This year, the Idaho Conservation League partnered with some of our favorite guides from ARTA River Trips to offer a special, once-in-a-lifetime Middle Fork Salmon River trip that coincided with the Great American Eclipse of 2017. The trip was part of our summer adventure series, so a couple of lucky staff were selected to accompany a group of 18 ICL supporters who ranged in age from 10 to 70 years.

One of America’s most coveted multi-day wilderness river trips, the Middle Fork Salmon River offers adventure, scenery and solitude-oh yeah, and world-class fishing. Top that with the astronomical cherry of a total eclipse and you have the trip of a lifetime!

Best of all, it was a chance to spend time in one of Idaho’s most iconic landscapes with like-minded ICL supporters, engaging with ICL staff to learn about the issues ICL works on.

What a Trip It Was!

We started out with a pre-trip meeting in Stanley, followed by a short flight into Indian Creek the following morning. With the sun glistening on the peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains and the crisp morning air filling our lungs, we soared over the southern portion of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness before making a tight turn to slip into the Indian Creek airstrip.

The group readies for takeoff from the Stanley International Airport. J. Oppenheimer photo.

Boat options included riding on gear boats, paddle boats or inflatable kayaks. After a couple days of floating, everyone was eager for the eclipse. While our location put us outside the “zone of totality” we were still planning for a great show with 99% totality. We made plans to land our boats near the confluence of Loon Creek, a major tributary to the Middle Fork, and watch the eclipse from there.

Everyone was excited about the coming eclipse, but there were many unanswered questions. Would we have a good vantage point? Would it be cloudy? Would the wildfire smoke impede the view? Would our eclipse glasses work?

As we’d hoped, everything worked out as planned and we were well-positioned to watch the moon slowly glide into position to block the sun. Cool winds blew down the canyon, shadows became crisper, birds went to roost, and an eerie dimness swept across the wilderness landscape. It was an other-worldly experience and one that we will all treasure and remember for as long as we live!

As we expected, our intrepid ARTA guides displayed odd behavior during the eclipse. But aren’t most guides odd? J. Oppenheimer photo.

After the build-up to the eclipse, the ensuing days seemed more relaxed. We talked about the history of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness (established in 1980), the Middle Fork Wild and Scenic River (established in 1968), forest ecology, geology, history of the area, wilderness fire management and other relevant topics.

We also learned how ARTA is unique amongst river outfitter companies. Launched as a nonprofit in 1963, they run 12 different rivers in five different states. But what makes them different from most outfitters is that at the end of the season they fix their gear, ensure they’re ready to go for next year, and then ¬†plow any ¬†remaining profits back into the organizations working to keep our rivers and public lands wild and free. For more than 20 years, ARTA has supported the work of ICL. In addition to their generous annual support, they sponsor ICL’s artist in residence program and offer each year’s artist a week of inspiration on a wild Idaho river. For all of this, we say Thank you, ARTA!

What We Really Got Out of the Trip

While we all had a great experience and enjoyed the river, the eclipse, the fishing, the swimming, the hiking, the history, the food… the best part of the trip was the chance to connect more deeply with some of our most committed members. We were able to share why we appreciate ICL, what brought our supporters to the organization-and more importantly, what keeps them coming back year after year.

Spending a week in the wilderness provides ample time for discussion around the campfire and those connections with our supporters are hard to break. Just like the connections that we made to the landscape, the wilderness, the river, these are bonds that will remain, and that we will cherish.

Making memories, one mile at a time. Can you picture yourself on this raft? If so, sign up next year for an ICL Adventure! K. Pascoe photo.