Meet Longtime OARS Guide & Storyteller Russell Schubert
At age 13, Russell Schubert’s dad brought him along on a private Gates of Lodore trip with family friends and it left a lasting impression. “That’s probably the single event that led me to be where I am,” shared Russell when asked about his first rafting trip.
For the next five summers, until he was 17, it became an annual summer vacation tradition for Russell and his dad to raft the Green River through Dinosaur National Monument or Desolation Canyon. But it wasn’t until after his first year of college and he returned home to work a carpentry job for the summer that he realized he wanted to do something radically different. That fall he reached out to longtime Vernal, Utah outfitter, Don Hatch River Expeditions (which would soon become part of OARS), and by summertime he was officially a river guide.
Thirteen seasons later, Russell is exactly where he belongs, guiding trips for OARS in Utah and Grand Canyon. Below, he shares about his early days as a guide, the magic of Dinosaur National Monument and why people should go on multi-day river trips.
What was your first season as a river guide like?
My first season, 2007, was with Don Hatch River Expeditions in Vernal. I was 19 years old. I had done a handful of multi-day trips rowing a boat, but that was it. I hadn’t gone to guide school. I did one ride-along on a daily section. Then, boom, the very next day I had guests in my boat, guiding trips down Split Mountain. I did one baggage trip down Lodore, one down the Yampa, and boom, next trip, guests in my boat.
That was the last year that Meg Hatch was running that operation. From what I understand, she had already decided to sell the company to George [Wendt], but OARS had not taken over operations yet. So how I came to be at OARS, is just purely a byproduct of me being there that first season.
The spring of 2008 they moved in, and I show up in June and they’re like, “Oh, you worked here last year? Great. There’s a trip going out tomorrow. You’re on it.” And 2008 was a very high-water year. So I leave at the end of the 2007 having seen the Split Mountain daily at maybe 1,000 cfs. Now the daily’s flowing over 20,000 cfs, and I’m like, “Holy crap!” All the folks that are fresh out of guide school are talking about pries, draws, J-strokes, and all this stuff. I’m like, “I don’t even know what these guys are talking about.” I just do my thing. So throughout all the years I kind of half-joke that, “Oh, I’ve just been making this up for years.” I am the walking example of learning by experience.
You were honored as one of OARS’ top guides last season. What makes a good guide great?
A past co-worker and friend told me years ago, “Russell, if you can remember three things that are going to help you throughout your life, it’s this: Show up, pay attention, and don’t lose your sense of humor.” I kind of took that to heart, and I think those are a couple of simple things that can go a long way.
You’ve spent most of your career guiding on the Green and Yampa rivers through Dinosaur National Monument. What makes Dino such a special place?
The fact that it’s not a national park makes it seem a little bit more off the beaten path. You have absolutely incredible scenery, solitude, sandy beaches, the night sky, the full spectrum of whitewater. I think people show up to Dinosaur and don’t really know that much about the monument and they’re like, “This place is incredible.” It’s so cool to get these reminders from people who haven’t been there before.
Of all the rivers you’ve guided on, is there a particular trip that has your heart?
I mean, if I had to pick, it would be the Yampa because I don’t get to do it that much. The free-flowing nature makes it so there are times towards the end of June or July that we can’t run it because it’s getting too low. It has a much shorter season. It can either be a mellow Class II float or a Class IV, high-volume whitewater experience. We take seven-year-old kids in the middle of summer when it’s mellow. And then, certain years – 2008, 2011, this year, perhaps – when things go off, all of a sudden it’s very much the real deal. The conditions are always changing. It’s a super unique trip.
Why do you think people should go on multi-day river trips?
There are not that many opportunities for everyday folks to remove themselves from the increasingly distracting world we’re in. Nowadays, especially, there are not that many activities where we can get away from technology – cell phones, the internet, etc. And I think it’s so important to be able to get out for days on end, and kind of have a reality check of what our priorities are. Where else do you get that?
You’re in the middle of Dinosaur, or you’re in the middle of Canyonlands. It’s so dark the Milky Way starts to appear three-dimensional. It’s so incredibly quiet in places. And everybody’s just more present. I think everybody becomes a better person, somehow, because of it.
What’s been one of the highlights of your guiding career?
A handful of years ago, my dad was an assistant of mine on a Grand Canyon river trip. He turned 60, and a couple of weeks later I got him out there for this trip. He hiked into Phantom Ranch by himself and met up with us for the lower. But one of the biggest rapids of the trip is, literally, right after you leave Phantom Ranch. He gets on the boat with me, and then 10 minutes later we’re right at the edge of Horn Creek. It’s an experienced crew, so we didn’t scout. It’s just an impressive, intimidating entrance into this waterfall of a rapid, and he’s just there, at the front of the boat, like, “Holy…” That was, by far, the biggest whitewater he had seen. It was just an incredible trip.
And then having my mom doing all these trips over the years. She’s a total OARS groupie, big time. I have such full support from my family, for what I’m doing, so it’s cool to share these experiences and show them my world. I don’t take that for granted, because I know other friends and co-workers whose parents are like, “When are you going to get a real job.” And I’m like, “That’s very uncool, man, because this is as real as it gets…some of the time.”