If you’ve been on a river rafting trip, you know that your guides can be the most important factor in the whole experience. They are the lifeblood of your adventure. Although there are countless reasons to experience Hells Canyon or the Salmon River from the vantage point of a boat, our guides are top on that list.
In our tight-knit rafting company our guides are like family to us but are even better than family because we’ve hand-picked them for their extraordinary qualities. A river guide is a caretaker, a whitewater navigator, a gourmet chef, a stand-up comedian, a historian and much more.
We wanted you to get to know just a few of the people who provide the personality and exceptional quality on Hells Canyon Raft trips. These are the rock stars (hey, they do love geology too…) that make us the outstanding company that we are – including owner Kurt Armacost, who guides 10-15 trips per summer. Without further adieu, meet the folks who are waiting to give you the trip of a lifetime this summer.
Kurt, Heidi, Ensi & Violet Armacost
Hells Canyon Raft has been in Kurt’s family for almost 40 years. As the co-owner of the company (along with wife Heidi) and a guide, Kurt knows and understands every aspect of your trip. He grew up riding along on Hells Canyon trips with his dad, who started the company in 1982, and Kurt started guiding a gear boat down the river at the age of 16. In 1996, Kurt and Heidi took over the family business. This isn’t just a paycheck to them; it’s their family legacy. At last count, Kurt has logged over 500 trips through Hells Canyon.
Kurt and Heidi’s two daughters, Ensi (14) and Violet (10), keep things busy and active for the Armacost family. Ensi recently joined her parents as a part-time ski instructor at Tamarack Resort (it’s a family affair: Kurt and Heidi met in Utah as ski instructors) and races on the mountain bike team. Violet is their #1 helper in the boat shop and greenhouse in the summer. The girls have a wealth of river knowledge to share. When they go along on HCR trips with her dad, Violet will be the first to show other kids the ropes, especially when it comes to fishing or jumping off the rafts with style. Ensi will keep your teenagers intrigued with games, rowing and river history.
Favorite Part of Being on the River (Kurt): “For as many trips as I do, I always see something new or learn something new on every single trip. In most ways it’s the same trip, but I never get tired of it.” (Heidi): “Fishing! The morning sounds, the peacefulness of being there, time stands still”.
Favorite Meal to Make (Kurt): Breakfast, especially pancakes. (Heidi): Baked brie cheese with our huckleberry compote or anything from our greenhouse.
Barry loves to travel the world, but always comes back home to guide Hells Canyon Raft trips for the summer. Having traveled to over 30 countries, he brings a global view to life and work. Barry grew up in McCall and after a wide variety of life experiences, decided Idaho was where his heart resided. On a trip with us, chances are high you’ll get to experience one of Barry’s perfect Pineapple upside down cakes made in the Dutch oven.
Favorite Part of Being on the River: “Taking people through the experience of big whitewater and sleeping under the stars.”
Favorite Meal to Make: Hash browns, sausage and eggs for breakfast.
Emma is busy during the school year studying Chemistry and Middle Eastern Studies at Brigham Young University but loves to return to nature as often as she can. She grew up skiing near Pocatello, ID, where she continues to be a volunteer patroller. She is also a licensed EMT and has certificates in Mountain Rescue and Travel and Avalanche Safety. After her college graduation, Emma plans to take a year off to gain work and volunteer experience and to get a few travel adventures under her belt before applying for medical or PA school. Emma is also half of a fun HCR love story. She and Henry (read about him below) met while they were both working for us as guides and they will be married this Spring!
Favorite Part of Being on the River: “Being in a place that’s so remote. It’s therapeutic to be able to escape the stresses of everyday life and get more in touch the peace our beautiful world can bring.”
Favorite Meal to Make on the River: Night 4 fajitas because it’s her favorite to eat.
Henry originally hails from Charleston, SC but “grew up” in the mountains surrounding McCall, ID. You’ll hear us call him Big Swirly, or Swirly. Before becoming a raft guide, Henry spent a season commercial salmon fishing in Cordova, Alaska. He is studying to become a rocket scientist (literally!) at the University of Idaho. His wedding to Emma is coming up in the Spring. We can’t wait to watch these two river lovebirds get hitched.
Favorite Part of Being on the River: “The company and companionship of being a part of the team of guides and spending time in remote wilderness areas away from modern life.”
Favorite Meal to Make on the River: Dill & Dijon Trout, grilled asparagus, beer bread and salad.
Jamie grew up in McCall as an avid soccer player and then earned a degree in English Lit from the College of Idaho. In 2016, he spent a year as a youth soccer (aka ‘football’) coach in England, the Philippines and Israel for Arsenal Football Club. His time away made him want to return home to the mountains and rivers of Idaho. He worked previously as a children’s ski instructor and is now a ski patroller at Tamarack Resort.
Favorite Part of Being on the River: “Losing track of time. The bustle and busyness of everyday life slip away, and time takes on a unique quality of just happening without anyone really noticing it. I also like rapidy rapid rapids.”
Favorite Meal to Make on the River: Blueberry ricotta lemon pancakes.
These four special people are just a few from our amazing team of river guides. Not only do they love what they do, they love sharing it with you. With a guide to guest ratio of one guide per 3-4 guests, you’ll see plenty of us. The connections you create on a river trip are deep and unique, and you’ll get to know your guides and the other guests on your trip (even your own family and friends) in unexpected ways. We can’t wait to show you why we love the magical world of life on the river.