Enchantment overcame me the moment my boat slid off the Corn Creek boat ramp and I was swept downstream on Idaho’s Main Salmon River. I had been invited to join the Wet Planet crew for their annual staff trip – a long standing tradition to kick off the season with a trip on one of our multi-day river rafting trips. I got lucky – we went to the Main Salmon River to explore some of Idaho’s most spectacular wilderness river stretches.
For some people, the magic begins as their plane touches down on Idaho soil. Others find it upon first glimpse of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness from their window seat, far above the rugged mountains of the Sawtooth Range and Salmon-Challis National Forest. Or perhaps it sets in as you sit in traffic, pause amidst a flood of emails or despair of the latest headlines; when you catch yourself dreaming of a quiet landscape, broken by rocky cliffs and grassy, ponderosa-spotted hills where bighorn sheep traverse single file and bald eagles keep watch over a mighty river; where marmots scamper between boulders and bear cubs tussle among fire scorched logs.
In whatever instant the fire is lit within you, the moment you enter the realm of the Salmon River -physically or mentally- you become captivated by a grandiose world of adventure and bliss. And so it was for me as I floated and paddled my way through this seemingly endless wilderness on my very first Wet Planet staff trip.
On the river, I became sensitized to its gargantuan flow; carving through the valley as it has done for millennia on its path to the confluence with the Snake, into the Columbia, and finally, to the sea. Above me, fifty million year old Casto Pluton and one hundred million year old Idaho Batholith granite, cooled and crystallized from superheated magma, has been eroded and exposed by the river’s awesome current.
And around me, river people from all over floated and played, told stories and jokes, and each shared their own unique approach to existing in harmony with the potent natural setting in which we found ourselves. Paddling my kayak between the gear-laden rafts, sipping beer by the campfire, scouting rapids, tossing bocce balls in the dark – I joined the banter and I listened. And what I heard and saw and felt was that I was surrounded by adventurous, courageous, passionate, and compassionate people who, in their search for meaning or truth or solitude, found a way to share that journey with others. With each other. With you.
And I realized I was enchanted not just with my surroundings, but with my new team. My new friends. My Wet Planet family.
As we continued downstream, crashing through the monstrous waves of Black Creek Falls, sneaking past the notorious rocks of Big Mallard rapid, and glided along in sometimes silent, sometimes boisterous, collective awe, I began to wonder about the others who had come before us in this sacred place. Because if such a colorful cast can arrive on the waters of the Main Salmon River today, I can only imagine the nature of those who first called its banks home, or those who insisted on attempting to navigate its fearsome waters, those who first succeeded, and those who didn’t.
And I began to wonder how those people thought of themselves, so small in such an expansive and radical place. The more I’ve learned about our predecessors in and around the Salmon river, the more I have realized this:
When you enter the realm of the Salmon River, you enter a wondrous and wild world where larger-than-life characters of unsung American lore defined themselves not against, but as a part of the land and water that surrounded them. And they allowed the enchantment to envelop them, just like it will envelop you. And just like those who have come before, a part of you may never leave.
As you float the Main Salmon river by oar-rig, paddle raft, SUP-board, or ducky, you will be descending into a great American frontier where a few hardy and humbled pioneers sought to seek out an existence alongside a river once thought to be the most wild and dangerous in the West. Just like you and the rest of the Wet Planet crew, these people were searching. Searching for meaning, for new beginnings, for solitude, for challenge, for truth.
The Salmon River and its surrounding landscape seems to offer something that at least curbs this hunger of the human spirit.
Or perhaps it only intensifies it…
In the coming months, we will be launching a mini-series, exploring the personas and lifeways of some of the people who have passed along the banks or floated on the current of the Salmon River in years past. In the meantime, book a trip and come see for yourself!
Author Jake Hochberger is a talented story-teller, raft guide, and kayaker with an affinity for garlic.