When I was about 10 years old, I went on a whitewater rafting trip on the Portneuf River in Eastern Idaho.
I had a terrible time and never wanted to do anything like that ever again. The feeling of being out of control, and being expected to “paddle paddle paddle!” as though my ten-year-old arms could possibly preserve my life and the life of all aboard was ….well I didn’t care for it.
So even though I desperately love the water and get in it every chance I can, the thought of getting on a jet boat and charging up the Snake River was the farthest thing from a good time.
So when I had the opportunity to spend the day on a jet boat and tour Hells Canyon and the Hells Canyon Dam, I had a tremble in my thumb as I replied to Homer Brown, Idaho Native, Army Veteran, all-around awesome guy (ask anyone, the grocery store clerk in Grangeville had all sorts of nice things to say!) and owner of Hammer Down River Excursions in White Bird, Idaho.
I said yes, and I was super excited, and super nervous, and was having flashbacks of that fateful rafting trip almost 20 years ago, and every time I had ever been on a boat where you knew it was the operator’s joy in life to scare the living you-know-what out of everybody on board.
So how did my day go?
I’ll get to that.
First things first, White Bird Idaho is a fer piece from just about anywhere in Idaho. But I’m telling you friends, GO. No matter where you are coming from, the drive will take you through some of the most cherishable parts of Idaho. If you have never winded your way up through Council, New Meadows, etc, do this. (But don’t tell anyone else, wink).
White Bird Idaho is that little mountain town you wished you’d grown up in. They don’t quite say “NORM!” when you enter the Silver Dollar Bar, but you feel that way anyway. And the White Bird Motel is honestly the cleanest, most comfortable place I have ever stayed in all of my travels, and I don’t throw commendations out there willy nilly.
But back to my day in Hell(s Canyon), if you are smart enough to stay in town, Hammer Down River Excursions is just a few feet up the road, and you can expect smiling faces, a calm, happy hello, and then you are on your way.
If you thought the amazing drive and scenery ended in White Bird, you are wrong. Directions will take you to Pittsburg landing where our boat was waiting, but the 17 miles of winding switchbacks to get you there is almost worth the drive all on its own! Epic views, epic terrain, and enough elevation change to make it fun are all a part of this experience.
As you climb aboard, you’re welcomed as though you’re already friends: there are no customers here, just a bunch of buddies on a boat going out for some fun on the water. And this sentiment and vibe only grows as the day goes on.
Remember I told you I had no inclination to surge up a river in a jet boat? Well, this feeling didn’t magically go away just because I am a grown-up person now. But this is where Homer and the whole Hammer Down River Excursions team really shines, in the author’s humble opinion:
No stress in the Captain, no stress in the crew. No stress, anywhere really! And that confidence, the surgical precision via which he navigated the water could do nothing but fill you with confidence, and that’s exactly what I needed! Of course, safety was always a top priority, but Homer and his team navigate safety in such a way as to where you’re like “yeah, I’d prefer to stay on the boat, it’s cool. There’s more water outside it than in, so that’s cool too….this is the best option to stay where things are cool and chill and fun….”
And food, yes I mentioned food in the title. Rumor, legend, local lore has it that Homer’s mom prepares the food, and this is why you don’t get a plastic clamshell with a stale sandwich inside. No, you get access to crisp, refreshing, sustainable bottled water, and then you get lunch, and then you get a dessert, and then you get to go fishing, and you can wade in the water, and swim in the water, and jump off Sturgeon rock, and it’s just about the most fun you can have in a day.
It doesn’t matter how old, young, fit, or adventurous you are. There is something just perfect for everyone along every stretch of this trek because when you’re experiencing Hell(s Canyon) with friends, your comfort and happiness comes first. There’s no rush, no hard and fast itinerary, no regimented barking of orders or “paddle! Paddle! Paddle!” being shouted at you.
There are also some very Idaho, very ‘Murica pieces of historical importance on your trip, and Homer knows all about each and every one. The difference is, he can present it to you in a way that doesn’t force you to either be less or more interested than you are. Because you can come, or go, enjoy, and appreciate it just as you like, with no pressure or expectations. You definitely get the impression that the pioneers must have been a bit hardier than modern-day people, as I found the trip to one of the bathrooms along the way to be intimidating (due to the heat), but the stops and points of respite are aplenty, and it’s truly an all abilities kind of adventure.
By the time the end of the tour comes around, you will feel this sensation of sadness, because you’ve made friends. You’ve shared stories, some good food, laughs, wet shoes, and wet cellphones. It’s the most ‘Murica stretch of Idaho too, as it’s just lousy with Bald Eagles and Bighorn Sheep and fish and snakes and all manner of critters too. There’s just so much to see, enjoy, learn and experience with a sense of wonder and amazement…
Some things to help make your trip the best you can:
You will get wet.
If you don’t want it (or you) to get wet, then go find something dry to do.
You will have fun. Too much fun. So much fun in fact, that you won’t want to get off the boat, and you will be immediately scheming on when you can come back, and do it all over again.
I know I will.
Contact Hammer Down River Excursions:
https://hdriverexcursions.com/ and make sure to check them out on Facebook and Instagram too, for amazing videos and more!
Contributor: Breean McKinney, firstname.lastname@example.org