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Life Lessons Learned Navigating the Rapids of the Snake River

Being on the river is a mini life lesson. There are always going to be rapids ahead, some bigger and more intimidating to navigate than others. Here's how to get through them.

By: Edward Dalton + Save to a List

By: Edward Arthur Dalton

Take a float with me and The Dream Chasing Family while we tell you a story. We've made this trip more than 3 times now and it gets better every time. All you need is a 3 day weekend, warm weather, a raft, a crew willing to live the river rat life for a few days and you have the complete recipe for an awesome rafting trip.

"Rowin', Rowin', Rowin' on the (Snake) River!"|Edward Arthur Dalton

On this adventure, our destination was the Snake River, Idaho. Not to far from home base, but far enough away to give us the travel fever. The Snake River is Idaho's largest river spanning over 1,000 miles. It is a huge natural resource for the states it flows through, but is also used for all kinds of recreation, our favorite of which is whitewater rafting!

Every summer, just as it's getting too hot and dry, the whole family squeezes into the van and truck with our rafts and heads for the Snake River to cool off over the 4th of July Weekend! Cody's parents were river guides on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon for many years where they developed a love as wide as the canyon for each other and the river. We are fortunate to have such experienced guides on the river and even more lucky to have them as guides in life!

Edward Arthur Dalton

Being on the river is a mini life lesson in some ways. There are always going to be rapids ahead, some bigger and more intimidating to navigate than others, such as the giants who flow deep beneath the rim of the Grand Canyon. Historic explorers like naturalist John Powell, who guided 9 men on the first recorded descent through the entirety of the Grand Canyon, showed inspiring determination and calculation in his leadership. Their passage is nothing short of one of the greatest feats in exploration and holds a few of the answers to facing our biggest rapids in life.

Despite having considerable wilderness survival skills, none of his men had noteworthy whitewater experience, let alone any idea the immensity of the river they were trying to put on a map. In fact, until Powell's 3 month expedition during the summer of 1869, little was known of the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon, or the vast forsaken desert surrounding it.

1000 Spring's Hot Springs|Edward Arthur Dalton

Powell's knowledge was limited to hearsay legends of previous expeditions that had tried to pass through the canyon, only to perish in unknown rapids or left stranded to die on lonely rock shores of a canyon as deep as mountains are tall. Not exactly the most helpful or encouraging information for someone researching to tame the unknown no one before him had successfully done.

If that was not enough to deter Powell, even the official view of the United States Government about the region was discouraging. Lieutenant Joseph Ives, who was sent by the Government to explore the river in 1857, traveled by steamer from the mouth of the river as far upstream as he could to Black Canyon where he must have felt defeated when he was forced to turn back by the treacherous river. In his report of the experience he said;

“Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last party of whites to visit this profitless locality . . . It seems intended by nature that the Colorado, along the greater part of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed.”

Floating on the crystal clear water of 1000 Springs State Park from above.|Edward Arthur Dalton

But not even these accounts of failure and folklore of the elusive canyon could sway Powell’s conviction to discover it. Regarding his preparations he said;

“I sought for all the available information with regard to the canyon land. I talked with Indians and hunters, I went among the Mormons to learn what they knew of this country adjacent to the "Kingdom of God," the home of the "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." I read the reports of the United States Survey, and I explored canyons of the tributary streams that I thought would represent somewhat the nature of the Grand Canyon, on account of similar geological and physical features. From the fabulous stories, the facts, and the reports, and from the knowledge of other canyons, I came to the belief that the "Grand Canyon of the Colorado" could be explored by descending the river in small boats.”

And explore it he did. Of the ten men who started out from Green River, only six completed the entire journey. One left the expedition stating he had more than enough adventure for a lifetime and settled in Utah. The other three adventurers to leave the expedition were not so fortunate. Just two days shy of the expedition's completion at the mouth of the Virgin River, they left the team out of fear they could not survive the dangers of the unforgiving river any longer. They hiked out of the canyon into the unknown and were never seen again. Historians still dispute their fate suggesting they were killed by cowboys or Indians in a case of mistaken identity.

Against all odds and 12 weeks later, Powell emerged from the canyon to safety having successfully navigated and mapped a river that has become infamous for its modernly rated class V rapids and nearly impassable landscape.

Edward Arthur Dalton

So the question remains. How did he do it? How did he survive what others before him were never able to do? Well, just like we tackle life's challenges I suppose, one rapid at a time with breathtaking scenery in-between to keep us floating towards the next until we finally reach the rewarding end. Sometimes the rapids of life, just like the rapids of rivers, can be exhilarating to get through if properly prepared for.

In river travel there is a practice called "scouting", where paddlers stop to evaluate the rapids ahead to determine if there is a way out and the safest passage through it. On rivers with larger, more dangerous rapids, this practice becomes increasingly vital to a successful trip. In one of Powell's journal entries he calls it "portaging" and having walked away from such a dangerous river with his life, I'm sure he was no stranger to the practice of scouting and portaging. Old black and white pictures of his lead boat show a chair he fixed to it so he could more effectively “scout” the coming obstacles.

Edward Arthur Dalton

Now, our Snake River trip was a float in the kiddie pool compared to Powell’s maiden voyage of the Colorado River. We clearly knew what was around the riverbend, where he did not. By powell’s standards, we had a luxurious camp with tasty food and cozy sleeping bags, reliable equipment, and we didn't lose any men along the way. No, we didn't discover anything new no one has seen before, and yes, the rapids were much more mellow than the Colorado’s, but the lesson on navigating life’s rapids was the same and discovering it was rewarding enough for us. At the very least, we enjoyed spending time together to reset in a world of class V rapids!

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Check out our previous Snake River rafting trip videos from 2014 and 2016!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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