Behind the Stories

The Beginnings of Rivers

By Bruce Reichert
November 4, 2015

Little Spangle Lake in the Sawtooth Wilderness. Photo by Bruce Reichert

We think of them as some of the West's sacred places — the headwaters of rivers — where wonder and enchantment still reign.

Middle Fork of the Boise River. Photo by Tim Tower
And on December 6th, OUTDOOR IDAHO will pay tribute to them, in a show called “Idaho Headwaters.”

So much good comes from headwater streams, those small tributaries that transport water from the upper reaches of the watershed to the main part of the river. There are hundreds of miles of these often unnamed streams, and yet they help define the character of our major rivers.

Using footage shot this summer and new interviews with experts who are familiar with the territory, this program will focus on some of the state's remarkable rivers, like the Snake and the Salmon, the Selway and the Boise, the St. Joe and the Owyhee.

Little Spangle Lake, headwaters of the middle fork of the Boise River. Photo by Peter Morrill
It will be a visually rich show, because headwaters are usually located in Idaho's most beautiful places — alluring, mythic places — that often require a journey of several days on difficult trails to access them.

For example, this summer several of us traveled to Spangle Lakes, the headwaters of the Boise River. It's a hike of 16 miles out of Atlanta into the Sawtooth Wilderness, with an elevation gain of about 5,000 feet. I had visited Spangle and Little Spangle Lakes as a 7th grader, as part of a 50 mile hike sponsored by the City of Boise that began and ended in Grandjean. In fact, this was my third trip to Spangle Lakes, and I’ve never tired of the scenery. Within a radius of a few miles, you can access the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Boise and the South Fork of the Payette, as well as the headwaters of the Big Wood and the Salmon.

On the trail to the Selway River headwaters. Photo by Jay Krajic.
My colleagues John Crancer and Jay Krajic ventured to the continental divide for the headwaters of Idaho's largest river. The Snake springs to life in Wyoming's Teton wilderness and Yellowstone Park, and their multi-day journey was epic.

We also traveled about 25 miles, via mule, to the headwaters of the Selway River, located in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. Steve Burson of Storm Creek Outfitters was our guide. Joining us was retired district ranger Dave Campbell, who was in charge of the Forest Service response to wilderness wildfires. Needless to say, the outfitter and the ranger had different views on the frequency of the let-it-burn policy in wilderness areas.

The logistics for “Idaho Headwaters” was actually quite complicated and formidable. But, fashioned after “50 Years of Wilderness,” this program has allowed us to explore new territory, never before seen on OUTDOOR IDAHO.

I think you’ll enjoy our hour-long “Idaho Headwaters.” Our rivers do define our state, and headwaters remind us just what it is that's worth protecting in this world of ours.

The Teton Range and Pacific Creek, one of the protected tributaries of the Snake. | Credit: Jay Krajic

Journey to Idaho's Middle Earth

By Sauni Symonds, Outdoor Idaho producer
October 6, 2015

Beautiful formation in a cave.
The title for this show pays homage to J.R.R. Tolkien's, Lord of the Rings, where Middle-earth represents a realm of dark, mysterious, and even evil forces. The term, for me, really just represents what we might find on a journey beneath the surface, but before the center of earth, the place where caves exist.

Extreme caving or wild caving is an adventure for a select few. You have to be ok with dark, tight maneuvers deep underground, sometimes through water and even ice. Why do they do it? What is the allure of going deep underground? What type of person makes this their passion? That’s what this program set out to discover.

Looking up in a cave.
We met with two groups of wild cavers who took the Outdoor Idaho crew into two of Idaho's most significant wild caves. The vertical limestone cave and the long lava tube cave provided our camera crews and camera gear with a supreme challenge – maneuvering and shooting in dark, tight, wet, and cold conditions. And when I say dark, it's the kind of dark that incapacitates humans unless they have artificial light. It's pitch black nothing, with only the sound of dripping water or complete, utter quiet and stillness.

Climbing. | credit: Brian Gindling
Credit: Brian Gindling
After weeks of anticipation and preparation we finally descended into the vertical cave. We spent ten hours crawling, climbing, squeezing and rappelling through the maze of passages and caverns underground. It was physically exhausting and challenged every ounce of stamina in our bodies just to navigate the cave, let alone handle the camera gear and lights. I couldn’t wait to see what we captured on video. Well, at least what I thought we captured.

When we got back to work we were heartbroken to discover that two of our four cameras did not perform well in the pitch black dark of the vertical cave. Even after testing them in our dark studio, and fussing over the details of lighting and audio, the images just didn't hold up. The pitch black of the cave just sucked all the light out of the frame on any shots that weren't close-ups. And, unfortunately, we could not redo the shoot.

Luckily, the two cameras that did perform gave us some amazing footage. A producer always wants more footage than they need, so this was also a writing and editing challenge. But, with a little help from the cavers own photographs we were able to build a great story about the vertical limestone cave. And, the experience in the vertical cave helped us fine-tune a few technical details before shooting in the lava tube cave.

In a Cave. | credit: Brian Gindling
Credit: Brian Gindling
Though frustrating on the production side, the journey to Idaho's Middle-earth was one of the most amazing experiences of my life – a place most people never see, or even want to attempt to see or navigate. It was not only a physical challenge but a mental one as well, at least for us newbies. I had to force myself to focus on the task at hand more than a few times - try not to let my mind wander to the dark side, pun intended. I discovered that my inner child is, yes, still afraid of the dark. And also, not particularly fond of tight squeezes under a ton of rock.

I have the greatest respect for those who explore wild caves, however, it is not something I ever need to do again. I'll keep my adventures above the surface.

The people that made this production possible.

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