James Ellsworth

How did you find yourself at Holiday? 

I had swamped a few trips for CRATE over a couple of years and asked for a job but they had no positions available so I reached out to Holiday.  My dad had a connection to Gordy Yates as well.   

What years did you spend guiding?

For Holiday 1993 to 1997.  Prior to that a swamper with CRATE and guide for Cimmarron River CO on the Salt River in Arizona.  I became the Director of International Rafting at Mountain Travel Sobek from 1997 to 2006.  I became an outfitter on the Salmon River in Idaho 2007 to present.  www.idahorivers.com 

What is something you learned while at Holiday that has stuck with you and has been valuable to life beyond the river? 

Finding the Systems in life allows efficiencies that allow oneself more time to connect with the present moment, to one’s deeper being, nature, and community.  To be a human being, not a human doing.  Also, always have a coffee dude for the morning. Floss your teeth and cook crews are really nice.  

What is your favorite stretch of river that you have been on? 

Bio Bio River in Chile.  I was on the last commercial decent for Sobek in 2008 before it got fully dammed.  But for a living river, the Alsek River, flows thru Yukon to BC Parks, thru Kluane National Park, and into Glacier Bay National Park. 

girl rowing raft down the riverDo you still do river trips? 

I’m the owner of Middle Fork River Expeditions in Stanley, Idaho. We run the Middle Fork of the Salmon and Main Salmon river trips in 6 or 12 days.  I’m getting back into International rafting with a trip to the Zanskar and Zambezi in 2023 with John Yost, founder of Sobek, thru his new company Wantok Adventures.  

What was it that pulled you away from guiding?

Never been pulled away.  But someday most outfitters become bus drivers.  I hope not to.  

What advice or sentiment would you share with young guides working today?  

Attitude is everything.  

Slow is smooth, smooth is fast- meaning keep working slowly with intention and presence so you’re not rushing and then getting hurt, and then it takes longer anyways.  

Also, you’re only as good as the trip you are on.  Meaning it doesn’t really matter how many years you have been guiding as you are only as good as the present one.  

You can be loose within tight systems.  Then freedom of expression can happen within them.  

Keep it level –meaning have a whole lot of fun but not too much fun where you are hungover and not able to be present 100%.  

Lead by example and with an open heart and most importantly have fun so it’s infectious to the guests.   

And of course, Go with the flow!  Meaning even if you forget the plates or potatoes or oar locks in the big picture “It’s a serious non-issue” and move on and get creative figuring out alternative solutions. 

Do you have a favorite memory of Dee? Sue? Tim? Frogg?James ellsworth and Fred in the water

I had a very deep connection with Dee and the key to having a good trip with him was feeding him Gin and Tonics.  Also, he always liked my geekiness around my geology and geography and fluvial geomorphology knowledge.  Lastly, he once told me a story about how we were related somehow as my great-great-grandfather German Ellsworth (who founded Payson, UT) had 3 wives and one was a Holladay.  So he was kind of like a long lost uncle, sort of.   My favorite memory of Tim is of him telling me the story of Fred’s escape from the Boat Yard in Green River.  He was tied on a 40’ tubular webbing to a swami belt.  I had just shown up to Holiday with a monkey on my back and Tim was like “well this has never happened before.  Just tie him up out back and try to keep him away from being in the way”.  The warehouse kids were in charge of feeding him and overall care when I was on the river.  Basically, Tim was on the phone with someone and suddenly heard someone pick up the phone in the boat house and started breathing and making funny sounds.  At which Tim said “Fred?” and the phone was dropped.  The warehouse team was on it trying to catch him for an hour but he kept eluding them.  They almost had him trapped in the dumpster at one point but then he vanished.  About 20 minutes later Tim saw a big crowd gathered around an RV at the John Wesley Powell museum.  He ran over there and apparently Fred had opened the RV Door and gone inside and got into the Fridge and pulled everything onto the floor as the owner was asleep in bed.  He awoke and caught Fred red-handed and tied him up to the “No Pets Allowed” sign outside the museum. Fred stories, don’t get me started!  

I never worked with Frogg but once he sold his business I bought his old Holiday Ice Machine and now it’s funny as Jerry Hughes (from Hughes River Expeditions) bugged Frogg for years to sell him that old machine and now Jerry’s buying ice from me in Stanley from the same machine that he wanted to buy from Frogg.  

What’s your most memorable story from a river trip?

Well, that’s a hard one.  So many.  I bet the trip with Tilts and Nate Flint on the Zambezi stands out as the most gnarly (or Sean Brown in Ecuador on the Rio Upano) but I would have them tell the story as I was not there.  In terms of first hand, the time I was on the Alsek river for 15 days and we were camped at Alsek Lake there were huge icebergs in the lake that were 4 to 5 stories tall.  I had just finished singing a song about our farewell the next day when a small piece of the iceberg fell off.  The iceberg rose 5 to 6 more stories and toppled over and made a huge wave that came into camp and slammed all our rafts and broke some equipment.  Just a crazy experience. We also got falsely charged twice by thousand-pound grizzlies that trip which was quite memorable.  

But for a story with Holiday, it must be the time I took a private group down Deso, and at lunch Day 1 the group took off all their clothes and asked us if the office had told us they were a nude trip!?  No, they hadn’t!  Well, let’s just say nude guests all became normal after the first couple of days. That was the first and last trip like that and yes, it was quite memorable.  

Do you have a story to share about a positive experience with a guest? 

I took a group of kids from the Mission district of San Francisco down the river a few years ago. It was very touching to see the transformation of the kids for the week.  We all cried a lot on the last night.  I also had the honor of taking Erik Wiehenmayer down the Salmon River in his hard shell kayak.  Which was not a small feat as he is blind.  He had a safety team of 3 kayakers lead him down the river with mics and headsets in their helmets.  It was inspiring to witness such courage in another human being.  He was using the SUP in the eddy’s at camp and we did a paddle raft slide and just tapped the raft and he sprinted down the cut bank and went flying head first onto the raft, slid all the way across it, and somersaulted into the river.  He did a successful Grand Canyon hard shell trip a month later.  

James Ellsworth alumni photoAre you in touch with any guides you met during your time with Holiday? 

Yes, a little bit. Through social media etc and some come out and do trips with me and row one of our rafts.  I have these new mini rafts which are 9’ and have a frame and small oars, kind of like the old sport yaks’.  Super fun.  The Main Salmon is a great section of river for that.

What are you up to these days? (career, passions, hobbies, artistic endeavors, etc…)

I own Middle Fork River Expeditions, which runs trips on the Middle Fork and Main, and am HRE’s Idaho affiliate so they refer guests to us.  I have also started to run more international trips to Nepal, India, Chile, and Zambia thru Wantok Adventures.   I love to sail on the bay and co-own with 4 other partners a 38’ Morgan Sailboat that is in Sausalito.  I also love to ski and ride my mountain bike.  I don’t have a pet monkey but two dogs named Josie (after Josie Bassett) and Mochi (as I love eating it).  

Where do you call home? 

I live in Fairfax, CA in the winter where mountain biking was invented.  I’m In Stanley, Idaho mid May thru Mid Oct every year.  I have two teenage daughters ages 15 and 18. The older one has rowed the Main Salmon 3 times now so she might be working for me in the future. 

Do you think you will ever be a river guide again? 

120% chance