Finding Solace on the River of No Return

In August, seven vets representing six states and two military branches came together for a week of rafting, fishing, and communing with nature in Idaho’s Frank Church Wilderness. The trip was outfitted by the incredible SOAR Northwest crew. Our expert guides combined white water adventures with cultural and historical excursions in some of the nation’s most remote backcountry.


Over the course of six days, the group traversed 80+ miles down the Main Salmon River, aka the River of No Return, dropping more than 1200’ in elevation. Cell phones were relegated to lightweight cameras, and the only notifications were from the dinner trumpet call from a repurposed bighorn sheep antler.


Despite having done shorter rafting trips before, I remember reading the itinerary and thinking “Six days? How on earth will we occupy our time?” By the end of day one, I found myself wishing we’d have even more time with our newly formed tribe of fellow vets and river guides. This was a special crew.


The veterans on this trip were extraordinary. Our time in uniform doesn’t us. We are more than our time in service, but it did play a tremendous role in shaping the citizens we are today and our perspectives on the world around us, including the need for community and conservation.


Our time on the river served as a reminder of the therapeutic power of bringing service members together in the wild, and I’m forever grateful for my memories of us sitting around the campfire sharing stories, discussing the day’s activities on the river, visiting the sites of Nez Perce pictographs and early American homesteads, and gazing up at the stars for a view of the Perseid meteor showers.


“I’d like to give my heartfelt thanks to the Sierra Club’s Military Outdoors program and SOAR Northwest for making such a great contribution to my life and to my experience with their programs.” - Evan, Army, Iraq and Afghanistan veteran

"The Salmon River float trip with Sierra Club Military Outdoors was a once in lifetime experience. The crew from SOAR Northwest, was professional, accommodating, and just a wonderful group of human beings. This opportunity to spend 6 days in one of the most remote areas of the U.S. with other veterans was both connecting and transformational...easily one of the best experiences of my life and something I will always be grateful for." - David R., Coast Guard

“Since coming home from a tour of IED Hunting in Iraq in 2007-2008, it has taken me years of therapy and mindfulness-based practices just to feel confident enough to leave my home without feeling overwhelmed by anxiety. A few years ago, I realized I wasn't really living the life I once imagined myself living - one of adventure and exploration - but each time I gathered the strength to head out on a solo trip, I found the suffering was more than I could bear alone. I was surviving, but I wanted to thrive again - I wanted to enjoy doing the things I once loved. When I learned about Military Outdoors, I wondered if attending one of their outings could help me do that since I'd have the support and sense of safety in being surrounded by other capable veterans who could understand my experiences. I had the opportunity to join their crew on a trip with SOAR Northwest rafting 80 miles on the Salmon Main through the Frank Church Wilderness, which is one of the most remote places in the Lower 48. Having the support of highly qualified, professional, and empathetic guides made it possible for me to truly enjoy (what was for me) a tremendous challenge and adventure that I will never forget. Now, the trips to the grocery store or public events seem quite a bit easier than they did before. I am eternally grateful for the life changing experience, and healing brought to me by the wilderness and waters of the Salmon.” - Adam, Army, Iraq veteran

“I've struggled to connect. And much of the work I have done to reconnect has been through the outdoors. So, I am a believer of the healing power that is nature. But, I have nothing to compare to the moments spent on the eighty-miles of the Salmon River with the SOAR team. The Sierra Club definitely used the right team for this veterans outing. I could speak of the fun times on the white water, fishing, natural hot tubs, the lessons of the people that have and do live there, or the incredible food. But, my highlight is the way they allowed us to enter a pristine nature area and feel as safe and comfortable as I did. It's something I don't get to feel very often. While there were six other veterans on the trip, by the end of it, we were all one unit.  Regardless of military experience or not, the SOAR team brought us all together and allowed us a moment that the word "healing" doesn't really cover. I am thankful to the Sierra Club and SOAR to have given me the opportunity and the privilege to have such a lasting moment of reconnection to this world around me and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who has the chance.” - Caleb, Army, Iraq and Afghanistan veteran

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