Hughes River Expeditions

Hughes River Expeditions History


Hughes rowing
Jerry Hughes, 1970

Jerry Hughes and Carole Finley have owned and operated Hughes River Expeditions, Inc since 1976. Their river running days started well before the 1976 incorporation date for the company. Experience counts, and Hughes River Expeditions has plenty. Here’s a time line sketch with pictures and a few stories that we hope you will enjoy. It has been great fun so far. Jerry and Carole look forward to many more river trips to come. Thanks to all of you who made this possible.

1963: Jerry’s (age 15) first river trip. Middle Fork of the Salmon with Snake River Council, Boy Scouts of America. Elwood Masoner put together the whitewater program, and Elwood helped start the careers of countless Idaho river guides with these trips.

1964: Main Salmon with Elwood and the Boy Scouts. Met life time friend, Bob Sevy (another scout on the trip) and Main Salmon legends Frank Lantz and Buckskin Bill a.k.a. Sylvan Hart.

1965: Elwood hired Jerry to work on the BSA Whitewater Staff for the summer before Jerry’s senior year in high school ($200 for the summer). Jerry ran multiple Middle Fork trips, started learning the river, and met many outfitters and guides including Don and Ted Hatch (sons of the legendary Bus Hatch). Also met famous Hatch guide, Shorty Burton at Dagger Falls that summer. Shorty was a total gentleman, and he was very interested in the Elwood Masoner “Box Oar Locks” that we had on our oar rigs.

Don Hatch with son Jon. Frankie Strathairn, daughter of Dr. Frazier, who financed many early Hatch trips in the 20’s and 30’s

1967: After the first year of college, Jerry applied to and was hired by Hatch River Expeditions. Hatch was the original river outfit (since 1929), and their business had expanded rapidly after the 1954 National Geographic Society article about rafting the Yampa-Green in Utah. Bus Hatch and Hatch River Expeditions were house hold names for river running in the late 50’s and early 60’s. In 1966, Hatch took the Kennedy family down the Middle Fork, and the Hatch business growth spiked again. Don and Ted were looking for Idaho guides, and they hired Jerry and his high school pal, Mike Weatherwax. Wax had the same BSA rafting experience as Jerry. Jerry and Wax caught the Greyhound from Twin Falls, Idaho to Vernal, Utah to become river guides. Wax’s father, Dean, saw the boys off and said, “Farm boys are good for anything but farming!” Another new Hatch guide the summer of 1967 was Warren Herlong from Mobile, AL. Wax and Jerry get together several times a year, and Jerry and Warren have stayed friends as well. Warren, an attorney in Mobile, guides with Hughes River Expeditions on the Middle Fork to this day. Nothing better than good friends! Especially friends who run a good boat!

Meeting Bus Hatch: June 1967, first day on the job at the Hatch boat yard, Vernal, Utah. Jerry and Wax were helping Ted Hatch with equipment repairs. An unshaven older man walked into the boat yard, looked over Jerry and Wax, and asked Ted, “Who are these assholes?” Ted chuckled and responded, “Dad, they’re a couple of Idaho boys. They’ll work on the Salmon.” The old guy answered, “They don’t look like much to me.” He turned around and walked off. That was the only time Jerry personally met Bus Hatch. Bus died of a heart attack later that month. It was a treat to meet the man who came up with the idea of running rivers just for the fun of it. But, it was a short and one sided conversation.

River take out
Hatch Middle Fork crew 1969. Warren Herlong, Mike Tenant, Curt “Whale” Hansen, Jerry, and Dennis Massey

Seven Years with Hatch River Expeditions: From 1967-1973, Jerry worked for Hatch. The rivers included the Colorado River in Grand Canyon, Utah’s Green and Yampa, and of course, Idaho’s Middle Fork, Main Salmon, and Selway. Jerry would run the Yampa, Green and Colorado during June. But, Idaho was always home, and working for Don and Ted was a great way to boat July and August on the Idaho rivers. Don loved Idaho rivers, and Jerry guided many Idaho trips with Don Hatch. Working for Don and Ted Hatch was an incredible opportunity.

Carole’s 1st River Trip: In 1968, Carole joined Jerry on a late August Middle Fork trip. Don Hatch’s treat. Her first river run. Jerry and Carole flew from Stanley to Indian Creek launch site with veteran bush pilot Lawrence Johnson in his 1934 Bellanca with a full load of rafts and gear. After the cargo compartment was completely full, Lawrence and Jerry picked up Carole and slid her in on top of the equipment load. Her nose touched the fabric ceiling of the plane. Larry’s comment as he throttled up for take off was, “Let’s see if we can get this overloaded SOB off the ground.” Once at Indian Creek, a freak late summer storm settled in and blanked the Middle Fork canyon with snow. Carole’s river running career was started in grand fashion.

Elwood Masoner becomes an Outfitter. In 1967, Elwood Masoner, Jerry’s Boy Scout mentor, sold his Twin Falls music store, left the BSA river program to other managers, and began working full time as a river outfitter. Elwood and Donna operated trips on a variety of Idaho rivers, and in a few years they would be of great help to Jerry and Carole. Masoners were an example of how a couple could run a small business and make a good living as outfitters. Their success encouraged others like Jerry and Carole to try outfitting for a career. Elwood’s and Donna’s home was always open to river guides from any company.

Meeting Prince Helfrich: Sometime in 1967 or 1968, Don Hatch introduced Jerry to Prince Helfrich. The meeting was at the old Sawtooth Hotel restaurant in Stanley. It was a pleasure to meet Prince. Bus Hatch and Prince Helfrich came at the Middle Fork from different directions, and in the end ran very different but successful outfitting services on the river. What a treat to have met them both personally.

Hatch Crew
Hatch Middle Fork crew 1969. Craig Hatch, Al Holland, Steve Amos, Roy Cromer, Jerry, and Jack Reynolds.

Sleight, Harris, Georgie… During the Hatch years, Jerry also met other iconic outfitters. Ken Sleight, Wonderland Tours, was putting on a Deso-Grey Canyon Green River trip in 1967 when Jerry met him at Ouray, UT. Ken was the model for “Seldom Seen Smith” in the famous fictional Monkey Wrench Gang book by Ed Abbey. Don Harris was a consummate gentleman outfitter on the Utah and AZ rivers, and Don helped Jerry and Curt “Whale” Hansen out of a jam in Grand Canyon in 1970. Georgie White – About 60 years old in 1968, wearing a revealing leopard skin bathing suit – was the most amazing personality in outfitting. Georgie was a regular at Colorado River put-ins. Swilling Coors beer at 8 am, and chasing good looking Warren Herlong around the edge of the launch ramp. Georgie guided into her early 80’s. Incredible. I am convinced that the late 60’s and early 70’s were the best time ever to be a young river guide working in UT, AZ, and ID. And, it was especially fun to spend those years with Hatch River Expeditions.

Double Oar Rig
Jerry and Jim Earnst, Yampa River 1970.
Jerry and Curt “Whale” Hansen, Colorado River 1971.
Cooking Chicken
Jerry cooking Grand Canyon chicken, 1971.
Jerry & Carole
Hatch guide Brick Wells, Jerry, and Carole. Stanley 1972.
Group shot
1975 Wild Rivers Idaho crew: Back Row – Dean Snell, George Mancini, Pete Gibbs, Pete Mills, Jim Campbell, Jerry Hughes, Cort Conley. Front Row – Mark Leachman, Rod Paulson,Rae Lynne Paulson, Carole Finley, Rick Petrillo.
Dave “Kid Pliers” Gettle, Paul Brown, Carole,and Jerry. Colorado River take-out 1973

1974-1976: Jerry and Carole followed Hatch pal, Cort Conley, to tiny Cambridge, Idaho (less than 400 people) – headquarters for Wild Rivers Idaho owned by Jim Campbell. Cort was manager, and Wild Rivers Idaho ran the Middle Fork, Main Salmon, and the Snake River in Hells Canyon. Snake River was new water for Jerry, and Hells Canyon was a great place to learn about. Jim Campbell also owned and operated Shepp Ranch on the Main Salmon. Jerry and Carole worked in fall hunting camps out of the ranch, and did the ranch caretaker duty the winter of 75-76. Fun times working with great people.

1976: Start Up for Hughes River Expeditions. In 1970, Jerry met Bob Kirby and Jon Lovelace on a Hatch Selway trip. Jon and Kirb became lifetime friends. In 1973 in Grand Canyon, Kirb told Jerry, “When you and Carole decide to start Snake Expeditions on the Snake River, let me know. Lovelace and I will loan you the money.” During fall of 1976, Jerry called Kirb, and Kirb’s first response was, “What took you so long?”

A Sub-S Corporation was formed with Jon, Kirb, Carole and Jerry as shareholders. Jon and Kirb were patient and thoughtful partners. Key to the start up, was the purchase of Elwood Masoner’s business on the Main Salmon, Snake/Hells Canyon, and Salmon River Canyon, along with a tiny two launch business on the Middle Fork that was purchased from longtime Oregon guide, Kenny King. Jerry’s long friendship with Elwood resulted in the beginning of Hughes River Expeditions.

Jerry Hughes & Carole Finley
Jerry & Carole at Cook Creek Camp on the 1978 National Geographic Society Hells Canyon trip featured in America’s Majestic Canyons (1979)

From 1977 through 1983, Jerry and Carole were both running boats almost every week all season long. In 1978, Carole tallied 17 trips, and Jerry 22. Carole was one of the first women to guide from high to low water on the Snake, Middle Fork, Main, Lower Salmon, and Owyhee, and she always ran a beautiful boat. Carole’s style was to look well ahead, and set up for the classic line on big rapids. When Megan was born in 1983, Carole was pleased to be an “at home” Mom.

During 1977 and 1978, Jerry’s great friend, Bob Sevy helped out the survival of fledgling Hughes River Expeditions. Bob had been on the early BSA trips with Elwood, and Bob started an outfitting business in 1973. Bob hired Jerry to guide on weeks when HRE had no work. Bob’s pay checks made a huge difference in getting through the lean start up years. Bob and Jerry cooperated back and forth between Sevy Guide Service and Hughes River Expeditions through the decades until Bob’s retirement in 2004. A fun and mutually beneficial relationship between life time friends.

When the company began to stabilize, Jon and Kirb financed Jerry’s and Carole’s purchase of all HRE shares of stock. By 1983, Jerry and Carole owned the outfit. And, through the years, Jon and Kirb sent countless referrals, organized numerous river trips for their families and friends, and gave much valued advice and counsel. We couldn’t have done it without Jon and Kirb! And, to this day, Jon’s and Kirb’s associates with Capital Group and American Funds are valued and frequent customers.

Carole rafting
Jerry, Bob Kirby, and Carole at Bruneau River take-out 1982.

1983: Expanded the Middle Fork part of our company by purchasing another Middle Fork business. Dick Waite, owner of River Rat Express, generously loaned Jerry and Carole the money to make this purchase. At this time, Hughes RE dropped out of the Main Salmon. We hated leaving the beautiful Main Salmon, but we recognized that it would be a good business decision to narrow our focus to the Middle Fork, Snake, and Salmon Canyon.

Sweep Boat: Since 1978, Hughes River Expeditions used sweep controlled rafts on the Middle Fork in addition to oar rafts. In 1983, we designed and purchased a new 22 foot sweep boat, rigged it out beautifully, and took the next step of running the sweep ahead to camp, setting the tents, organizing the river kitchen before our guests arrived later in the afternoon. Our clients liked the additional service, and the guide crew loved running the new sweep boat. The guides named her “Imelda” for Imelda Marcos. Shoes!!! The 1985 crew thought Jerry carried too many changes of shoes in the sweep boat boxes.

1985: The big gear boat and setting camp ahead were working so well on the Middle Fork, that we purchased another 22 foot gear raft – this time controlled with oars – for the Snake River in Hells Canyon. Other key purchases were paddle rafts and inflatable kayaks. It was obvious that our guests wanted in on the action! It worked. Business boomed.

Jerry Sweepboat
Jerry running “Imelda” the Hughes River Expeditions Sweep Boat 1985.

Sir Edmund Hillary: Elwood Masoner helped Jerry and Carole by referring the Sears/American Recreation Products account to Hughes RE for the Snake River in June of 1986. Elwood & Donna accompanied the trip, and Elwood guided. The guest list included Sir Edmund Hillary. Over the years, “Ed” Hillary would make 4 more trips with Hughes.

Sir Edmund Hillary on the Snake River
LEFT TO RIGHT: Larry “Magoo” McGowan, Corey Junior, Sir Edmund Hillary, Corey Chase, Bob “Buzzard” Brunzell, Elwood Masoner, Peter Hillary; KNEELING: Jerry Hughes; FRONT: Tom “Wolfy” Wolf.
Sir Edmund Hillary
Happy Birthday party at Bob’s Bar on the Snake River, 1991. LEFT TO RIGHT: Elmer Eldridge, Sir Edmund Hillary, Dr. Jim Heslin, and Nate Marable.

1987: Purchased the first self-bailing rafts and kayaks. No longer did our guests have to spend the day bailing out the rafts. Self-bailing Riken Nez Perce rafts and Cherokee one man inflatable kayaks were revolutionary!

1989: Kim Fisk hired on as office manager. Kim ran the show around here for 20 years. Today, Kim lives in Boise and works for the State of Idaho. Kim still helps with Hughes River Expeditions projects through a virtual office.

Hughes family and friends
Family on the river 1998. Jerry back row 5th from left. Megan (sunglasses), Ashley (blue hat), Colin (blue shirt & shorts), Carole leaning. At Pittsburg Landing take-out Snake River.

1990’s: Busy years. Plenty of exhilarating trips with wonderful clients. Great fun! Expanded the number of trips we operated annually, and expanded the fleet of equipment and vehicles.

Megan, Ashley, and Colin: All three kids loved river running, and started going on trips when they were tiny. As they grew, they helped out, and eventually they became “swampers”. Megan, Ashley, and Colin were literally raised “on the river”. What great fun.

2004: After years of swamping and training, Ashley was old enough to work as a fully licensed guide. Ash guides each summer, and runs the best river kitchen in Idaho.

2005: Colin started rowing our Salmon River Canyon gear pontoon and doing the gear boatman’s job at age 14, along with buddy Mark Macedo. The boys did a terrific job that summer and in subsequent summers.

2009: Colin turned 18 and secured his guide license. Worked the summer on the rivers. During early September, Megan’s son, Tayshaun (4) made his first river run on the Salmon River Canyon. Three Hughes generations on the river!

2011: Ashley graduated with a General Studies Degree from University of Idaho.  In 2016 she follows up with a Master Degree in Counseling from U. Idaho.  Ashley works with the river company throughout the year on a part time basis.  It’s great when Ashley is on the crew.

2013: Colin graduated from University of Idaho with a degree in Conservation Social Sciences/Recreation, Resources & Tourism – Public Land Management. Begins full time work with Hughes River Expeditions.

2014: Colin working full time with the river company.  Focus on river trip operations, maintenance, guiding, internet marketing, online reservation system, and office procedures.

2015: Carole approaching semi-retirement.  However, she still does all the company finances, shuttles vehicles, and does all the company heavy duty sewing.

2016: HRE dropped out of the Snake/Hells Canyon.  Hated to leave Hells Canyon.  Sold our rafting business on the Snake to Mark Yates, Hells Canyon Adventures.  Sold the Cambridge warehouses, and built a new company headquarters in Lolo, Montana.

New Lolo, Montana Headquarters

2017: Colin is Operations Manager, and Vice President of HRE.  First year operating out of the new warehouse/office in Lolo, MT.  Meg is Office Manager, and Treasurer of the HRE.  Meg & Colin live in Lolo, MT and are running HRE.

Meg & Colin Hughes on the Upper end of the Selway River.

2018:  Added the spectacular Selway River to the HRE trip offerings. A Wild & Scenic and Wilderness River much like the Middle Fork of the Salmon.  Jerry guided on the Selway from 1967-73 for Don Hatch.  Adding Selway into the HRE has been a lifetime goal for Jerry and Carole. Worked with Marty Smith, Three Rivers Rafting to make this possible.  Several members of Marty’s expert Selway guide crew will work with HRE on the Selway, Salmon River Canyons, and Middle Fork.

2019: Jerry and Carole sell their Rush Creek home/office near Cambridge, ID.  Move into the Stanley Middle Fork Headquarters.  Many changes.  Moving forward positively. HRE’s 43rd year.  Outfitting on the Middle Fork of the Salmon, Salmon River Canyons, and the Selway.

2023: Meg & Colin Hughes welcome a healthy and cheerful baby boy Woodrow “Woody” Scott Hughes to the family.  HRE’s 47th Season.


Scroll to Top