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Interview with ChrisChris

Offbeat Interview Series with Chris

Christopher ‘Chris’ Madden

Born to river guides, Chris never had a choice in the matter, he was destined to become a raft guide. His parents both worked on the Middle Fork and the Main Salmon rivers before deciding to change careers and have a family. Chris grew up in the quaint rafting town of Lotus, California with his younger brother Drew. When he was three, his father Tim starting taking him down the local class two section in an inflatable kayak. The one-mile trip took several hours, as the mandatory stops at Chris’s magic beach and Chris’s magic island, were made to eat snacks and play with Batman figurines. This routine continued for several years until Chris decided to rebel against his upbringing.

You see, Chris’s parents had every intention of raising two river children, who also skied in the winter. But at age 12, Chris decided to drop all other hobbies to pursue his newly found passion, playing tennis. The family’s weekends shifted drastically, from mountain adventures to tennis tournaments every weekend in the suburbs of California. Chris pursued this passion through college when he played at the University of Michigan. After finishing his degree, Chris decided to finally return to his roots and start raft guiding in California. After four years, Chris made the move to Idaho and hasn’t looked back since.

Chris guides full time for Canyons (sometimes with his wife Britt) in the summer and works as a substitute teacher in California when they are not traveling around the world. They have converted a Ford van into their ‘home on wheels’ in order to pursue their passion for adventure.

The Interview

If you could be a river superhero, what would you be?   Some sort of bald eagle and river otter combo. The BALD OTTER… doesn’t sound like a superhero, but I would be able to swim as well as fly, all the while protecting my friends of the animal kingdom, that live in the Frank Church Wilderness.

What is your favorite dress up theme?   The 70’s… I just put on a disco shirt and let my hair do its thang.

What is your ‘go to’ crazy hat night creation?   I’ve been trying to perfect the classic Cowboy hat made out of cardboard boxes, it’s still a work in progress.

What brought you to Canyons?   Luck and timing, the two key components to many things in life. I worked one season for a company that had the same Middle Fork launch dates as Canyons. Whenever Canyons would pass us, I was jealous of their kayak guide and a number of small crafts in the water. In addition, everyone was so nice and always looked like they were having a great time. The company I used to work for changed ownership after my first season, so my fiancé and I applied to work for Greg.      

How many years have you worked here?   This will be my fourth season working for Canyons.     

What is your favorite thing about Canyons?   The family atmosphere.  

If you could describe Canyons in 3 words?   Salmon. River. Fun.  

When you hear the word Idaho, what comes to mind?   Wilderness and beautiful weather.  I’m from California where the summers are incredibly hot and dry.  So it’s nice to see clouds rolling through the canyon, changing the lighting and the temperature.

What are your top three favorite camps?   Lower Grouse (MF), California Beach (MN) and Wilson (MF)  

Your favorite hike?   Hiking through Tappan Canyon on the river right trail.  It’s amazing how much more I notice when I’m not focused on the rapids.  The shear wall above Tappan 3 reminds me of the Granite walls we have in California. 

Top three favorite rapids?   The Chutes (MF), Big Mallard (MN) and Velvet Falls (MF)  

Currently, what is your nemesis rapid?   The Chutes in a sweep boat and Rams Horn in an oar rig, at deadhead, flows.   

What river do you want to run that you haven’t yet?   Oh man…there are so many out there.  Let’s keep it in Idaho and I’ll go with the Secesh.  

What do you consider a ‘real’ job?   I had this conversation with some extended family recently. One uncle defined it as a job that allows you to support yourself. I thought that sufficed.

If you could only have one kayak in your quiver, what would it be and why?   Prijon Cali… it’s my favorite creek boat because it’s the easiest to pack my gear inside of for multi-day trips AND has the strongest plastic. I got tired of welding boats instead of enjoying the wilderness and the company of my friends, on California overnighters.

What is your favorite thing to cook on the river?   My nemesis is also my favorite, the cornbread.

If you could take a musician or band down the river today, who would it be?   Island Of Black and White. They are a band who plays frequently in my hometown of Lotus, California. They will be playing at Britt and my wedding in October. I would love to share the Salmon River corridor with them.

What is your most memorable swim in a river?  There have been a couple but the last one was a big one. A year and a half ago on Cherry Creek in California, I swam after I dislocated my shoulder. I elected to have surgery to stabilize the joint and am still working hard to fully recover from that injury. 

What is one of your river rituals or superstitions?   I splash my face when I’m nervous and let the water run into my mouth before spitting it out. People always think I’m drinking the water. It was really hard to quit the habit during paddling trips in Ecuador and Nepal, but necessary in order to stay healthy.   

What is the most valued non-river-related item that you bring with you on every trip?   My moms’ ammo can that carries my toiletries, among other things. She was a guide on the Salmon River and used it during her career.

What is your favorite groover spot?   Impassable Canyon on the Middle Fork has the best groover spots, but the upstream location at Cradle is my favorite.

About Greg McFadden

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