We continue our series with Greg Hatten’s Woodenboat adventures on rivers protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers act. In this installment, Greg’s team approaches the run of a lifetime.
Frank Church Wilderness
In June I took my wooden boat down the River of No Return in the Frank Church Wilderness of Idaho. The Middle Fork of the Salmon was one of the original eight rivers inducted into the Wild and Scenic program and the bill was written and championed by Senator Frank Church of Idaho. This trip was special for so many reasons – mostly, because I got to row it alongside some of the best guides and woodenboat river runners on the planet…the Helfrich crew.
The degree of difficulty of rowing this river in a fragile wooden boat was at the high-end of anything I had ever rowed. From the very first oar-stroke, the extreme gradient drop and rocky rapids provided non-stop rowing action the entire first day. For the five mile start through Sulpher Slide, Hell’s Half Mile and the Class IV Velvet Falls, I had just enough time to catch my breath between rapids and cast an occasional glance around at the beauty and rawness of the river wilderness and steep canyon walls we threaded our boats through.
The absence of dams on this river gives us a truly wild river to run – where the river level and conditions are dictated by the weather, the snow melt, the vertical drop, and the rock slides which change sometimes every year. Nothing controlled or contrived about the Middle Fork – it is in it’s natural state – rugged and raw and almost “untouched” by a human hand.
After ten years of unsuccessful lottery applications, my usual band of river runners finally drew a permit to run the Middle Fork in 2017. We planned for months and made preparations with more excited anticipation than any trip we had ever planned. A week before the June trip we got word that the unusually heavy rains and spring storms caused a river that was too high to run safely and an access road that was too littered with downed trees and rock slides to open in time for our trip. River was closed and the permit revoked.
Looking beyond the disappointment, we appreciated the fact that the river is subject to the changing conditions of Mother Nature – which means that sometimes it’s just un-runnable.
A dam to tame it and provide easier access is a terrible trade-off – even if it meant that we would have to return to the river of no return to run it one day when the conditions were more favorable and mother nature was more cooperative. We have the Wild and Scenic Act to thank for that – and we were all grateful for it.
“The great purpose of this act is to set aside a reasonable part of the vanishing wilderness, to make certain that generations of Americans yet unborn will know what it is to experience life on undeveloped, unoccupied land in the same form and character as the Creator fashioned it… It is a great spiritual experience. Unless we preserve some opportunity for future generations to have the same experience, we shall have dishonored our trust.”
Senator Frank Church (1957-1981)
Featured blanket: Chief Joseph
First woven in the 1920s, this USA-made wool blanket has been one of our most popular designs ever since. Chief Joseph led the Nez Perce tribe native to northeastern Oregon in the late 1800s. Widely admired for protecting his people and speaking the truth, he is honored with this design, symbolizing bravery. Bold arrowheads represent the chief’s courage, strength and integrity.
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