Nice? It’s the only thing. Believe me, there is nothing-absolutely nothing-half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.
-Water Rat to Mole, Wind in the Willows
The Water Rat wasn’t kidding. Running rivers is one of my favorite outdoor activities. Rivers carry us peacefully, soak us in exhilarating rapids, move us through a landscape that is often inaccessible otherwise. Rivers are truly the veins of the land, and after time on one, it can feel as though the river water flows in your own veins as well. Rivers give us access to the greatest classrooms in the world, where rock layers are laid bare, life clings to the banks or marches up the mountains, and you follow in the footsteps of pioneers and explorers wherever you go. Life on the river is enchantingly simple and beautiful, although it can be challenging at times. Your days and your schedule are reliant upon the weather, the water and the other creatures and people with whom you share the river. Perhaps one of the most wonderful things about life on the river is that you become a tribe, a clan with your fellow travelers. You rely on each other, help each other, come to know each other as friends and family. From Ecuador to the Arctic, I have honestly never met a river I didn’t like!
You can join me on one of my scheduled trips, or if you have enough interested people (the required number varies from river to river) we can create a special trip just for your group. Keep in mind that you will want at least a year’s advance time to create your own trip.
In Alaska, I work with Alaska Discovery, part of Mountain Travel Sobek
, out of California. They run trips of all kinds, and I can either steer you towards a previously scheduled trip, or help create a special charter trip with enough interested people.
The Alsek and Tatshenshini Rivers
We call it “Ice Age Boating.” That’s what it feels like when your raft slips past icebergs calved off a glacier that empties into your river from the jagged peaks all around you. While mammoths and mastodons are gone from the area, the remarkable Ice Age wilderness of the Alsek and Tatshenshini rivers in southwestern Canada and southeast Alaska is truly like taking a step back in time. There are few places like this left in the world today, and it always feels like an extraordinary privilege to travel here and share the land with bears, moose, wolves and mountain goats, eagles, fireweed and the northern lights. I can’t say enough about this landscape. It is the one place I have ever found that makes the Grand Canyon look small!
This is not an easy river trip. The weather can be brutal, even when it’s good (I’ve never been so sunburned as on these rivers). The wind can blow fiercely; it can rain for days on end. You camp across from glaciers that drop the temperature noticeably; you set up a tent every night and gather water and firewood every day. Your hands crack from the glacial silt in the water, you’ll get soot on your clothes from the fire.
But there are Arctic terns that dip and swerve gracefully over the sun-sparkled water near camp, and fields of bright purple fireweed and yellow paintbrush. There is the boom of calving glaciers and ice so blue it looks like it’s made of glass. There are peaks so rugged you know that no one has ever set foot on them and a river almost three miles wide in places, moving with the same purpose it has had for millions of years, carrying the mountains grain by grain to the sea. This is an expedition, and you may very well need a vacation from your vacation after this trip. But you will never, ever forget this extraordinary landscape and its wild child rivers.
The Kongakut and Noatak Rivers
When you travel above the Arctic Circle in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, you feel as though you are at the edge of the earth. This landscape is wildly different from the land further south, which is the product of the activity of ice. The land here is softer, less jagged and ragged and inaccessible. No less rugged, hiking is in some ways easier here because of the lack of vegetation to stop your passage and hide large bruins. Here, the summer is brief and subtle, as thousands of tiny flowers vie for the 24-hour Arctic sun. You often have to get on your hands and knees to see what’s happening with the plants. But the animals make themselves obvious. Living rivers of caribou flow through the landscape around you on their annual migrations south from their calving grounds on the coast. Musk ox, wolves, dall sheep and bears appear occasionally like exclamation points in the caribou sentences around you. Yes, there are mosquitoes, sometimes more, sometimes fewer. Always more than we southlanders would like. This is wilderness unabridged and untrammeled. This is what Wallace Stegner would call “the geography of hope.”
The Grand Canyon and the Colorado River
I began my boating career on the rivers of the Pacific Northwest; I came of age on and gave my heart to the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. This is what the Water Rat was referring to in that wise passage from Wind in the Willows. I think I’ve seen this river change more lives than you could imagine possible. After almost three decades, its true essence still escapes me, and probably always will. Is it the red rocks and tiny side grottos with still pools and maidenhair fern? Is it the adrenaline-pumping roar of the whitewater, and the rapids that look like a million horses galloping when you sit next to them at camp? Is it the clear desert light and the descending trill of the canyon wren sounding off the canyon walls? Who knows? What I do know is that a river trip in Grand Canyon offers more fun, education, time for reflection, peace, joy, solitude and community than you can imagine. We hike, we paddle, we row, we eat incredible food, we sleep under the stars, and we see the canyon grow and deepen around us and enfold us in almost two billion years of the Earth’s history.
In Grand Canyon, I work with a couple of different companies: Canyon Explorations and Expeditions
and Tour West
. I do special charter trips in the canyon, and can design any kind of trip you like with enough interested people. Or if you just need information about taking a river trip in Grand Canyon, feel free to contact me.
I love this river. I really do. She is sweet, lighthearted and absolutely gorgeous. While Grand Canyon is awe-inspiring and not a little intimidating, the San Juan is welcoming and warm, silty and playful. From wide, cottonwood lined valleys to narrow limestone canyons, the San Juan’ s busy, bright thread weaves across the Four Corners region towards Lake Powell. Her canyons hide rock art and dwellings from people who lived here hundreds of years ago, roads built out of sheer sandstone cliffs by Mormon pioneers, and fossils from ancient seas. The land forms wonderful shapes here, bent and folded in places like a child’s toy. The San Juan is the perfect family river, where everyone can learn to be a kid again.
I work here with Wild Rivers Expeditions, out of Bluff, Utah.
Guiding Since 1986
Types of Boats
Rowing rafts (14′ to 18′)
States and Rivers Worked
Paddle rafts (14′ to 18′)
Colorado (Grand Canyon since 1988)
Oregon and California
Upper North Santiam
Current Licenses & Certifications
Green (Red Canyon, Lodore, Split Mountain, Desolation/Gray, Labyrinth, Stillwater)
Colorado (Cataract Canyon)
Grand Canyon Trip Leader license
Utah River Guides license Class I
British Columbia River Guide license
Kluane National Park (Yukon) Guide license
Wilderness First Responder