
my face and you can see it on people's face. And you get them out
here on the river and after a while it's just like the scales
fall from their eyes, you know, and they begin to smile a lot and
they come out of a shell.
That's why outfitters enjoy the work they do. It's not just being
Reichert:It was August, 1805 and the first men of European descent to
enter Idaho were about to have their dreams shattered.
"The river is almost one continued rapid. The passage with canoes
These rocks, several miles outside of present day North Fork,
But twenty-seven years later some Hudson's Bay trappers did
In the spring of 1832, they traveled downriver by canoe for 30
By the 1920's adventurous men had begun hurtling themselves
This 1926 black and white film documents the first known
This is some of the first color film of a Middle Fork trip, led
It shows how little has changed on some of the famous rapids like
The management of the Middle Fork by the U.S. Forest Service has
In one generation, these magnificent ocean going fish, the
For the state's centennial celebration in 1990, Idaho outfitters
And there is probably no Idaho river with a more fascinating
The Salmon has attracted more than its share of loners,
In the 1930's one of the most famous was the hermit of Impassible
He had built a cabin above the river, grew a large garden, built
Today, the Salmon and its tributary, the Middle Fork, remains the
Every summer more than 10,000 people float the 96 mile Middle
And the Main Salmon sees thousands more, including jet boaters on
There really is something for everyone here.
Jack Carlson, Salmon River District Ranger:People who come here, they enjoy a wilderness experience, they
enjoy, you know, meeting nature on its own terms, and just having
a fun time. I mean it's fun to run through the whitewater.
It's fun to come here and look at mother nature and what she's
Reichert:Further downriver, the lower Salmon offers rafters a chance to
experience the River of No Return in a less crowded environment.
That's because this hot, desolate landscape is not for everyone.
Even though the series of deep, narrow canyons offers a dramatic
At medium river flows, the rapids of the lower Salmon are
There is probably no better teaching river in the world than the
In fact, some have compared the Payette River system to the
The Main Payette, where one receives a basic education in
The Cabarton section, a bit more challenging, akin to high
Then there's the South Fork of the Payette. Some of this is
And finally, graduate school, Class V rapids of the North Fork of
Tom Long, Outfitter, Cascade Raft & Kayak Co.:It's the classroom of all classrooms, with Class V all the way
down to a mill pond that we can train in. It's a family sport,
it's a lifetime sport. Kids as young as six can come out here and
go rafting with us and as old as 85-90, it doesn't seem to
We come up here and in an hour and a half or an hour from Boise,
Rafting is one of those unique sports that's for everybody and
Reichert:The Payette, so close to the state's population center, has many
ardent defenders, who do not want to see the river change.
Rob Lesser, Kayaker:The North Fork of the Payette, particularly the section that I
focused on between Banks and Smiths Ferry, is an unbelievable
arena of challenge, whitewater challenge. It's like having
Yosemite Valley in your backyard. The chance to go out and excel
and constantly challenge yourself. From the point of view of
whitewater, this is world class. There's no question about it.
Scott Montgomery, Rafter:The trouble with losing this section is this is the most pristine
section of the South Fork. And the South Fork is very pristine,
but we are now are a mile and a half from the road. Either side
of us, there's nothing. Man hasn't touched anything in here.
This is definitely a Class VI rapid. The rating system goes from
Rivers are like life, you know, you have your really slow spots,
Reichert:Idaho's desert rivers, the Owyhee, the Jarbidge, the Bruneau,
they all have one trait in common, solitude.
They say the best way to get to the East Fork of the Owyhee River
is in someone else's vehicle.
It also helps to bring a detailed travel map because out here
Phil Lansing, Former Outfitter:There's just no question. This is the most remote place in the
lower 48 that includes Idaho. It is so inaccessible that you
could put big chunks of New England in here and have trouble
finding it. As you know driving in, you know, it's hard enough to
find the canyon. Suppose you'd been looking for Massachusetts.
Reichert:But once in the canyon, you find a wonderland far unlike the
desert on the rims above.
And you find a place only a few visit.
Lansing:I often meet people who wished they'd been down in here and they
say, "Gee I always meant to go into the Owyhee Country. And
between the short season and the kind of cold spring sometimes
and early weather we have during the high water times, and the
muddy roads and inaccessibility and so forth. It's complicated to
put a trip on here and it kind of keeps people out a little bit.
Reichert:And with its low flows, the East Fork is not a river for rafting
but it is perfect for canoes.
Lansing:So it's not really a whitewater trip we do, it's canoe transport
just to use the canoe to get you and your friends and some
comfortable camp and some outstanding grub down on the river. In
a standard raft rig like we use up, you know people use on the
Salmon and the Middle Fork, forget it. You just couldn't get
through. It would be a miserable chore.
Reichert:But in a canoe, the East Fork is a little bit of paradise, for
every bend reveals a new wonder.
Susan Bechdel, River Runner:It is amazing actually and it's different than a lot of Idaho
river trips I've done. You do different trips for different
reasons. And one of the trips you do because of the whitewater.
The whitewater is not the most exciting thing on this river. The
scenery definitely is, and different than a lot of the central
Idaho rivers I've done. The high desert is beautiful.
Reichert:Further downstream the Owyhee becomes bigger and more popular. At
Rome, Oregon a hundred people a day launch on some weekends.
Jim Acee, River Runner:For me it combines some elements that I'm really attracted to.
First of all it's a multi-day trip and usually we run it in four
days. And so you could take a day off work and run it over the
Along the way you see varied geography. The canyon walls are
The sedimentary rock is, we're here at Pruitt's Castle, you can
Reichert:And for the whitewater enthusiast there are some rapids.
Now most of this stretch of the Owhyee are Class II and III
Acee:It starts off very easy so novices can start on the river and it
gets more difficult as you go down, but it doesn't get too
difficult. The most difficult rated rapids are Class IV and
that's only at certain times.
Reichert:Still even the most experienced boater will get a thrill at
Montgomery, a Class IV rapid. The run requires squeezing a boat
between two big rocks.
For boaters seeking whitewater and solitude, the Jarbidge River
Alan Hamilton, River Runner:I think it's got to be one of my favorite rivers to have ever
done. I really enjoyed it. It's a tight technical river with
demanding whitewater, beautiful scenery. It's not crowded with
lots of other people, so it's like my ideal trip, which is
whitewater, good scenery, and not a lot of people around.
The only disappointing part about the whole trip was that the
There's a lot of interesting aspects to the canyon, not only just
You definitely have to be at least an intermediate or very
When we were floating down here we saw a lot of trees that were
So, definitely an expert, advanced boater, in my opinion. But if
Reichert:And run some fantastic rapids.
Most of the whitewater on the Jarbidge is Class III. That is
Chuck Pezeshki, Kayaker:There's a huge death trap in Jarbidge Falls. It's really plainly
obvious that where basically the river goes underground,
underneath a huge boulder. The first thing you have to do is
appreciate the risk and then ask yourself if you can run a line
that will minimize that risk. If I thought that for a minute that
there was not a good line far away from that, I wouldn't have run
But there was and it was fun.
There's kind of a common little idiom that we say, you know,
Reichert:Just a few miles below Jarbidge Falls the canyon opens up as the
Jarbidge and the West Fork of the Bruneau join to form the Main
For more than 40 miles the Bruneau carves deep canyons through
Over time, parts of the cliffs have given way, sending giant
Keith Taylor, Kayaker:It's almost like someone tips the river down, and it just kind of
takes off and begins with one very nice shot going by some big
rocks that you kind of run right to left, then go through a rock
garden, and work your way on down. And you can eddy out as you
are going but if the water is moving at all, it becomes fairly
Reichert:Despite all the challenges of floating desert rivers, portages to
difficult access, the short season, many people run them again
and again, enjoying the qualities that make these desert rivers
Pezeshki:You know, if we just wanted to run rapids, we'd be up on the
North Fork of the Payette or on the North Fork of the Clearwater,
or the Lochsa, or the places that we usually go. But the thing
that the Owyhee and the Owyhee country and especially the
Jarbidge/Bruneau offers is that solitude and travel through what
is really, you know, one of the last vestiges of primitive
Reichert:All of Idaho's famous whitewater eventually flows into the Snake
River, the nation's tenth longest river, one that carries more
than twice the water of the Colorado.
Perhaps the most famous whitewater on the Snake can be found in
In the 1950s more than a hundred miles of the canyon was buried
Releases from Hells Canyon Dam fluctuate from 5,000 cubic feet
The Snake River and Hells Canyon is a national wild and scenic
For many people this is the best way to see Hells Canyon.
Mike Luther, Snake River Adventures:First of all, they read where it's the deepest river gorge in
North America and have to see that because a lot of them have
seen the Grand Canyon. They want to see it. And the power boating
is the quickest, easiest way to see it. And a lot of these old
homesteads, that was the only way they could get their supplies
was by riverboat.
And the first commercial boat that we know of was 1986, and that
I started this business as basically bringing fishermen up here,
It's different every day, different people, and I never get tired
I enjoy bringing people up here and showing them something they
Reichert:For private jetboaters, Hells Canyon is one of the few rivers
left in the country where they can run the whitewater.
Rich Rogers, Jetboat Owner:You start out and the river is fairly calm. You start out in the
Lewiston area and it's wide and you have a few rapids. The
further up you go, the tougher it is. But the scenery changes so
much, it's narrower, it's deeper and then you get on up 80 to 90
miles and that's the start of the Seven Devils, the deepest gorge
in the North American continent.
For years, I know our family and numerous other families have
You have rapids, you have beautiful water, you have nice beaches.
It's a great experience. It's a nice way to raise a family. It's
Reichert:Hells Canyon may be the most famous whitewater on the Snake but
it's not the biggest. That distinction belongs to this section of
the Snake near Twin Falls, Idaho, called the Milner.
For a couple of weeks in the spring of certain high water years,
One rafter has already died attempting it. This is only for
Pat Harper, Kayaker:It looks big. It's going to be a ride.
Lesser:I mean, basically it's bend over and take your beating.
During that eddy, it's going to be a little bit, a little bit
Harper:Well, let's go do it.
Harper:As I drop down into the first entrance way, there's kind of a
real choppy wave and you're kind of keying off these two big
waves coming off the sides diagonal waves. And once you cross it
you can see this hole and it's big. It's just this big wall of
white, you know. It's like driving into a snow bank. You just
take a big deep breath and hit it, lean way forward on the deck
of your boat and try to reach down with your paddle and grab some
Lesser:The next big thing would be the V wave. And the V wave is very,
very squirrely as you approach it. It changes before your eyes.
All of a sudden a wave catches me and then it kicks me around and
then I fall over upside down.
Harper:It's some of the biggest water that I've run in terms of just
real powerful big, steep water with a lot of gradient. In fact, I
believe it's the steepest, largest volume of water in the West.
It's an amazing canyon. You know, when you're driving out through
Closed captioning: Kelly Roberts