Idahoans With Whitewater Running Through Their Veins
(page 5 of 8)
Hometown: Edinburgh, Scotland
Current Location: Ketchum, ID
Favorite Descent: The Grand Canyon of the Stikine, BC
Gerry Moffatt learned to kayak as a schoolboy in Scotland during the wet, cold winters, back when wool was a paddling accessory. He’s paddled rivers all over the world but one particular river brought him to Idaho: the North Fork of the Payette. “It’s just a legendary run,” says the now 46-year-old. “I’d heard so much about it, I had to paddle it.”
So the enterprising Scot landed a job guiding rafts and ran the North Fork daily. The sport’s ultimate testing ground, the North Fork is a place where aficionados do anything they can to live near it, eking out a living so they can lose themselves in the 15 miles of relentless rapids every single day. And they become world-class paddlers in the process.
Moffatt eventually settled in Ketchum because of its easy-going community and easier access to skiing. But not before he paddled extensively in the Himalaya where he’s kayaked every major drainage. Each fall he’d travel to Nepal and guide, eventually investing in a rafting operation, Equator Expeditions, and training local guides to lead tourists down world-renowned classics like the Sun Kosi, Kali Gandaki and Marsyangdi. When Nepal’s season ended, Gerry would venture overland through the Karakorum Mountains spanning India, China and Pakistan and into Afghanistan looking for new rivers.
Along the way, Moffatt became an expert cameraman, documenting most of his river exploits on film. One of his most ambitious filming endeavors was the “Triple Crown,” an unprecedented project he lined up for Men’s Journal and the Outdoor Life Network. In 1998, Moffatt, along with Sun Valley’s Reggie Crist and a group of talented paddlers, including Whitewater Hall of Famer Rob Lesser, ran three of the biggest whitewater runs in North America—Canada’s Grand Canyon of the Stikine and Susitna and Alaska’s Alsek—in one pressure-packed, four-week period.
you could do on the planet.
Gerry continued his work in Nepal, but political unrest in the country sent him looking elsewhere in Asia for adventure. Neighboring Bhutan, tucked into the Himalaya, which for centuries acted as a barrier to invasion, is one of the most pristine river-running destinations in the world and Moffatt has developed inroads there. In the last decade he’s opened up countless Bhutanese rivers while working closely with the government to build a sustainable adventure tourism industry; training guides and building a lodge in the idyllic Punakha Valley for visiting river runners. “Bhutan has really taken a mindful approach to developing tourism,” he says. “They’re embracing commercialism in an environmentally conscious way. They don’t want it to impact their culture the way it has in other Asian countries.”
This mindful approach affected Moffatt. After years of pushing the envelope on hard whitewater, he’s at ease just teaching others to love the river. He no longer has to run death-defying rapids to have fun. “It’s a different focus for me,” Moffatt expresses in a calm Scottish brogue. “I want to promote participation. So much of the sport’s marketing is focused on the extreme. Floating a river is about the most fun thing you could do on the planet. You want people to have fun.”
Still, he’s proud of the paddlers he’s influenced but says he’s just part of a chain of paddling heroes who taught him the same thing: to love the river—and to protect it for future generations.