Changing Planet

The New Generation of Dory Guides – Idaho’s Wild Rivers

“They’re the pinnacle, they’re what everyone wants to row out here,” Trevor tells me as he loads up his first dory. We’re on the Salmon River in central Idaho, packing up for a six-day float through the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. I cut my teeth guiding on this river, and I couldn’t wait to come back, this time with a camera.

Trevor Case guides the Great Thumb through Ludwig rapid on the Salmon River, Idaho
Trevor Case guides the Great Thumb through Ludwig rapid on the Salmon River, Idaho

For those that don’t know, a dory is a large flat-bottomed row boat, made from various materials including wood, fiberglass, or aluminum. In my eyes (and for most boatman I’ve encountered), there is no better way to experience a river. In a dory, you can feel “every wave, ripple, and current” that passes beneath the boat. At the hands of a skilled guide, dories are the most maneuverable and responsive boats through a rapid. However, with this speed comes great responsibility. It is awfully easy to put a hole in one of these boats, so only the most skilled guides get to row them.

The Great Thumb plows through a wave in Vinegar Rapid, on the Salmon River, in Idaho.
The Great Thumb plows through a wave in Vinegar rapid, on the Salmon River, in Idaho.

Trevor grew up around whitewater. His father was one of the early dory guides in Idaho. Trevor’s got years of guiding experience under his belt now, but today he’s been granted his first dory, the Great Thumb (each boat is named for a threatened or lost place).

As he packs up he tells me about the spots he’s most nervous about. He’s done this stretch of river dozens of times, but sitting behind the oars of a dory, everything will look different. A shallow rock in a raft means a slight bump, in a dory it can be catastrophic. Gun Barrel rapid on day one will test him, and Black Creek on day two.

“Black Creek,” I ask. Never heard of it. Its been almost 10 years since I last paddled this river, but I was pretty sure I hadn’t paddled any Black Creek rapid.

Lunch break on the Salmon River, Idaho.
Lunch break on the Salmon River, Idaho.

Due to the truly wild and undammed nature of this river, it is always changing. A few years ago Black Creek flash-flooded and filled the river channel with boulders, creating a brand new rapid in its place (and coincidentally took away the iconic Salmon Falls rapid just up stream).

The Salmon River continues to carve a new path, a unique quality for a river today. Trevor and the other guides know that sharing these amazing places with people will be the best way to protect them for future generations. And what better way to go down river than in the Cadillac of boats, the dory.

The Water Is for Fighting project documents the challenges facing our nations freshwater resources. Corey Robinson is a filmmaker and Young Explorer Grantee collecting these stories through film, still pictures and words. Check out the other videos here.

Follow along with @coreyrobinson #w4f2015

“Whisky is for drinking, water is for fighting.”

Stars shine above the confluence of the south fork and the main fork of the Salmon River.
Stars shine above the confluence of the south fork and the main fork of the Salmon River.
Corey Robinson is a filmmaker and Young Explorer Grantee collecting stories through film, still pictures and words. The "Water Is for Fighting" project documents the stories of people around the United States fighting to protect their waterways.Follow along with @coreyrobinson #w4f2015
  • Joanie Oster

    Uncle Bob and I loved it!

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