Interview with Peter Grubb, Rafting Expert

Photo by Peter Grubb

Peter Grubb from ROW adventures hasn't quite rowed around the world. Yet. But he certainly knows a lot about rafting, and over the years he's shared it with many people, large and small. And now we at WR are lucky enough to hear some of his stories in this interview.  

Peter's been a rafting and adventure guide since 1979 and has travelled the world with it, finding an interest in mythology, and western civilization on the way, which led him on to leading tours in Turkey.  

Where some of Peter's adventures have taken him:

He founded ROW Adventures with his wife Betsy Bowden, and their whole family still lead at least one family rowing trip a year.

Thanks very much for sharing a small part of your experience and expertise with us, Peter, can you start by telling us about the very first time you went paddling?

When I was about 8 years old my parent’s stopped on one our cross-USA camping trips and rented canoes for all of us at a livery in Ohio.  I remember floating gently through a magical hardwood forest. In 1971, at age 12 I went on my first whitewater rafting trip with my 7th grade science club.  It was on the Stanislaus River in central California and I took a movie camera in a plastic bag. 

I remember our guide was very quiet.  Years later I realized it must have been his first year as a guide and he was totally nervous, especially with a group of youngsters who were essentially guinea pigs for his continued training process.  The day was thrilling however and was instrumental in my decision to apply to become a rafting guide in 1978 as I thought back on that day and remembered how fun it was.

And what was the last paddling trip you took, and what was that like?  

My last trip was in August on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in central Idaho, perhaps the most stunning alpine wilderness river trip in the world.  It was a six day trip with some 22 guests from all over the USA and a family from Israel. For me there is a special satisfaction in being on the river and seeing my company mission, “Sharing Nature –Enriching Lives” being fulfilled in a very real and tangible way.

So how long have you been paddling now?  

34 years as a professional guide.

Impressive!  When did you decide that you wanted to make paddling more than just a hobby and what inspired you to do so?

During my first year of guiding one-day trips in West Virginia in 1978 I had a great time.  Running rapids, meeting new people and sharing the thrill of the whitewater was all good.  Towards the end of the season I remember asking my boss if he would mind if I started my own company and he said. “Not a problem as long as it’s not here in West Virginia.”  

While I loved rafting, after 111 one-day trips that season I was tired of saying hello and good-bye to people on the same day and thought that it would be much more fulfilling to work longer trips in a wilderness setting where you could really connect with people in a more meaningful way.  That’s when I set my sights on Idaho since it has more multiday wilderness river trips than any other state in the US.  I spend the next season guiding all six-day trips and decided this was all I’d hoped for (being in close contact with amazing natural places and being able to share those with people from all walks of life) and that I’d start my own company which I did at the end of that season, in the fall of 1979.

What are the top three paddling trips you've taken and why do these ones make the cut?

The upper reaches of the Owyhee River in southwest Idaho – the most remote and spectacular wilderness river trip in the entire USA if not all of North America.  This is the Sistine Chapel of America’s canyonlands.

The Middle Fork of the Salmon because it has everything – fun but intermediate whitewater, superb hiking trails, lots of native people’s rock art, pioneer homesteads, fantastic fishing for native trout, good wildlife viewing (big horn sheep, otter, deer, birds of prey, etc.)  and finally to top it all off, wilderness hot springs and incredibly stunning scenery.

The Rio Upano in Ecuador – flowing through the land of the Shuar Indians, the former headhunters of the Amazon, we pioneered rafting trips on this river and made the first descent in 1992.  There’s beautiful Amazon jungle scenery, meaningful contact and interaction with the local Shuar population and a two-day float through a canyon with towering waterfalls at almost every bend of the river.

Where has rafting or paddling taken you that you wouldn't ordinarily have been?

Certainly to parts of Ecuador where we made several first descents in 1992 trying to find the ideal whitewater trip.  To the Sacred Valley of the Urubamba River in Peru.  To the most remote corners of Idaho and eastern Oregon while rafting the Owyhee.  And to a remote corner of Scotland.

Is there anywhere you’d still love to explore?  

Brazil has many rivers that have yet to be explored for their whitewater potential.  The Arctic North in Canada is high on my list and southern Africa.

If a friend of a friend asked for your advice while planning a big kayaking trip as a beginner, where would you recommend they go and what tips would you give them to have fun and stay safe?  

As a beginner the best thing is to get all kinds of good training.  If doing a “big” kayaking or rafting trip, don’t go it alone, but with someone who has experience both from a planning standpoint, but also on-river safety.  My experience is that in one's early years of paddling or guiding, there is often a focus on the rapids and the thrill of whitewater.  As time goes on, one tends to look beyond this, to the more total soul or character of the river as well as the places it takes you that are begging for exploration.  While I still enjoy the adrenaline rush of challenging rapids I'm just as happy on a smooth flowing river through wild lands.

What sort of experiences can people expect to come away from a paddling trip with? And what's been your favourite kayaking experience story to tell others?

For some folks the main point may be the thrills. For others the chance to connect with nature. Rivers are powerful, living beings with a soul and have much to teach us, if we listen.  As for my favorite experiences on rivers… after 34 years there are simply too many.

 And one more thing: where would you like to paddle next and why? 

It’s hard to improve on the variety and quality of rivers we have in Idaho that flow through vast, protected Wilderness areas (that’s purposely with a capital “W” as these are federally-designated areas there no motorized or mechanized activity at all is allowed – no logging, no biking, no motors, etc.)  So next spring as the snow melts I’ll be back out on the Bruneau, Owyhee, Salmon, Lochsa, St. Joe, Snake and other Idaho gems.

Sounds fantastic.  And from us here in the WR office, we hope you have an amazing time next year, just as you have so many before by the sounds of it.  If you're thinking of taking a paddling trip next year and you're considering Idaho, then get in touch with Peter and ROW adventures and you could be joining him on one of his trips. 

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