Underwriting provided by:
The Laura Moore Cunningham
Foundation

Main Salmon River Adventure

Author Jo Deurbrouck heard about a river adventure on the main Salmon River, and she made it the basis for her award-winning book Anything Worth Doing.

Deurbrouck's book profiles the exploits of whitewater raft guides Jon Barker and Clancy Reece, two friends in pursuit of a 24-hour speed record on the Salmon River at high water, in June of 1996. It's a trip that proved fatal for Reece, when his dory capsized and he drowned.

Jo Deurbrouck
Jo Deurbrouck

"I worked as a river guide for more than a decade," said Deurbrouck, "and I heard the story while I was working as a guide, and I just loved the story. I've always admired lifetime adventures, and I just so admired them. So I started researching their story; and it was while I was working on the story that I came to realize what that word "adventure" means to me and how much I wanted to own that word and share it.

"The people I admire the most are the people that, from the beginning like an arrow, they just shot themselves out into this big wild world, and they wanted to learn about it and explore it and make a mark on it, and both of these guys are like that.

"The two things that are really powerful about their story for me are first of all, these are both lifetime adventurers. The other thing is Jon Barker is one of the most beautifully strange people I think I've ever met in this sort of quixotic way. Not long ago, he was explaining to me – again - why he came and how he came to have a video collection of high water runs down this one rapid on the lower Salmon."

The Slide is a rapid that is unimpressive at low flows, but at higher flows, it becomes a killer. It's a rapid that fascinates Barker.

Jon Barker running Salmon River
Jon Barker running Salmon River

"If you're not a boater, you wouldn't know about this, but the lower Salmon River is a beautiful wilderness river. All moderate, intermediate water, except that there's this one rapid that as the water level climbs to moderate and then above moderate level, it becomes almost un-runnable and really un-runnable for most of us.

"John Barker, when he was a young man, saw this rapid and saw its transformations; and he was like, 'I have to learn about this'; and he started clocking these runs on the lower Salmon at 40,000, 50,000, 60,000 cubic feet per second, and videoing them and studying them.

"He said, 'It tugs at you to understand it,'" said Deurbrouck. "He also said, 'Some day I want to sit down at the Slide when the water is forecast to rise rapidly, like 25,000 cubic feet per second increase over a few days. I'm just going to sit there and watch it change.'"

Clancy Reece in his dory, boatman Craig Plummer, Jon Barker the evening before their speed record attempt
Clancy Reece in his dory, boatman Craig Plummer, Jon Barker the evening before their speed record attempt

One of the last photos taken of Clarence "Clancy" Reece shows him sitting in his handmade dory, the night before he died. Jon Barker is far right. The man in the middle, Craig Plummer, was recruited at the last minute as third oarsman for their high speed run attempt. The put-in is called Deer Gulch, upstream from Salmon, Idaho. "The year is 1996 and the river is peaking at something like ten times normal summer flows," said Deurbrouck. "About 18 hours later, the men were on the other side of the state, not far upstream of Riggins, Clancy was dying or dead and Jon was trying to save him, and Craig was swimming for his life."

"I think adventure is a powerful and important word and we've sort of trivialized it," says Deurbrouck. "Reading adventure, dining adventure, shopping adventure. No-o-o. To my mind an adventure is a story that you write by living it, and it is a story of challenge, and it's a story of commitment and by necessity it's a story of risk.

Jo's book Anything Worth Doing
Jo Deurbrouck's book "Anything Worth Doing"

"What Idaho is ideal for and maybe unique- certainly unique in the lower 48 – is here you can have adventures of self sufficiency and adventures of solitude. There are five states in the U.S. that have a lower population density than we do, and two of them share a border with us; so we are the 'low population West.' And best if all, most of our population is right along that Snake River plain and a clump up in north Idaho. So, if you head to the middle of the state, it's really easy to find solitude, and the majority of Idaho is public land.

"So If I took a map of Idaho, and I put it down here, and you closed your eyes and stuck your finger on it, odds are better than 50-50 that we could all just pick up and go to the place on your map, because it's ours. We own it."