Pete Lefebvre will admit he didn’t exactly choose guiding as his career, but after 15 years with OARS, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s my dream job, so I just keep sticking with it,” he says.
Pete, who’s been with the company since 2005, spent a number of years guiding in Wyoming and Vernal, Utah before meeting his wife Jamie (a fellow OARS guide at the time), and relocating to Moab in 2012.
“I landed in Moab basically chasing my wife around,” he jokes.
The two of them first met on an 8-day Wilderness First Responder course in Cataract Canyon. But that wasn’t exactly the first time he found love in Cataract Canyon.
“I did my first overnight river trip in college,” he recalls. “It was a 3-week course and we did Desolation Canyon all the way down to Cataract Canyon.”
“It was the most amazing trip I’d ever taken in my life—my first time whitewater rafting, rowing a boat and doing paddle boats,” he says. “The class also focused on geology and history, basically everything we talk about when rafting, and I was blown away. Yeah, that was my first love right there.”
After those two pivotal Cataract Canyon rafting trips, it’s no wonder that the New Hampshire-native now calls Moab and the Colorado River home. We recently caught up with Pete to talk about what he enjoys most about guide life, some new projects he’s working on to keep his job interesting, and how everyone can benefit from going on river trips.
Meet Pete Lefebvre, Our Star-Loving, Guitar-Playing Moab Guide
What keeps bringing you back to guiding each season?
I find over the winter and into the spring I really start looking forward to that time on the river, and I really miss it. That’s where my happiness lies and it’s great that I can be able to do something that I love and call it a job at the same time. And I feel like OARS is my family.
Living off of a boat every summer isn’t for everyone. How have you managed to keep enjoying it after all these years?
I usually end up working right around 100 days, which may sound like a lot to some, but not many to others. I try to find a happy ground where I’m working enough to pay the bills, and at the same time, not getting burnt out. That’s been a main focus of mine. I like it, so I want to keep doing it. Also working a lot of different places and running different boats seems to pique my curiosity and keep me happy.
What’s your favorite stretch of river to guide on?
A lot of times it comes down to what river I haven’t done in a while. Right now, I’m really excited to do a Yampa trip. But if I had to pick one place, Cataract Canyon has always been a really exciting place to work. That’s where I have had my most trips, I know it best and I just feel at home when I’m guiding there.
You’ve been working on a unique project in Cataract Canyon called Returning Rapids. Tell us about that.
I know this guy, Mike DeHoff, who’s a longtime river runner and runs Eddyline Welding in Moab. He’s a Cataract Canyon geek too. [The canyon] has a lot of variables. There are these high flows and low flows and at the end of the river trip you end up in Lake Powell. As Powell has been low, the river has started to carve away at some of that mud that’s down there and expose rapids that used to be there, side canyons are starting to re-emerge and the river is purging the sediment that has been deposited there.
So, it started with sharing some pictures, and then we got more and more into finding historic pictures and trying to match what it looks like present day with historic pictures to show how different it is. It started off as a treasure hunt and over time, especially because of Mike, it’s really been pushed to a higher level.
You’re going to be heading up OARS’ Stars & Guitars and archeoastronomy rafting trips. Tell me about your interest in astronomy and how that started?
Well, the stars, that’s like your TV at night when you’re a guide. Over the years, I spent a lot of time guiding with Lars [Haarr] and got to do a number of his “Stars with Lars” trips. So I was gaining quite a bit of knowledge on the night sky, and some of the mythology. Eventually, I became interested in my own right and started learning things. Now Lars is down managing Grand Canyon so they’re looking for somebody to fill his shoes, which is going to be a hard job.
Why are Utah’s river canyons so ideal for stargazing and learning about the cosmos?
The biggest thing is just the fact that it’s such a dark sky out there. As long as the clouds aren’t rolling through, you get a really great opportunity on the San Juan or in Cataract to see the stars without any pollution. They’re just so far away from civilization.
How are you going to weave guitars into these trips?
First of all, it rhymes with stars, and if we’re not getting the stars, we can at least play guitars! There’s another guide named Dave Garcia who plays guitar and works full-time here in Moab. We have done some trips and really enjoy playing together. So the idea is that we will both be on the trip and able to play guitar and also talk about stars. I mean, I think it sounds like a winning combination for a good trip.
How long have you been playing the guitar?
I have been playing the guitar for 25 years. My uncle gave me a guitar when I was in 8th grade. Been playing ever since. I wish I practiced more at home. Mostly, it just turns into playing on the river for everybody.
You’re also going to be leading a new Stillwater Hiker trip next season. Why is this such a unique opportunity for folks who love hiking?
The Stillwater Hiker trip was something that I wanted to do for a while. The majority of Cataract Canyon trips, especially commercial, launch from Potash and go down the Colorado River side, down Meander [Canyon]. So we don’t get to do Stillwater very often and there’s a lot of really good side canyons and great hiking opportunities on that stretch. One of my favorites is a slot canyon at Anderson Bottom that you can turn into a bit of a loop hike. That’s a really neat area.
Why do you think people should go on trips like these?
I think number one is to get away from the emails, phone calls, and the constant bombardment of information/news that we’re getting these days. Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t get on your phone and be distracted. You’re just immersed in beautiful places. You have everything you need. You have food, entertainment, camaraderie–a nice little tribe of people that you’re going down the river with. It’s a really healthy thing for people to be able to unplug, reset and take a journey.
How do your reset in the off season?
I like to go biking and skiing. I like doing some crafts, whether it’s working with wood or working in the welding shop. A few winters ago, I rebuilt a dory. It’s a fiberglass hull and wooden decking boat that I got from some guides who worked for OARS. They had kids, and it turned into something that just sat in the garage. I finished working on it, and a few weeks later, right after I fixed it, my wife and I took it on a Grand Canyon trip with some friends.
Photos: Cataract Canyon rafting trip through Canyonlands National Park in Utah – Josh Miller