At Helfrich River Outfitters, our legacy extends beyond the thrill of navigating rivers—it’s deeply intertwined with impacting people’s lives. Since getting started in 1922, our family business has had the honor of making a difference in not only the lives of our wonderful guests but in the well-being of our amazing guides. Going beyond rivers and rapids, we prioritize the people who make these journeys possible. This commitment has led us to a profound partnership with The Redside Foundation, an organization dedicated to uplifting the guiding community.
Our Involvement with The Redside Foundation:
As a fourth-generation river outfitting company, we understand the unique challenges our guides face in navigating their personal lives in this unique industry. This understanding drives our involvement with The Redside Foundation, where our own Kelsey Helfrich serves on the board. Our connection with the foundation isn’t just professional; it’s personal. We see the foundation’s mission as an extension of our own—ensuring that every guide has access to the support they need, be it for health, education, or personal development.
The Guiding Life: A Dream with Demands:
At Helfrich River Outfitters, we recognize that the guiding life, while rewarding, comes with its set of challenges. Guiding is an awe-inspiring profession—our guides live what many would consider a dream, especially during the river season. They revel in the great outdoors, taking on exhilarating rapids, and sharing the beauty of nature with others. These moments are filled with endorphin highs, abundant sunshine, and the joy of introducing guests to the splendors of the river.
The Hidden Rigors of Guiding:
Yet, this idyllic picture is just one side of the coin. The truth is, guiding is incredibly hard work. It involves long hours, constant mental engagement, and the physical demands of navigating the wilderness. Guides often spend extended periods away from family and friends, facing the elements day in and day out. As physically and mentally challenging the season may be, it’s not typically during the bustling season that guides require the most support—it’s afterward.
The Off-Season: A Vulnerable Time:
When the season ends, the high of adventure fades into quieter days. The camaraderie of tight-knit crews gives way to farewells. The steady income dries up, vitamin D levels drop, and the days get shorter and colder. The uncertainty of what comes next can be daunting. This is the time when the feelings of isolation can intensify, and the need for support becomes paramount. It is during these moments of transition and reflection that guides need to feel supported more than ever.
The Redside Foundation’s Impact
The Redside Foundation’s work is multifaceted, mirroring the diverse needs of outdoor guides:
Health and Wellness: Providing mental and physical healthcare, including substance abuse counseling, addresses the often-overlooked aspect of a guide’s life.
24/7 Support: Their confidential helpline is a testament to their commitment to being there for guides at any hour.
Educational and Professional Growth: Scholarships and grants from the foundation help guides grow professionally, aligning with our ethos of continual learning.
Community Building: Events like guide health fairs foster a sense of community, echoing our belief in the power of collective strength.
Our Role and Contribution:
In addition to the yearly donations from Helfrich Outfitters and the Helfrich Family, we have initiated a program that allows not just for our guests to contribute but also to help spread awareness for The Redside Foundation. With an optional donation included on each invoice, our guests have the opportunity to directly support guides in their times of need. It’s inspiring to witness the strong connections that form between our guests and guides. Over the years, numerous guests, touched by the dedication of their guides, have chosen to make contributions. This robust support network that includes both guests and guides goes far beyond what we could have envisioned, creating a powerful force for positive change within the guiding community.
At Helfrich River Outfitters, we’re more than just a business; we’re a family, a community, and a support system for our guides. Our partnership with The Redside Foundation is a cornerstone of our commitment to the guiding community. Together, we’re not just navigating rivers; we’re navigating the path to a healthier, more supported, and empowered guiding community.
The Frank Church Wilderness, often referred to as “The Frank,” has captivated many of our guests, some of whom have experienced the unique thrill of starting their Middle Fork journey with a flight into this remote haven. Whether you’ve observed small planes gracing the dirt airstrips along the riverbanks, encountered them in our promotional content, or read about them while planning your adventure, aviation is an undeniably integral part of the wilderness experience—yet not always a component of every trip. Let’s not forget the occasional aerial delivery of beer that has been known to brighten spirits on the fourth morning of a six-day excursion! Like river rafting and horseback riding, aviation boasts a long and storied history within the Frank Church Wilderness. Encompassing 2.3 million acres, it is the largest contiguous wilderness in the lower 48 states. Its rugged and hard-to-access terrain was once frequented by cattlemen, homesteaders, miners, and ranchers who, despite the absence of roads, laid claim to its expanse. They traversed the single-track stock trails carved out during the Thunder Mountain mining boom, bringing in supplies on mules—yes, even disassembling and transporting cast iron stoves. Rafting emerged in the 1920s, but was initially more about braving the rapids than logistics or reliability. Then came aviation. By the same decade, the United States Forest Service and private parties began constructing airstrips. Clearing trees and grading the land with mule-drawn equipment, they created runways for small aircraft. At one point, up to 22 airstrips were operational within the Frank Church. These projects were often a collaboration between the Forest Service and the private landowners on whose land the airstrips were built. The primary use for these airstrips was fire management. From the 1920s to the 1960s, fire suppression was a significant focus. Fire lookouts peppered the wilderness, supplied mostly by mule train, yet aircraft were crucial for dropping supplies and smokejumpers to extinguish fires. This approach shaped the region’s fire ecology and ensured well-maintained airstrips. Landowners with airstrips leveraged this for transportation and supply deliveries. The debate surrounding airstrip regulation was fiery during the designation of the Frank Church Wilderness. Interpretations of the Wilderness Act varied, and user groups clashed over the legality of existing airstrips. Ultimately, they were allowed to remain unregulated—making the Frank Church Wilderness unique in the lower 48 states for its unrestricted aviation. This was justified by the area’s pre-Wilderness Act history and the historical precedent of aviation. Today, aviation stirs debate in the wilderness. Some airstrips have been decommissioned, and disputes and protests have arisen over the creation of new ones. Yet, many former ranches have transitioned into recreational sites, and aircraft bring in hunters, families, and anglers, as well as supplies like food, propane, and even small livestock. For many, the wilderness experience includes the thrill of flying to and from these rustic runways. Boaters are among the most frequent fliers in the Frank Church. When water levels drop on the Middle Fork, we adapt by flying clients into Indian Creek Airstrip at mile 23. With 25 outfitters operating in summer, the volume of flights starting mid-July is staggering. In August, Indian Creek sees more air traffic than Boise’s airport! The flights transport not just clients but also gear, making it feasible to navigate the low-water stretches. Over the past two years, river obstructions have necessitated flying in entire trips—boats, frames, oars, and all. In August alone, we conducted over a hundred gear flights—a significant increase from the usual half-dozen. While the use of aviation within the wilderness comes with its controversies, its utility is undeniable. Piloting small planes in rugged country requires exceptional skill, and our pilots are among the best. The pioneers of aviation in the Frank Church left a legacy of colorful tales, and it’s an honor to continue this tradition of wilderness aviation. Whether it’s an emergency extraction or the convenience of reaching remote locales, airstrips along the river enhance safety and access. And though seldom needed for urgent matters, they provide peace of mind—a gateway to the wilderness that can swiftly reconnect us with the world beyond. In essence, aviation in the Frank Church Wilderness is not merely about practicality—it’s an integral part of the narrative. Our pilots, adept at navigating the wild terrain, carry on the colorful legacy of those aviation pioneers. It’s a tradition steeped in the spirit of the wilderness, binding the past with the present, and it’s one we’re proud to be a part of. Whether it’s facilitating the joy of discovery or ensuring a safe return, aviation continues to be a thread in the rich tapestry of the Frank Church Wilderness experience.
Fabled Prince Helfrich dead at 63. All outdoors was his domain.
When he was 16 he lived a week in the wilderness, eating berries and small game because forest rangers were unable to reach his fire lookout with supplies. As a young man, he fed an entire Snake River boating group off deer and other game he bagged with a 22-caliber rifle after a food boat capsized and was lost.
In his lifetime he navigated more than 50,000 miles of the West’s Wildest rivers – and capsized once.
Prince Helfrich, the famed river and hunting guide who crammed a multitude of outdoor adventures into his 63-year lifetime, died Tuesday morning. Ill with cancer since January, he had rallied his strength for a last outing on his beloved McKenzie River in mid-April.
That outing, for two days of fishing, capped a river running career in which Helfrich pioneered boating on a long list of untamed streams.
Helfrich was the first guide to run the Deschutes of Central Oregon, the Owyhee and British Columbia’s Clearwater. He was among the first to boat the Rogue, the Blitzen and the lower stretches of the John Day.
He repeatedly mastered the Snake’s turbulent Hells Canyon and navigated the Middle Fork of the Salmon , the fabled “river of no return” more than 20 times.
His life’s one boating spill was more embarrassing than serious. Sitting in quiet water and intent on helping a companion unsnarl a fishing reel, he let a gentle back-current pull their boat beneath a small waterfall.
But Helfrich the man was more, much more, than just a skilled oarsman. Those who knew him best described him as educated, articulate, personable and a tireless batter where causes of conservation and the environment were concerned.
“He loved to see people have a good time, especially the Eastern dudes,” said Arthur Larsen of Eugene, a long time friend and fellow boater. “He could talk to any kind of people. He was tremendously intelligent and tremendously successful, in the full sense of the word.”
Helfrich was born in Central Oregon, near Prineville, in 1908. His family moved to the McKenzie River area when he was seven and his boyhood was spent in the woods and on the water.
While a young man, he worked in logging operations and was employed by the Forest Service. He graduated from the University of Oregon in 1929 with a degree in geology, but elected to return to the McKenzie area rather than take his skills elsewhere.
He had begun work as a river and hunting guide during his college years. By the mid-1930s he was heavily engaged in that work. His pioneering efforts on the West’s whitewater streams earned him a national reputation. The great and the not-so-great lined up to ride the swirling waters with him.
His most famous boating passenger was Herbert Hoover, who fished the McKenzie River with Helfrich as his guide both before and after his term as U.S. president. There were others over the years, including Supreme Court Justice William Douglas and the Col. Jimmy Doolittle of World War II fame.
In the early years, when guiding did not provide a sufficient income to support his family, Helfrich ran massive trap lines in the Cascades along the McKenzie, the Deschutes and the Willamette. He spent winters alone in the blizzard-ridden Cascades or boated 60 miles a day to check river-based trap lines.
He gave up guiding hunters about 25 years ago and confined his efforts to leading groups on wild rivers and fishing expeditions. He admitted that the hunters had strained his patience.
“I got pretty fed up with these people,” he told a reporter five years ago. “They were careless with guns and they showed poor sportsmanship. They wanted to shoot everything in sight. They were always wandering off and getting lost. I spent half my time combing the woods for lost hunters, afraid they might shoot at me. “it wasn’t worth it.”
By the 1950s Helfrich had acquired a reputation as a public speaker and a conservation activist. He turned up frequently at legislative hearings when virgin timber tracts were threatened by logging interests.
Helfrich was a charter member of the McKenzie River Guides Association and helped organize the first McKenzie White Water Boat Parade in 1938. But he joined other guides in calling for discontinuation after two drownings occurred in the 1970 running.
A private funeral service for Helfrich will be held Friday at Poole-Larsen Funeral Home in Eugene. The family has suggested that contributions in lieu of flowers may be made to the Prince Helfrich Memorial Fund, in care of the funeral home, for the benefit of area conservation projects.
Helfrich is survived by his wife, Marjorie; three sons, Dean of Springfield, David of Vida and Richard of Leaburg, and a daughter, Diane Kaldahl of Corvallis.
IDAHO, USA — Most people wouldn’t think much about the brown photo album sitting on Paula Guth’s coffee table — not knowing that pieces of presidential history live between the pages.
“I don’t know how to explain it … just a once-in-a-lifetime crazy thing,” Guth said.
During the summer of 1978, Guth helped take then-President Jimmy Carter and his family down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Now, 45 years later, a small collection of photos, magazine articles, and letters detail the experience.
The Guth family was something of a river legend, having been one of the first families to guide rafters down the Middle Fork of the Salmon. Paula married into the Guth family and, subsequently, a lifetime of adventure.
“Some of the other boat people got movie stars,” she laughed. “We got politicians all the time.”
But, Guth said, rafting with the Carter family was definitely the most memorable.
“Governor [Cecil] Andrus was the U.S. Secretary of Interior and a friend of President Carter,” she said. “[Andrus] had been on the trip before, and he recommended it to the President.”
So, the Carter family flew to Idaho for a three-day trip down the Middle Fork – Secret Service in tow. Guth said Carter had a whole entourage, with a White House photographer, nurse and secretary.
Guth said preparing for the trip took months, considering all the necessary safety precautions. Members of the family were unable to tell anybody about the trip.
“[The Secret Service] sent us a map of the Middle Fork and said, ‘mark any place where a sniper could hide,'” she said. “Well, that was a pretty ridiculous question. We wrote back ‘any place, the whole distance on either side of the river.'”
The trip was a nice reprieve for the First Family, Paula said. But just because they were on vacation didn’t mean President Carter could shirk presidential duties.
“[Carter] carried this suitcase so that if he had to declare war, he could have done it,” she said. “So, he was prepared to take care of America even though he was back there in nowhere.”
As the years tick by, Guth’s small collection of trip mementos reminds her of the trip of a lifetime. She has two letters signed by Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter.
One of those letters thanked Guth for a handmade painting of the river she sent the Carter family after the trip. She said Rosalynn told her it was hanging in one of the family rooms of the White House.
“That’s my 15 minutes of fame,” she said.
Guth is just one Idahoan who got the chance to meet Carter, a leader she called a “nice, regular down-home person.”
Helfrich River Outfitters operates two permits on the Middle Fork of the Salmon along with businesses on the wild and scenic Rogue River, the Lower Main Salmon, Owyhee River, and McKenzie River. My great-grandfather Prince Helfrich was the first outfitter on the Middle Fork and well known for not only outfitting, but also pioneering rivers all around the Pacific Northwest. Prince got started guiding in 1922 on the McKenzie River in Oregon and steadily expanded to many other rivers. His first outfitted trip on the Middle Fork took place in 1940. Prince had three sons who all became outfitters as well. As the permit system came into play, my granddad Dave Helfrich and his brothers Dick and Dean were all allocated permits on the Middle Fork and these businesses thrived for many years. As the second generation of Helfrich outfitters retired, the businesses were passed down to the next generation. My dad purchased his dads business and Dick’s son Jeff now operates Tightlines, his dad’s old permit on the Middle Fork. Once Dean Helfrich, the youngest of Prince’s kids was ready to sell, he chose to sell his company to my dad and I, as his kids were outfitting in other areas already. We are very proud to own two of the three original Helfrich Middle Fork permits.
In an average year, HRO operates about 22 multi-day outfitted trips on the Middle Fork. We also operate about 15 multi-day trips annually on the Rogue. The trips we offer are quite deluxe and offer the public an opportunity to experience fly fishing and white- water rafting the Middle Fork with many of the creature comforts that help them feel at home in the wilderness. HRO specializes in drift boat fly fishing trips where our guests enjoy the comfort of a McKenzie River style drift boat with two guests and one guide in each boat. Our guests enjoy deluxe camps each night that are put up and taken down for them by our hard working crew of guides.
I guess you could say it’s just in my blood. I grew up on the river and around guides and there was always something so amazing and intriguing about the lifestyle. Having the opportunity to impact peoples lives in such a special way is something that never gets old. We get to introduce people to these amazing places and help them experience not only fishing and rafting but also the history, the flora, the fauna, and more. It is human nature to be outdoors and most of our guests don’t even realize how much they are subconsciously craving time in nature until they are there. We see couples, families, groups of friends and all sorts of groups who show up on the river and go through a life changing experience. We see families at orientation the night before the trip and they are all distracted, on their phones, and just out of touch with each other. Over the course of 6- days on the Middle Fork you can watch the transformation each day as they are able to fully disconnect from the outside world and reconnect with each other.
I also recognize how blessed I am to be born into the family that I was. Being a woman, most of the guides and even some of my own family just assumed that I wouldn’t become an outfitter because I am a girl, and guiding (at that point) was a “man’s world”. Lucky for me, my parents always supported me and believed in me. They never pushed me into being a guide but they always encouraged me to follow my heart and do whatever I wanted to do. It was not easy to prove I belonged on the crew but I have always loved a challenge.
Over the last 20 years that I have been guiding on the Middle Fork, I have seen many changes to the guiding culture but one thing that hasn’t changed is the wildness and grandeur of this amazing river and beautiful wilderness.
How is your work in the Frank unique?
There are a lot of outfitters on the Middle Fork and each one offers something special and unique to their guests. I like to think that our trips stand out not only because of our long standing history but also the level of genuine care we offer each guest who joins us. We have our own way of doing things and we call that “the Helfrich Way”. Just good enough, is not good enough and we encourage each of our employees to always strive for excellence.
I like that we are keeping the tradition of wooden boats on the Middle Fork alive. It is a special craft and offers people a completely unique way of experiencing this amazing wilderness.
How does your company impact people’s lives?
I really feel like giving people the opportunity to fully disconnect from phones, internet, the stress of work and life in general is so special. With our trips being highly catered, we get a lot of guests who have never even been camping before. The high level of care we offer helps our guests feel comfortable going on a trip like this and they end up with an experience so unlike anything they have ever done. I feel like this is why we have such a huge percentage of returning guests. They know that they can go into the wilderness and be comfortable with our crew. They wouldn’t be comfortable with “roughing it” but they know how much they love being on the river and in the wilderness. This wilderness belongs to every American and it is so wonderful to get to share it with so many who would otherwise never get to experience it for themselves.
What do you appreciate the most about your partnership with the Forest Service?
Our company and the Middle Fork Outfitters Association has developed and maintained a good working partnership with the Forest Service over the years. We have been able to work together on a huge range of issues and projects.
I appreciate that the Forest Service is often willing to listen and solicit the opinions and expertise of the outfitters when dealing with projects and issues with the resource. Many of the Forest Service employees have such a heavy workload that they are unable to spend much of their time on the ground in the wilderness. They recognize that they have a great resource in the outfitters to help them know what is going on in the wilderness and to be able to call on us to help them with unique projects. For example, in 2022 when the Rams Horn Bridge was washed into the river by a massive mud slide, the Forest Service was able to call on our company to facilitate the removal of this man-made structure from the river. It was a difficult project but we were able to get it done quickly and efficiently. The MFOA also helped the Forest Service this year with the replacement of the Indian Creek boat ramp to ensure a safer experience for all river users launching from Indian Creek. The MFOA has spearheaded a program called Redd Alert to help spread awareness to river users about spawning salmon in the river and how to help protect them. This is another project that we have been able to take on to protect this keystone species and help the Forest Service meet their requirements with regards to fish protection and monitoring.