Tragedy on the 'River of No Return'

When veteran whitewater rafter and river guide Clancy Reece died in 1996, it sent shock waves through the river guide community.

A pioneer who had taught so many other river guides their craft was dead — and many were left shaking their heads about the manner of his death.

"Clancy died in a way that did not seem admirable. I was troubled and angered and hurt," said Jo Deurbrouck, a former river guide who spent a dozen years plying many of the same rivers loved by Reece, including the famous Salmon River in Idaho, also known as "The River of No Return."

She then spent years researching Reece's career and death, eventually completing the exceptionally well-written, thought-provoking book "Anything Worth Doing: A True Story of Adventure, Friendship and Tragedy on the Last of the West's Great Rivers." The book won a 2012 National Outdoor Book Award.

Deurbrouck will speak about the book and give a talk about the necessity of adventure for the human spirit at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 19, at Standing Stone Brewing Co., 101 Oak St.

On June 8, 1996, during a once-a-decade high flood event, Reece, fellow veteran guide Jon Barker and less experienced rafter Craig Plummer set out in Reece's handmade wooden dory on the swollen, raging Salmon River, paddling through the dark night and into the day in an effort to set a distance record for how far a person could travel on a river in 24 hours.

Far into the journey, Reece was dumped into the cold river, which was fed by mountain snow melt, and either succumbed to hypothermia or possibly suffered a heart attack or stroke from the shock of the near-freezing water.

Deurbrouck said with any high-risk sport, there are acceptable risks — and then there are those that are just considered idiotic.

The river guide community accepted that Reece and the two men undertook the trip in a wooden dory rather than an inflatable raft.

"A lot of old-style boaters think dories are the most beautiful of whitewater craft. That one makes sense," she said.

They also accepted that a person would want to test a river at flood stage.

"If you love a river, wouldn't you want to know it in all its incarnations?" Deurbrouck said.

What upset experienced boaters was that Reece was wearing rain gear rather than a drysuit, she said.

Unlike a wetsuit, which traps a layer of water next to the skin that then has to be warmed by the body, a drysuit keeps an immersed person dry and surprisingly warm, even in snow-fed rivers.

"Clancy Reece was a consummate boatman. In Jon Barker's eyes, Clancy had earned the right to decide what he would wear. If you or I came on a trip with Jon Barker and tried to get in a boat without a drysuit, there would be no launch," Deurbrouck said.

While readers know from the beginning that Reece will die, the way that he ends up in the flooded waters is surprising and sad.

In Deurbrouck's hands the tale is so detailed, so suspenseful and so vivid that it is almost impossible to put down. In one passage, she writes how the three boaters traveling in the dark down the Salmon round a bend and see a logjam ahead with their spotlight.

Reece rows with Herculean effort, but they can't miss the obstacle and crash into the logs. Reece maneuvers with an oar and they break free.

Deurbrouck writes, "Nobody spoke, but they were all aware that one of those moments had just passed, a moment in which normalcy becomes crisis and then flips back so fast it's hard to hang onto the significance of what has just happened."

Copies of "Anything Worth Doing" will be available at Standing Stone during Deurbrouck's talk. The book, which costs $15, is also available through local bookstores and online at, and

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous grew up in Salmon, Idaho, rafting and kayaking "The River of No Return" with her adventure-loving father.

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