BOISE, Idaho — Idaho features some of the best multi-day rafting expeditions in the country like Hells Canyon, the Selway, the Main Salmon and the Middle Fork. But many people have had issues working with one specific shuttle company, and It has gotten so bad that the Forest Service has stepped in to warn rafters.
The Main and the Middle Fork winds its way through the Frank Church Wilderness, but logistics for private boaters can be difficult so most groups opt to pay a shuttle service to take their vehicles from the put-in to the take-out while they are on the river.
Vivian Chan just embarked on a six-day journey down the Middle Fork as she rowed her own raft by herself for the first time on this stretch as part of an experienced group of rafters.
"It’s considered the holy grail of Idaho Whitewater and people come from all over the world to experience the Middle Fork section of the Salmon River," said Vivian.
The shuttle for the Main Salmon goes from Corn Creek near the Town of Salmon to Carey Creek upstream of Riggins, the drive takes ten hours and the shuttle for the Middle Fork is six hours, when Vivian's group got to the take-out at Cache Bar their vehicles were not there.
"After about five or six hours the ramp was empty and we were still sitting there with no vehicles," said Vivian. "So we were on a sat phone texting and reaching other family members to contact Tammy at Wild River Shuttles."
Take-outs in these remote areas don't have cell service and Vivian's group hasn't been the only one stranded by Wild River Shuttles.
(Disclaimer: there is another company in Arizona called Wild River Shuttle, they are not affiliated with the Idaho company.)
My brother's group had the same thing happen to them on the Middle Fork, I talked with another group on the phone who had to camp an extra night at Cache Bar with minimal food, I spoke with rafters on the Main Salmon when I visited Riggins this week, their vehicle wasn't at Carey Creek and several others have shared similar stories on boating forums like Mountain Buzz.
"Eleven of us were at the ramp with six boats," said Vivian. "She brought back several trucks with trailers that were other customers' vehicles she contracted with and said I will get you out of here."
Vivian's group having little choice drove this other group's vehicles to the town of Salmon so they could figure out their next move, but Vivian found the paperwork inside one of the trucks and called the owner whose truck was supposed to be at the Main take-out the previous day.
"Her and her husband were stranded at Carey Creek in Riggins," said Vivian. "Dave Young from Rubicon Outfittersrescued them, brought his truck and trailer and hauled them out of Carey Creek gave them a place to stay so they were just waiting in Riggins for their vehicle."
Rubicon Outfitters, other shuttle services and commercial guide services deserve a lot of credit for helping stranded rafters, the people we talked to also praised the locals in surrounding towns who went out of their way to help which also includes local law enforcement.
"People really came together in the boating community and the smaller rural towns," said Vivian. "The locals are there to help so that is really the silver lining to all of it."
Once Vivian's group got to Salmon they tried to work with Wild River Shuttles, but that did not go very well so her group ended up calling the police.
"Things kind of got heated a little bit there was a lot of confusion and a lot of people having a difference of opinion," said Vivian. "So they called the police and when she (Tammy) heard police she took off."
We reached out to the Wild River Shuttles calling both numbers on their website, but no one picked up if they were driving that makes sense as the journey has a lot of spots that doesn't have service, but we weren't able to leave a message as the inbox was full and we also sent them an email.
The forest service has sent out emails to rafters who have permits to float the river in the coming days and weeks alerting them not to use this company, there are several other options for shuttle services and even a jet boat option on Hells Canyon of the Snake River.
Vivian's group ended up having to run their own shuttle three hours both ways to get their vehicles that were still at the put-in before they could start their journey back to Boise.
Police let the group store their boats and gear in the police impound lot, according to Vivian law enforcement then took over the task of trying to get rafters their vehicles
"Our situation turned out better than some," said Vivian. "We aren't bitter we just don't want that to happen to other people and we are concerned for those who are currently on the river."
As for my brother's group, Wild River Shuttles refunded their money which costs $350, but people in their group lost out on lodging they paid for and two others missed their return flight home.
They also had an interesting story with one member of their group being able to track a newer van with his cellphone, he got to ride with the police and pull his own vehicle over, it had the shuttle driver, a baby and a dog in the van.
There were a lot of other stories with people claiming more than an extra 1,000 miles had been put on their car, some people's vehicles and trailers were damaged and others just canceled their trip.
As for Vivian Chan, she founded a group called Whitewater River Chicks to help get more women involved in rafting, August 13-14 they will host a clinic at Kelly's Whitewater Park in Cascade where they will perform whitewater safety techniques like swimming rapids, rope rescues and they will practice flipping rafts.