With apologies to the potato, Idaho is arguably most famous for its rivers. Fantastic drainages that tumble from high in the Rocky Mountains and cut through the most rugged, uninhabited terrain in the continental United States. These wild rivers, like the Salmon, Selway and Payette, have bred generations of whitewater kayakers–adventurers who’ve helped to define Idaho’s outdoor lifestyle. Many of these paddlers have traveled around the world, making their marks on the history of river exploration in the process. Others are just getting started. Regardless of where they’ve wandered with boat and paddle, their paddling careers started in Idaho—the Whitewater State. Here, we profile some of the Gem State’s best paddlers.
Erik Boomer [pg. 2]
Hometown: American Falls, ID
Current Location: Hood River, OR
First Descent: Outlet Falls, WA
Erik Boomer is sitting in his kayak looking down on a calm pool that feeds into an 80-foot waterfall as his buddies lower him down with a rope tied to the tail end of his boat. The entrance to the falls is unrunnable so this is the only way he can get to the drop. Without a second thought, Boomer leans back and severs the rope with his river knife, sending him plunging toward the water. As he’s falling the 15 feet toward the pool, he leans forward and grabs his paddle with both hands. His first stroke plummets him over the falls. Aside from a cut to his head, he styles the drop. Calmly, and quietly, as if all this chaos was normal.
That’s pretty much how Erik Boomer, 26, rolls. He’s like an unassuming rock star, if that’s even possible. He’s a ridiculously good boater but talking big isn’t his thing (think Slash—the Guns & Roses version), going big is (think Robert Plant with Jack Johnson’s attitude). He’s been the first to huck monstrous waterfalls from Hood River, Oregon, to Michigan’s North Shore to Quebec. He’s been featured in countless high-end whitewater videos and been part of some fantastic exploratory teams all over North America. But still, he’s just an unassuming kid from Idaho, who learned to boat from a family friend in junior high when he was living in American Falls.
to embrace it and go for it. –Erik Boomer
Boomer is still running some of the biggest whitewater in the world but he’s developing other aspects of his life now. His photography has taken off and he’s able to support himself off his work. Plus he’s looking at new projects. This summer, he’ll embark on one of his most ambitious expeditions to date: circumnavigating Ellesmere Island, directly north of Baffin Island near Greenland, basically the starting point for North Pole Expeditions. Along withworld waterfall record holder Tyler Bradt and celebrated sea kayaker Jon Turk, Boomer will drag his kayak 600 miles before paddling. The trip will take an estimated three months. “I love the big drop thing and running hard whitewater but I want to raise the bar in other areas to a similar level,” he says. “Extreme conditions. Extreme survival. It all appeals to me.”
It’s a trip that shows the ultimate maturity as a paddler. Most upper echelon kayakers simply quit boating once they’ve finished their Class V careers, unable to replicate that amped feeling with less hazardous strains of boating. “But there’s so much to enjoy in kayaking,” Boomer says. “Life’s about the adventure and you’ve just got to embrace it and go for it. And there’s nothing like living out of your kayak for days on end.”
Hometown: Ketchum, ID
Current Location: Girdwood, AK
Favorite Descent: Murtaugh section of the Snake River, ID
When Henry Munter was 16, he showed up at the North Fork (of the Payette River) Race with his dad on the river’s upper five miles. His heavily used Perception Dancer was tied to the top of the truck, the bow roped to the bumper the stern attached to the rear of the vehicle. To judge a book by its cover, he looked like a rookie. “I went up to the organizer and he was kind of like, ‘you can wait in the back and somebody can show you down the river,’” he says.
The North Fork tends to make people nervous (especially event organizers) when they think someone who’s inexperienced is trying to jump on the frothing monster. But Munter assured the organizer he knew what he was doing, grabbed his gear and headed for the starting line. Forty-five minutes later, the young Ketchum native had won the race.
The radar is something Munter, now 29, is accustomed to flying far beneath. He hasn’t appeared in any big name videos, his name isn’t the first to come up in conversations referencing elite expedition paddlers. But it should. Ecuador, Peru, Nepal, Canada’s Stikine—twice. He’s been there, done that. And somehow, he’s managed to avoid any deserved media attention while simply doing what matters most to him: paddling.
But in 2008, Munter left an indelible mark on the expedition world with good friends Matt Wilson and Evan Ross. The trio had heard stories about Madagascar and its healthy dose of granite bedrock drainages that had yet to see paddlers. So they made a contact in the island nation, located off the eastern coast of Africa, and in paddling terms, “went for s*&%*.” They completed two full first descents and finished a third river that had only been partially explored–each required nearly seven days of living out of their kayaks. “We’d heard it was stacked over there,” Munter says. “Every one of those rivers required technical scouting and rope work. But the whitewater was awesome.”
A gifted skier, Munter works the winter season in Alaska, heli guiding for Chugach Powder Guides. He also works summers as a river guide for trips on the Main and Middle Fork of the Salmon. This leaves the shoulder seasons for boating. “I’ve got a really good setup right now,” Munter says. “I’ve got a bunch of rivers I’d like to do. I want to get back down to Peru. That place is just magic. I guess I’d just like to be running whitewater for the rest of my life.”
Hometown: Ketchum, ID
Favorite Descent: Raughat Khola in the Himalayas
In the fall of 2002, Sean Glaccum trudged up a side creek that fed the Modi Kola, a raging river that drains Annapurna, one of 10 peaks more than 26,000-feet high in the Himalaya. Accompanied by a porter and German friend, Andy Sommer, the group climbed above a beautiful series of runnable waterfalls, the crucible a 40-footer that spat out at an odd angle toward a vertical granite wall. The waterfall didn’t crash into the rock but it was darned close. A dicey landing zone for sure.
But Glaccum saw a line. So the 6’4” paddler, with long blonde hair wrapped in a ponytail, slipped into his plastic “creek” boat–which seemed small considering the drop he was about to run–pulled the neoprene skirt over his cockpit to seal out the water and pushed off the bank into the eddy. A couple of strokes and he was plunging over the falls, doing his best to tuck forward and protect himself. He landed violently in the aerated water below, his boat slamming against the wall. But he easily rolled up and his hoots and hollering could be heard echoing off the tight canyon walls.
The modern era has seen many great paddling explorers, some have run tougher whitewater, but none have become as adept at navigating the Himalayan river scene as Glaccum, 33, a Wood River High alum who has spent over a decade paddling in Nepal and northern India each fall, first as a raft guide, then on his soulful mission to try and paddle the rivers draining those 10 monstrous peaks. He’s completed eight so far, including an epic trip below Everest that was a first descent of the rowdy Cho Oyu Bode Kosi. His attempts to run rivers off K2 and Nanga Parbat in Pakistan were thwarted by the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York.
These days, Glaccum has turned his attention back to rafting (he and wife Ginger own the Payette River Company on the South Fork of the Payette), and completing as many first descents as possible. “I guess first descents aren’t the most important thing,” he says. “But rafting is a good way to push the envelope because there’s still a lot of things that haven’t been done in them.” Glaccum and his paddle rafting team plan to return to Nepal this year for an expedition on the Dudh Kosi, the main river draining Everest. Maravia, a Boise-based raft company, has sponsored the expedition with a custom raft.
Glaccum’s yearly missions have always included trips to local orphanages, where he brings supplies and money donated by sponsors. “But I wasn’t always sure the money was going to the kids,” Glaccum says. So this year, his team will work on the cholera epidemic. “Basically, people die from diarrhea,” he says. “They’re likely to survive if they simply rehydrate. So we’ll be transporting rehydration salts out to the boonies.” He might not be running any big drops this trip. But he hopes to be a big help to the local people of Nepal he’s come to love.
Aside from paddling, Glaccum recently released Idaho’s newest guidebook, The Idaho Paddler: Whitewater Gems, and is working on a new guide to Himalayan rivers.
Hometown: Edinburgh, Scotland
Current Location: Ketchum, ID
Favorite Descent: The Grand Canyon of the Stikine, BC
Gerry Moffatt learned to kayak as a schoolboy in Scotland during the wet, cold winters, back when wool was a paddling accessory. He’s paddled rivers all over the world but one particular river brought him to Idaho: the North Fork of the Payette. “It’s just a legendary run,” says the now 46-year-old. “I’d heard so much about it, I had to paddle it.”
So the enterprising Scot landed a job guiding rafts and ran the North Fork daily. The sport’s ultimate testing ground, the North Fork is a place where aficionados do anything they can to live near it, eking out a living so they can lose themselves in the 15 miles of relentless rapids every single day. And they become world-class paddlers in the process.
Moffatt eventually settled in Ketchum because of its easy-going community and easier access to skiing. But not before he paddled extensively in the Himalaya where he’s kayaked every major drainage. Each fall he’d travel to Nepal and guide, eventually investing in a rafting operation, Equator Expeditions, and training local guides to lead tourists down world-renowned classics like the Sun Kosi, Kali Gandaki and Marsyangdi. When Nepal’s season ended, Gerry would venture overland through the Karakorum Mountains spanning India, China and Pakistan and into Afghanistan looking for new rivers.
Along the way, Moffatt became an expert cameraman, documenting most of his river exploits on film. One of his most ambitious filming endeavors was the “Triple Crown,” an unprecedented project he lined up for Men’s Journal and the Outdoor Life Network. In 1998, Moffatt, along with Sun Valley’s Reggie Crist and a group of talented paddlers, including Whitewater Hall of Famer Rob Lesser, ran three of the biggest whitewater runs in North America—Canada’s Grand Canyon of the Stikine and Susitna and Alaska’s Alsek—in one pressure-packed, four-week period.
you could do on the planet.
Gerry continued his work in Nepal, but political unrest in the country sent him looking elsewhere in Asia for adventure. Neighboring Bhutan, tucked into the Himalaya, which for centuries acted as a barrier to invasion, is one of the most pristine river-running destinations in the world and Moffatt has developed inroads there. In the last decade he’s opened up countless Bhutanese rivers while working closely with the government to build a sustainable adventure tourism industry; training guides and building a lodge in the idyllic Punakha Valley for visiting river runners. “Bhutan has really taken a mindful approach to developing tourism,” he says. “They’re embracing commercialism in an environmentally conscious way. They don’t want it to impact their culture the way it has in other Asian countries.”
This mindful approach affected Moffatt. After years of pushing the envelope on hard whitewater, he’s at ease just teaching others to love the river. He no longer has to run death-defying rapids to have fun. “It’s a different focus for me,” Moffatt expresses in a calm Scottish brogue. “I want to promote participation. So much of the sport’s marketing is focused on the extreme. Floating a river is about the most fun thing you could do on the planet. You want people to have fun.”
Still, he’s proud of the paddlers he’s influenced but says he’s just part of a chain of paddling heroes who taught him the same thing: to love the river—and to protect it for future generations.
Ages: Alec, 14, Hayden 11, Connor 7
Hometown: Meridian, ID
Favorite Descents: North Fork of the Payette, ID (Alex); South Fork of the Payette, ID (Hayden); Main Payette & Indian Creek, ID (Connor)
If you were to pass by the Banks’ parking lot at the confluence of the Payette’s North and South Forks just over a decade ago, you may have noticed a playpen, where a watchful mother or father kept an eye over their young child under the shade of a tree. This is how Mike and Jody Voorhees—both dedicated paddlers—got their boating fix. “We’d switch off,” says Jody. “I’d do a run and he’d watch Alec, then he’d go.”
Maybe it was all this watching and not doing that made Alec want to be a boater. Or maybe it was the attention he got, his dad says. But right from the start, the kid wanted to be a paddler.
Eleven years and two kids later, the Voorhees are a paddling family, thanks in large part to new kayaks made for kids. Alec, 14, has been the example, being the aggressive water kid who set the bar for little brothers Hayden, 11, and Connor, 7. “Hayden and Connor saw me in the water and wanted to try and beat me,” he says. “I think it’s that brother, competitive edge thing that makes them want to get into it.”
They have big shoes to fill. Alec finished second at last year’s National Freestyle Championships in Colorado in the under-14 division. But he’s really found his groove as a river runner and has become a part of the North Fork tradition. Mike started leading Alec down the big run a couple of years ago and Alec has slowly progressed and is now turning the tables. Last summer, as the North Fork exploded to record flood levels, Alec ran the lower five miles nearly 10 times and has done top to bottom runs at more manageable levels. His parents don’t worry about him because, Jody says, “he doesn’t have a big ego.”
“When my dad lead me down the river, he always knew I’d make good decisions,” Alec says. “He trusts me.”
Hayden has been on the lower five at lower levels but still enjoys the less stressful “play boating” more. And being with his clan: “We can all be together as a family at the same time,” he says.
When Connor got his first kayak, he slept with it for weeks and took it to show-and-tell. “His classmates didn’t really know what it was,” Mike laughs. So they gave a demonstration, dad flipping son upside down in the kayak to show the class how to roll.
The family hopes to travel to Chile next winter to run rivers and Alec would like to go to a high school that specializes in paddling, like World Class Academy in Montana or the New River Academy in West Virginia, schools that base studies around travel. Until then, the Voorhees will paddle all over Idaho. Together. As a family. Playpens no longer included.
Hometown: McCall, ID
Favorite Descent: The Lower Salmon, ID
Devon Barker got a late start on competition but that hasn’t made her career any less prolific. The 39-year-old McCall local—who started competing at 30—has made the U.S. Freestyle or Surf team every year since 2002, capturing the National Freestyle Championship in 2003 and 2004 and a World Surf Kayak Championship in 2005—visiting countless countries along the way. So how does a landlocked whitewater kayaker win a world surf championship?
When Barker heard the voice message from Sun Valley’s Jim Grossman, a talented paddler in his own right, she was confused.Costa Rica? World Championships? She’d never even been in a fiberglass kayak with fins. “Jimmy convinced me to go for it,” she says. “So I went down to Costa Rica a couple of weeks early and we trained everyday. My freestyle background really helped.” Enough to lead her to her first title in her first attempt.
Barker has always been willing to take a chance. She started paddling while guiding rafts for her family’s Lewiston-based company, Barker River Trips. With fellow raft guide, Dayna Deuter, Barker paddled every river the company outfitted. “We’d scout rapids and if we thought we could swim them, then we’d go for it,” she says. After earning her education degree, Devon took a job at Nez Perce Elementary in Grangeville. When a member of the U.S. Freestyle team saw her surfing on the Main Salmon near Riggins, she encouraged her to try out. “There were a few events left on the East Coast but I’d have to leave my job (as an elementary school teacher in New Meadows) to qualify as a pro so I’d be eligible for the team,” she says. “I asked for a leave of absence. The school wouldn’t grant it because they thought I wouldn’t come back. I guess they were right.”
Barker took a chance on herself and it paid off. But she’s taken chances for her community, too, most recently to bring Idaho its first whitewater park. Barker, like most paddlers in the state, couldn’t understand how the “Whitewater State,” the capital of paddling, didn’t even have a man-made whitewater park when states like Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico had multiple parks. So she fought for years to get the Cascade park built, running into roadblock after roadblock.
The turning point came one evening when the whitewater park committee was hosting a fundraiser. The group of dirtbag kayakers were stoked they’d raised $7,000 to that point. Then Mark and Kristina Pickard, who owned a vacation home in the area, walked through the door. Their sister had been killed in a car accident in Utah and they wanted to donate to a public park in her name. “These people came in and they were like, ‘We’d like to donate but we want to have our daughter’s name on it,’” Barker says. “We were like, ‘We’re not changing the name.’ Then they pulled out a $500,000 check and our jaws just dropped.” So Kelly’s Whitewater Park was born. Barker is also currently working on getting a man-made feature built in Riggins. And she’s still competing. “My family really came together around my competitions,” says Barker, whose father recently lost his battle with cancer. “We planned our vacations around them. I’m still boating well. And I’ve still got the love.”
Hometown: Ketchum, ID
First Descent: Rio Huallaga, Peru
At 6’7” Ryan Casey was seemingly created by some higher force to be a river runner. With a long reach and incredible power through the torso, Casey has run some of the toughest whitewater
After passing through Wood River Junior High, Ryan and his twin brother Pat (both now 33), accepted scholarships to further develop their Nordic skiing talents at Colorado Rocky Mountain School. But paddling quickly replaced skiing. “It was a spring time deal and we had the choice to do a class in mountain biking, rock climbing or kayaking. I was afraid of heights and didn’t have a mountain bike,” Ryan explains. “We floated a section of the Colorado before I knew how to roll and I didn’t flip. As soon as I got my first ender, it was all over. I was hooked.”
Ryan continued paddling during high school, traveling home in the summers to enjoy Idaho’s river cache. Before long one of the leading companies in the sport, Pyranha Kayaks, had picked him up on its pro team. Casey began barnstorming the continent, running rivers from British Columbia to Mexico, and competing in races at river events. But the competitive realm never appealed to Ryan. He yearned to explore. “I love just relying on yourself, nobody else but you and your team in a river canyon,” he says. “It’s exciting knowing no one can get in there and save you.”
In 1999, Casey and fellow Wood River local, Adam Majors, traveled to Nepal to work with Gerry Moffat. “It’s really similar to Idaho over there,” says Casey, a freckled redhead who now ski patrols on Baldy in the winter. “The rivers are really continuous and steep. I just had the travel bug after that.” So he moved on to places like Norway, Ecuador and Russia and continued to scour the U.S. for new runs, even finishing a first descent of Cherry Bomb Gorge on California’s Upper Cherry Creek, a relentless, granite-lined canyon stacked with waterfalls and enormous slides–one of the country’s most respected steep creeks.
But it’s his recent first descent of Peru’s Rio Huallaga that he’s most proud of. Casey and his team dropped in for a three-day epic on one of the Amazon’s last unrun gorges. Carefully paddling eddy to eddy (safe spots on the river’s edge), they picked their way through the 2,000-foot gorge.
“We knew what was in the first half of the run because there was a group that had been that far,” he says. “But then it closes in and you go under a chalkstone wall that caps the river 30 feet above you. It was super-scenic. We brought food for 12 days but were drinking beer at the takeout by the end of the third. That kind of exploration is why I love paddling.”