How did you find yourself at Holiday?

My parents were outdoorsy Mainers who moved us to Utah when I was seven – to Holladay in fact. They took my younger brother and me all over the west, especially southern Utah. River trips, desert camping with long hikes. And tons of skiing. In my teens, I was in Little Cottonwood Canyon almost daily. Lots of river guides spend winter there and I got to know a few of them, including Scott Martin. When I was 19, he introduced me to the river guide, Tim Gaylord. That year I was the youngest of about 15 new guides Holiday hired, awesome people like Emma, Homey, and Dan Carter. Since then not a day goes by that I don’t feel gratitude for this privilege. I jumped through a magic portal. Previously I had delivered pizza.

Nate Vinton Alumni blogWhat years did you spend guiding?

From 1997 to 2007, part-time at the end. But for many years, the Cataract Canyon page in Holiday’s annual trip catalog has shown a picture of me hiking out of the Dollhouse at sunset. So I like to think I never left.

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

I learned profound lessons about responsibility, friendship, discretion, tolerance, risk management, listening, conservation, and humility. You need to understand that I was still a teenager when I started. I’m sure my immaturity annoyed some of my trip leaders. Some told me so. But a lot of amazing guides showed me the ropes: Tilts, Rachel, Romero, James, Jason, and so many others. Too many mentors to name. I learned how to cook, how to read water, how to share my love of wild places and leave no trace. My three daughters would say the greatest value was learning to make breakfast. They love my “river guide potatoes.”

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

  1. The Grand Canyon. I did some 18-day trips where we still had ice at the takeout because I learned to manage coolers The Holiday Way.

  2. The West Branch of the Penobscot between Seboomook and Chesuncook lakes. Maine has great water and wildlife. Six rivers converge in Merrymeeting Bay, a marshy tidal delta in the midcoast area that I’ve been exploring since going to college nearby. On a foggy October morning I love to float the tides in and out of what locals call “guzzles”, the little channels in the standing rice grass.

  3. The East River in New York City. For about 10 years I crossed it almost daily on a bridge or tunnel. I’ve spent countless hours watching its funky currents from the Brooklyn Navy Yard or the Manhattan Bridge bike path. My wife and I shared our first kiss there. I’m glad they built the Brooklyn Bridge over it, instead of an earlier proposal to fill and pave it.

River Guide Nate Vinton & his brohter Andrew

Nate & his brother Andrew

Do you still do river trips?

We live right by the Charles River, where I do little kayak trips with my kids. It’s so slow and serpentine that at one point you can turn your boat into a canal and paddle easily back to places a mile or so upstream – so actually yes, you can take out at the same place you put in.

What do you miss most from guiding?

The minimalism. Daily socklessness for months on end. The total absence of commerce and text notifications. The unmediated encounters with space and time on a vast geological scale, and how they force us to contemplate humanity’s insignificance. I just miss the whole river trip lifestyle: the mental freedom you get when your world narrows to the essential items in a single waterproof bag, a pair of sandals, and a random mix of adventurous people.

Also the camaraderie. You’re working with a group of guides, camped on a beach, making a great meal, and you achieve this level of teamwork that’s seamless and even unspoken. It’s a symphony. You’re all helping each other to create an awesome experience for your guests. My younger brother also guided at Holiday. We could work together almost telepathically. Triple-rigging in Cataract, when he was front oar, he never even shouted any commands. Just a few hand signals.

What was it that pulled you away from guiding?

It was the Alps! I went to live near Geneva, Switzerland. I was getting started in journalism. The only inroad I had was knowing a little about ski racing, so I started writing about that, first for Ski Racing magazine, then for The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune. In the summer I covered the Tour de France and the soccer World Cup. Then I moved to New York City and got on staff at the New York Daily News, and had very little vacation and some babies to care for.

The closest thing I ever got to the fun of Holiday was being on the sports investigations team at the NYDN. We were four reporters with differing talents, expertise, and sources. We pooled all of our information, tag-teamed on story drafts, and broke a lot of stories. Like a Holiday crew, we were unified in purpose, supporting each other, celebrating together, sharing nerves and laughter, and pushing each other to be better – the sum greater than the individual parts. We wrote a book about steroids in baseball.

Nate Vinton interpWhat advice or sentiment would you share with young guides working today?

Volunteer as much as possible to give those little orientation talks to the guests. The camp talk, the whitewater safety talk, the interpretative talks about geology and Ancestral Puebloans. Watch how others do it and try improvising within the framework. Develop your own style. It’s a priceless chance to learn how to speak to groups in a way that inspires confidence and understanding.

Tim once said something that has resonated for me for years. We had just heard about someone flipping a boat after taking an unnecessary risk. Tim said “you don’t need to go creating danger, enough of it will come your way without invitation.” Most Holiday guides don’t need to hear that, we’re such a safe outfit. But what I’ve learned is that you can take what Tim said and replace the word “danger” with all kinds of things: “stress”, “plastic toys”, “work emails.”

Do you have a favorite memory of Dee? Sue? Tim?

I was blessed to do a lot of trips with Dee and Sue. I loved hearing their stories about how they started the company in the 1960s, every piece of equipment so precious. The weekend Westwater itineraries where they drove down from Salt Lake City and met guests in Cisco, with meals that Sue had prepped while Dee was doing 40-hour weeks as a Ford mechanic. There are so many Dee stories, but the one I treasure most was rowing Lodore with him in really low water, watching how expertly he steered his raft. Never wasting effort on the oars, never sticking on rocks except to strategically pivot his boat.

Tim is one of the major role models of my life. His positive energy and wide-ranging competence inspired me. Because of him I started rising early, keeping a daily to-do list, and generally making a virtue out of being organized. I still aspire to match his industriousness, fairness, and good judgment. I helped him install the first swamp cooler on the bunkhouse. You’re welcome.

Nate Vinton FamilyWhat’s your most memorable story from a river trip?

We saw a mountain lion once in Lodore. We floated around a bend and it was on a beach drinking from the river. When it noticed us it ran up a talus slope, flowing like water over and around boulders that matched the color of its fur. My parents happened to be on that trip and my mom is a major cat lover. We were both in tears watching it move so gracefully. When Dee heard about it afterwards he told me he’d never seen anything like that.

Are you in touch with any guides you met during your time with Holiday? 

Just this week Jason Armstrong came to Boston and we went to see Tool in concert. Hollis Brooks lives in Boston and we hang out sometimes. A couple years ago Jason came with Hollis and me to hike Mt. Katahdin in Maine. There were some fun pandemic Zoom reunions, but I’m not in touch as much as I’d like and would love to reconnect with any and all Holiday guides. Find me on LinkedIn or Strava. Invite me on your San Juan permits.

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

Running half marathons and doing crossword puzzles with my wife Liz. With our girls, I love doing math homework, lacing skates for hockey, or talking about Barbie and Taylor Swift. These are passions that I wasn’t remotely interested in at a young age. We also have two tireless field spaniels, and I love to go off the grid in northern Maine with them. We have explored hundreds of miles of remote forests. It’s the only place nearby where the human population density compares to parts of southern Utah.

During the pandemic we took our kids out of school for a year. We moved up to Maine and lived in some cabins my grandparents built. My wife and I hired a nature-based educator who helped us build a curriculum. Everyday we were outside. The girls learned a lot about forests and riparian ecosystems. Science class was finding a mossy stump and taking it apart to study the insects and fungus.

Where do you call home? 

Just outside Boston, about a mile from Mother Brook, the oldest man-made hydraulic canal in the United States, dug in 1639.

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

Over the years I had at least a thousand passengers in my boat, and I loved hearing their stories, learning about their careers, their marriages, their experiences in far-off places doing impressive things. It was a priceless window on the world for a young person.

There was a group of Washington environmental policymakers who did an annual Holiday trip that I led a few times. It included a former Senator and cabinet member. One time they rode in my boat through Island Park, explaining the behind-the-scenes politics of wilderness protections. They told me the backstory of how Bill Clinton made Grand Staircase-Escalante a national monument in 1996. This was a beautiful Sunday morning, and when we got to the takeout, the former Secretary of the Interior said “well ladies and gentlemen, I think that was a very fine way to spend Sunday morning celebrating creation.”