Feature 

Going with the flow

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Wilderness rafting on one of America’s few remaining untouched Wilderness Rivers

The River

The Child is a River,

The River is a Drum,

Listen to the rhythm,

Listen to the water drum.

Earth Mother, Sky Father,

Everything turns a corner.

The Parents are the rocks.

River, Ocean, Evaporation,

Precipitation.

Blood of the Earth,

Life force of your heart.

Channel, ledge, wedge,

Sieves, dams, undercuts.

What will you use for your drumsticks?

— Poem by Andy Lee, River Guide.

By Robyn Cubie Photography by John Meyer

Idaho – it’s more than just potatoes. It is also about rattlesnake canyons, towering granite peaks, fork lightning forest fires, hot spring waterfalls, golden eagles overhead and one of the most scenic, untouched wilderness white water journeys in North America – at least that’s the perspective after one week on Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

Admittedly I am a bit of a white-water junkie, having worked in the rafting industry on and off for more than 10 years, in between periods of journalism. And when the invitation came to jump aboard a six-day journey down this class III/IV river, I didn’t hesitate. Why? Because the Middle Fork of the Salmon has many qualities that are becoming increasingly rare in this "developed" age.

For starters, this 106-mile river, which begins with the merging of Bear Valley and Marsh Creeks north-west of Stanley, is one of the few remaining rivers in the United States to escape the onslaught of human development. It remains free of dams or industry, its composition purely the result of the more than 100 tributary streams that contribute to its free-flowing waters, before it joins the Main Salmon River. Fortunately this will remain so, because of its 1968 designation as an official Wild and Scenic River.

Equally attractive is its isolation, with humans forced to take the eagles’ route in via airplane, or hike their way to the river through sections of the surrounding Challis, Payette or Salmon National Forests.

As with any river adventure however, the journey begins long before dipping your toes in the water. Twisting the arm of my photographer partner John Meyer to come along was the easy part. A little tougher was the 18-hour drive from Whistler to Ketchum, Idaho where we would join our host Payette river company, Far & Away Adventures – a company founded in Idaho by Steve Lentz in 1980.

Fortunately the changing landscape kept us captivated. Spiralling columns of dust across the yellow plains of northern Idaho and Washington hinted at the tornados they could become, while the earth breathed motionless under the beating sun. Travelling east past Boise, the weather became increasingly moody with the crackle of lightning across the sky while dark clouds boiled ominously on the mountainous horizon.

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