Starting the Semester on the Lower Salmon River

Alzar School | 22.08.12

No sooner had this semester’s stellar 11 students arrived for the start of the Alzar School’s momentous inaugural semester than we were packing up and eddying out of campus to the Lower Salmon River for a 6-day paddling adventure. Expedition Leader and full time Mathematics faculty instructor, Dan Thurber planned this whitewater adventure featuring kayaks, oar rafts, and paddle rafts. For Charlotte, Inez and Karley this was the first time they had ever sat in a kayak, let alone paddled class II and III rapids successfully. Additionally, this continuous 6-day backcountry expedition of food packing, river showers and beach camping was a new experience for nearly all students. Day 1 featured a short ferry across the river where students learned how to set up camp. Sam Goff, the science faculty instructor, and his cook crew of Inez, Aaron and teaching fellow SJ set the bar high for delicious trip meals with a taco salad that would give everyone the energy needed for their first full day of paddling the next morning.

The trip started out with an easy section of flat water, allowing all the students to get their paddling strokes dialed in. The more advanced kayakers used this stretch of river to practice rolls and tricks. By the end of the trip Aaron, Liam, Charlotte, Crosby, Inez and Karley all mastered their first rolls under the wonderful instruction of Mr. Goff and Alzar School co-founder, Sean Bierle. Grady and Lexi succeeded in completing 15 rolls in a row, a good indication that they would also be able to roll in a whitewater “combat” situation. Grady proved this theory true when he pounded through the whitewater at Snow’s Hole Canyon only to be tipped by some swirling water towards the end of the rapid. Muscle memory at its finest, Grady immediately rolled his kayak back upright and continued to paddle safely into the eddy. Other achievements throughout the trip include Alec’s mastery of stern stalls, Lexi’s new back deck roll, Katherine’s hand-of-god rescue technique for teaching new kayak students, and Inez and Crosby’s successful paddle raft recovery tactic. Although Wesley left the trip early with a fever, his speedy recovery allowed him to compete and win multiple events at the Kelly’s Whitewater Park weekend competition back in Cascade.

In a mid-trip walk-on-water competition maximum distance was achieved by Liam, with style points going to Sean and Sam for the best pre-water facial expressions. On the water, we were constantly entertained by Patrick’s beautiful songs of tacos from the paddle raft. And our evenings were never complete without an Ellie and Evan jam session on the guitar and ukulele. Luckily, “grandma’s china” aka Ellie’s guitar made it all the way down the river in one piece.

Jeff, the Alzar School’s Director of Advancement, taught us how salmon, born here in Idaho, travel out to the Pacific Ocean as far as Japan and then make their way back, years later, to spawn. This life cycle, crucial to maintaining the river ecosystem is becoming increasingly threatened by dams and reservoirs.

Finally, this trip initiated our semester long exploration of leadership. Students worked together to define a successful leader as “able to guide and to organize a group by communicating and inspiring their vision that works towards a common goal,” a definition which will continue to evolve over the course of the semester. This expedition was an opportunity for students to witness their instructors modeling leadership skills, such as Ellie’s inspiring vision to create water wizards and sunscreen sultans to ensure we stayed hydrated and tan when she was leader-of-the-day. Each student will have his or her own opportunity to serve as leader-of-the-day on future expeditions.

After paddling 94 miles from the Lower Salmon River to its confluence with the Snake River this historic first semester of Alzar students returned home to the wonderful welcome of Pebbles and Rauli’s wagging tails and a greeting from Kristin and Wesley. By appearance we may have seemed tired and smelly, however we all left this expedition with a sense of fulfillment in our own personal achievements and our amazing strength as a group.