Roughing It In Style – By Bob Zagorin

Roughing It In Style – By Bob Zagorin

July 1992 – Northwest Parks and Wildlife Magazine – Written by Bob Zagorin

Picture this. You told the folks back home you were going camping for a week in “The River of No Return” Wilderness. They were duly impressed. No doubt visions of Lewis and Clark came to mind.

Now, here you are floating high and dry in a McKenzie drift boat, some twenty miles downstream on the Middle Fork of the Salmon. Every so often, you flick a fly line to break the monotony of the beautiful scenery. Around a bend in the river, camp comes into view.

This is no ordinary camp. Your guides have set up a complete wilderness kitchen. Dinner is already under way.

Better yet, someone has set up your tent — a big, beautiful tent with a full-sized inflatable camping mattress inside. A hot shower is waiting and there are even ice cubes for your cocktail. All around you is the special beauty of the Middle Fork canyon. Like you told them, there’s nothing like roughing it — in style.

The Middle Fork of the Salmon runs 106 miles through the heart of Idaho’s Frank Church “River of No Return” Wilderness. This wilderness, more than two million square acres, includes some of the most rugged backcountry in the lower forty-eight states. There are no roads and only a few landing strips and private ranches — grandfathered in 1968 when the Middle Fork became one of America’s original eight Wild and Scenic Rivers.

The river canyon itself is justly famous. From the Forest Service launch at Boundary Creek, the first twenty-five miles drop twelve hundred feet through almost continuous rock gardens. Here the river runs through an alpine forest of lodgepole pine and Englemann spruce. In high water, the strong current makes for difficult boating; in low water, there’s very little margin for error. No wonder the guides who run drift boats down this canyon are known as the very best.

The middle fifty miles meander through rolling hills covered with ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. Here are the best opportunities to flyfish for cutthroat trout. The Middle Fork is restricted to “catch and release” angling, and the cutthroat population is quite healthy. These mostly twelve-to-sixteen inch fish hit al sorts of caddis, stone, and salmon fly imitations. The fishing is good, but that’s not what makes this trip special.

Along the way, dozens of tributaries tumble into the main river. By the time Big Creek enters, the Middle Fork has at least tripled its flow. Then all that water gets squeezed into a narrow gorge — the “Impassable Canyon.” The last twenty-five miles include dozens of class three and four rapids with famous names like “Rubber,” “Redside,” and “Porcupine.”

Oregon outfitter Dave Helfrich has been running trips on Middle Fork since 1948; 1992 will be his 44th season. His dad, Prince Helfrich, was a Middle Fork outfitter (starting in 1940) before him. Dave’s brothers, Dean and Dick, have also worked the river, and his son, Ken, is considered one of the best boatmen in the Northwest. Chris Olsen, the guide in charge of the camp and kitchen, has been a professional on this river since 1960.

That experience is evident on the river as these highly skilled boatmen take speial care to insure a “safe and sane” experience. While private rafters, who have never seen the river, crash on through the big rapids, the Helfrich crew, with hundreds of trips under its belt, still stops to scout.

If there’s no substitute for experience on the river, it is something to savor in camp. If your idea of wilderness cooking is hot dogs over a campfire, you will marvel at the full scale outdoor kitchen that mysteriously appears each evening at camp and then disappears each morning after breakfast.

Actually, there is no mystery. A fully loaded pontoon boat floats on ahead of the Helfrich party and arrives at the campsite about 2 p.m. With the help of a “swamper,” usually a youngster learning the ropes, Olsen has three hours to set up camp.

The kitchen includes a Dave Helfrich-designed modular, upright propane stove with three burners and a full-size griddle. Not all the cooking takes place on the stove, so the kitchen also includes fire pans. All fires in the wilderness must be fully contained in fire pans, and all the sahes must me carried out of the canyon on each trip.

And, the, there’s cooler after cooler filled with food. All the meat and vegetables are fresh and almost all the baked goods are made from scratch. here are the highlights of a typical dinner menu for a six-day trip including five evening camps:

Day one — New York strip steak with fresh green salad, fresh vegetables, dutch oven biscuits, and strawberry shortcake with whipped cream.

Day two — Fried chicken made from whole fresh birds, skinned and quartered on the river, cole slaw, fresh broccoli, dutch oven corn bread, and spice cake for dessert.

Day three — Fresh Idaho trout, dutch oven baked potatoes, fresh green salad, fresh zucchini, french bread, and ice cream and cake.

Day four — Two-rib pork chops, corn, salad, dutch oven yeast bread, and a fruit salad.

Day five — Cornish game hens, four-bean salad, dutch oven biscuits, and cheesecake with raspberries and whipped cream.

By now, you may be wondering how they can keep all the meats and vegetables fresh for a week in the wilderness. Well, here’s how. On the third day, Helfrich flies in a thousand pounds of supplies, including three hundred pounds of ice, to an old airstrip in the canyon. That also explains the ice cream for dessert that night. Usually the guests are so impressed they help carry the supplies from the landing field to the pontoon.

You may have also noticed that almost every meal features dutch oven baking. If nothing else, you will leave the Middle Fork with memories of this baking technique, which originated on the great cattle drives of the Southwest. Woodie Hindman, an early guide and one of the developers of the modern McKenzie-style drift boat, brought the dutch oven style from Texas to Oregon in the ’30s.

The “oven” is a cast-iron or aluminum pot with legs so it doesn’t smother the coals below. The lid is concave and gets covered with coals. In fact, Helfrich recommends that 80 percent of the coals go on top. Dave built the two dutch ovens his outfit uses and a special round fire pan to hold them.

One of the favorite dutch oven breads is the hard-crusted, yeasted “jackass” bread. Apparently, this recipe originated from the early sheephearders. They would dig a hole in the ground in the morning, put their dough in it, go off to tend their flocks, and come back in the evening to fresh, warm bread. Don’t ask me where the “jackass” came in. It’s possible that after baking all day, only a jackass could bite through the resulting hard crusts.

The dutch oven is also featured at breakfast. You haven’t lived until you’ve had dutch oven cinnamon rolls, with fresh coffee, in the wilderness. But, then, I forgot about the fresh buttermilk pancakes with their secret ingredients, Coors Light. Dave says it makes them rise. I think I better book another trip.

About the author: Bob Zagorin spent the last fifteen years as a journalist in western Oregon and became well known during the last nine years as the outdoor reporter, senior reporter, and assistant news director with KEZI-TV in Eugene. During his years as a journalist, he won numerous awards for outdoor reporting. He is currently executive director of Oregon Guides and Packers.

Published in Northwest Parks and Wildlife Magazine in July 1992

Click here for Dave Helfrich’s famous buttermilk biscuit recipe:

Ruthie Hindman – Inspirational River Woman in History

Ruthie Hindman – Inspirational River Woman in History

Celebrating “Women’s Power” is a focal point this month, and here we spotlight a remarkable yet personal testament to that strength:

Introducing Ruth “Ruthie” Wilhoit Hindman, partner to Woods “Woodie” Noble Hindman. Together, they were the pioneers who first navigated the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in July 1939.

Ruthie was not only Woodie’s wife but also his equal in every sense. Known among the guides for her prowess with the oars, she could handle a boat with exceptional skill.

During one fateful journey down the Middle Fork, Woodie became ill. Ruthie took the reins, skillfully managing Dagger Falls and navigating each rapid over a strenuous five-day journey, all while tending to her sick husband.

Theirs is an enthralling story, one not widely known but richly detailed in Chapter 4 of Roger Fletcher’s book. Woodie passed away a decade before Ruthie, who had a final wish to join her husband in rest. In a clandestine tribute to their bond, Ruthie’s ashes were scattered over Woodie’s grave near Parker, Arizona.

In their life as in their partnership, they were inseparable, interwoven so closely that it was often indistinguishable who led and who followed—they were a true partnership of strength and resilience, tied together by their love of rivers and boating.

Guide Spotlight – Aaron Lieberman – Executive Director of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides

Guide Spotlight – Aaron Lieberman – Executive Director of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides

As highlighted in our previous newsletters, our team is comprised of skilled and dynamic guides, each with a unique story we love to share. In this month’s spotlight, we’re excited to highlight Aaron Lieberman to you all.

Aaron juggles his time as the dedicated Executive Director of the Idaho Outfitters & Guides Association (IOGA) with his passion for the river.

Many of you may recognize Aaron from your adventures on the river, where his expertise shines through in every insightful answer he provides. Originating from the confluence of the Rogue and Applegate Rivers in Southwest Oregon, Aaron’s life has been intertwined with the flow of numerous rivers, including the Rogue, Deschutes, and Klamath. With 15 years of guiding under his belt, his heart remains with the rivers and the natural splendor they hold.

In his role at IOGA since 2018, Aaron has been instrumental in advancing and protecting the interests of Idaho’s wilderness and its visitors. We’ve touched on IOGA’s significant contributions in past newsletters, particularly concerning “Lobby Day” and the “Dollars for Outdoors” initiatives. But it’s important to recognize that many challenges faced by Idaho’s outfitting community have been navigated with the support of IOGA. With Aaron at the helm, this association tirelessly advocates for outfitters and guides, dedicating itself to the stewardship and enjoyment of Idaho’s lands and waters.

Aaron’s representation of IOGA involves a steadfast commitment to the industry, focusing on fair regulation, land management, and more. The efforts of Aaron and IOGA play a pivotal role in safeguarding the wild areas we treasure, ensuring access and conservation for both the outfitted and do-it-yourself adventurers.

Over the last six years, Aaron’s role as a guide and an advocate has left an indelible mark on our trips and the broader community. His versatility is unmatched, whether he’s donning swim trunks on the river or a suit at the state capitol to champion topics like wild salmon and steelhead conservation. We extend our heartfelt thanks to Aaron for his exceptional contributions both on the Helfrich Crew and as the trusted leader of our industry!

Trip Add Ons – Make Your River Vacation Extra Special

Trip Add Ons – Make Your River Vacation Extra Special

Enhance your river adventure with Helfrich River Outfitter’s exclusive add-ons. Imagine unwinding with a riverside massage or facial, relaxing yoga, sipping artisanal cocktails crafted by an expert bartender, or savoring fine wine selected by a specialist with your gourmet meal. Enrich evenings with live music echoing through the canyon, all in the unparalleled setting of nature’s beauty. Perfect for those who have an extra spot and want to elevate their outdoor experience to extraordinary. Book now and transform your river vacation into an indulgent retreat.

Fall Fishing Adventure on the Upper Middle Fork

Fall Fishing Adventure on the Upper Middle Fork

by Sherill Helfrich

It’s not often that Kenny and I get to enjoy time on our own, floating and fishing, but as I look back, there is one trip that was our absolute favorite.  It happened in mid-September of 2014. Kenny had a few days off and he thought we should do a fun trip on our own from Boundary Creek to Indian on the upper Middle Fork of the Salmon.  We picked up a cancellation permit and headed to Boundary Creek.  En route we picked up our friends Spence and Evelyn Strand to ride up and bring our rig back to Challis, where we would fly out to at the end of the trip. 

The river was low but with a light boat, we knew it would be fine. We were loaded and pushed off on our impromptu adventure. It was a thrill to experience the beauty of the river canyon with the fall colors of red and gold.  The fly fishing was incredible, catching fish after fish in the fast pockets as we passed by.  We spent 4 nights on the river only covering 5-7 miles each day.  We saw very few other people and had the best time seeing the upper Middle Fork in the fall.

This section of river drops about 40 feet per mile and the cool, crystal clear water makes for a beautiful ride as you work your way through the river canyon.  This high elevation stream experiences harsh winters and the icy river cleans and polishes the rocks each year.  With little to no moss or slime on the rocks and the clear water, you can easily see the multitude of colors along the bottom of the river, adding a breathtaking element to the whole float. 

On our trip, we talked about how fun it would be for our clients to enjoy the same wonderful experience so the following year we began offering these unique trips to our guests. While I had mixed feelings about sharing the secret of this special time of year on the river, but it is just too good of an experience to keep to ourselves. 

On these trips, we take one guest in each boat and a maximum of eight guests per trip, allowing us to keep the trip quaint and relaxing.  Our light boats leapfrog each other down the river as we pocket fish this untouched water of the upper river.  Due to the permit system on the Middle Fork and the need for commercial groups to run their boats empty on the upper end once the water levels drop in the summer, the fish in the upper river are mostly untouched from mid July through the end of the season.  This has ultimately resulted in the fish being quite “uneducated” to anglers and more than willing to take a fly.  

In addition to the fishing, scenery, isolation and uniqueness of this trip, I must also mention the hot springs. An added treat to each day of this float, there are spectacular hot springs to experience and very few people around to have to share them with.

To anyone giving a thought to a fall Middle Fork trip all I can say is GO!  You will have the experience of a lifetime. 

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