For an interview with photographer Drew Stoecklein, go to www.skiingmag.com/petbadger.
The standard Forest Service pit toilet is a 23-square-foot architectural monument to stink and filth. I’ve often wondered what kind of misery it would take to make me roll out my sleeping bag and camp in one. I’m finding out tonight: steady rainfall on top of three feet of hollow, slushy snowpack on the first night of a 12-day skiing and rafting trip in Idaho’s Frank Church/River of No Return Wilderness—one of the most remote corners of the continental United States.
The snowmobiles that drove us 22 miles from the nearest plowed road have just left us, their headlights bounding in the gloom. We quickly identify the crapper’s porch as the driest spot to cook dinner. And it isn’t halfway through the pasta when we reason that, if you prop the door open and sleep with your head outside on the porch, it wouldn’t be so bad. The outhouses don’t smell. It’s April now and they haven’t been used since September. The turd soup below has chilled into an inert state. I brush aside the bug-caked fly strip and settle in.
It’s an odd beginning, but in the 30 hours I’ve now known Drew Stoecklein, the 25-year-old trip organizer and photographer for this story, it’s fitting. This is the guy who spent most of the planning day before the trip testing the expedition drysuits by doing pond skims in a Sun Valley subdivision; the guy who barely got through high school but managed to build a hovercraft, a potato cannon that fired nearly a quarter mile, and, according to video footage submitted to the class, a turbocharged leaf blower that knocked his younger brother to the ground from 15 feet away. Drew is also a competition freeskier who finagled a single speaking line in the Hollywood B film Deep Winter, which paid for an entire week of heli-skiing in Alaska in 2006. It was he and childhood friend and fellow pro skier Griffin Post who hatched the idea of scoring first descents by rafting the Middle Fork of Idaho’s Salmon River, one of the world’s premier river runs, through the largest swath of mountain wilderness in the Lower 48. From what little I knew, it seemed like the perfect mission for Drew: original, gutsy, and a little bit absurd.
On a busy summer day, the Boundary Creek launch site might see nearly 200 people. But at the end of winter we find nothing but a ranger shack with boarded windows and a boat ramp under three feet of snow. We’ll spend 12 days navigating the river in two rafts, stopping in the first 20 miles of the nearly 100-mile run to climb and skipeaks that have almost certainly never been skied. I’m hanging my wet gloves and goggles from the outhouse’s aluminum handicapped railings when Drew calls out from the adjacent unit.
“Griffin, you locked and loaded?” Drew and Griffin have packed a Colt .45 pistol in hopes of fulfilling their hunting permit for black bear. “Maybe we should spread some trash around,” says Drew. “Shoot the bear right from the outhouse.”
He’s joking, I think.