Educator Expedition: Family Time Rafting on the Middle Fork

By Will Stubblefield

Apr 17, 2017

Four family members paddle a raft on whitewater in the Salmon River
Photo by Will Stubblefield

We arrived at Velvet Falls, one of the first notable rapids of this family trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

After scouting the rapid, my family looked at me curiously and settled into the raft with a bit of resignation to our fate. I reassured them that everything would be great and repeated, “were just going to go down the middle, punch the hole…no problem, uhhh…definitely hold on!”

We lined up for the drop and had a smooth line over the ledge and through the backwash. I gave a yell of excitement and relief as my mom and sister turned and smiled! Mom said, “That wasn’t that bad!” and I felt everyone’s confidence grow just a little.

We’d begun the trip in Stanley, Idaho—my immediate family, my partner, and a couple of close friends. In seven days, we traveled close to one hundred miles on the water while enjoying beautiful side hikes, great fishing, and solitude on one of our country’s truest wilderness river trips.

My training as a NOLS instructor helped me create a great experience for the members of the trip who were new to whitewater and backcountry living, like my mom and sister. They started the trip huddled together in the front of the raft with all their layers and rain gear on, dodging the small splashes when they could. It was great seeing their smiles after making it through Velvet Falls.

two smiling family members in close quarters sitting in a raft on the river
Photo by Will Stubblefield

Having my family with me on a river trip was one of the more rewarding and challenging experiences that I’ve had. My career at NOLS gave me the “formal” leadership skills that allowed me to share the wilderness with my family and lead bigger trips with confidence, but being a designated leader with friends and family can be tedious. These individuals know you deeply and expect the most from you. In the end, the group appreciated my ability to set a consistent and positive tone for leadership as we worked together to accomplish all the jobs required of a wilderness rafting trip.

The last morning of the trip I woke up early and looked downstream at the swirling current and granite walls rising up from the water. I realized that we had not only created a space to go on an amazing adventure as a family, but also a space where my family could connect with nature and take time to slow down and reconnect with themselves. For me, that was the greatest reward of a family expedition.

three family members stand with their backs to the camera and look out at the mountains
Photo by Will Stubblefield

Paddle the Salmon River on a NOLS expedition: Check out the Salmon River Adventure for 14- & 15-year-olds and Salmon River Rafting - Adult for adults 23 & older.

Written By

Will Stubblefield

Will is a NOLS instructor who spends his free time running rivers wherever the flow is right, seeking out shade trees in between rapids.

Up Next

Students canoe on a river in the desert

Taking a NOLS River Expedition

Students canoe on a river in the desert
Photo by Austin Danicic

“It’s impossible to be bored running a rapid,”according to Fabio Oliveira.

He would know. Despite spending 289 weeks in the field as NOLS instructor, he’s never gotten tired of leading river expeditions. A long-time instructor from Brazil, Fabio has spent the last five years primarily teaching whitewater courses that are full of rapids, cheering, and giggling.

Read More