Educator Expedition: Family Time Rafting on the Middle Fork

Posted by: Will Stubblefield on 4/17/17 8:51 AM

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

Will and family on the river

Photo by Will Stubblefield.

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.

Enjoying the Salmon 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.

Paddle the Salmon River: Salmon River Adventure for 14- & 15-year-olds and Salmon River Rafting - Prime for adults 23 & older.

Day hike on the Salmon River

Photo by Will Stubblefield.


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