An adventurer at heart, traveling the world and going places seldom seen is what drives me. Whether I’m sitting in the seat of a kayak, in a harness on a big wall, or off on some stretch of deserted beach surfing, my love of the outdoors in only surpassed by the love I have for my 2 boys. Most days you can find me in an eddy paddling a beautiful stretch of river with my mates. Capturing those moments with my camera makes it come alive later. I’m a kayak athlete and lover of the outdoors. I feel super lucky and priveledge to live this life.
I was lucky enough to grow up rafting the spectacular desert canyons of southern Utah, and eventually followed the call of the river (and a bachelor’s degree in environmental science) to the Pacific Northwest. Since then, I’ve been traveling, adventuring, and teaching kayaking around the western U.S. (and the world, when I can swing it!) I found First Descents back in 2011 as a safety kayaker in Glacier, Montana, and can’t believe I’m lucky enough to work as part of the Lead Staff team now! I can’t imagine a more perfect setting for finding healing and community than the river, rock, or ocean.
I’m also lucky enough to call the playground that is White Salmon, Washington my home, and spend most of my time there playing outside, lending a hand with environmental education in local schools, and figuring out how I can spend more time playing outside.
I discovered the river when I was about 13 all thanks to my adventurous Mama and her great love of water. In the beginning, we thought she was nuts! Shortly thereafter though…the whole family was racing off to the southeast and up to Canada from our home in southwest Michigan as frequently as possible. Kayaking stole my heart immediately and the roots of the sport, for me, are deeply enrobed in the essence of family and community. I have been lucky to paddle many rivers in distant places and this beautiful sport never fails to offer familiarity in the most unfamiliar of places. I guess it’s no surprise that when I found FD in 2013…I felt immediately at home on and off the water. I have been given many gifts from the various currents I have been able to explore and there is no greater beauty than to get to share that. I now reside in Missoula, MT with my best buddy Lager (big yellow dog)!
A native from the panhandle of Northern Idaho, Paco grew up learning to love the beauty and natural healing powers that nature provides for those who embrace it. After Paco’s first whitewater rafting trip down the Lochsa River and graduating with a degree in Outdoor Leadership and Recreation she knew instantly that her passions for the outdoors had met her career. Since then she has been checking off rivers around the country (and world, when she’s lucky). Currently living in Colorful Colorado, adventuring, skiing and mt. biking all over the west is where Paco will most likely be found enjoying nature. And during the summer she is working, or more, playing in the Southwest deserts of Utah with The Colorado Outward Bound School as a Course Director and Lead Instructor. Paco found her connection with First Descents in 2015 and immediately knew it aligned with her calling to teach and share the great outdoors with others, she was hooked for life!
Joanna Belmont Smith grew up in the beautiful Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts, never too far from the beaches of Cape Cod! A sports lover since elementary school, Jo recognizes the importance of activity in every day life. There is no sport that she hasn’t or wouldn’t try, including kayaking, surfing and climbing, the FD triad. Jo graduated from Springfield College with a Bachelors of Science in Movement and Sports studies, and later earned a Masters of Education in Educational Leadership from Simmons College. She is a PE and Health teacher by day, and an FD supporter in her spare time. She has held such positions as Camp Mom, Photog, and now as Lead Staff with FD and looks forward to many more calls to duty.
Born and raised in small town New England, Ashlee (aka Rainier), the youngest of three siblings, spent most of her childhood bouncing between the soccer field, basketball court, and ice rink. Cancer first entered her life as a freshman in high school, challenging her personal dreams and ambitions and introducing her to the world of medicine. Following Ashlee’s graduation from nursing school, an immense desire for adventure motivated her to drive 3300 miles cross country to start a career in Seattle as a pediatric Hematology/Oncology and Stem Cell Transplant nurse. The beautiful state of Washington – complete with rivers, lakes, mountains, volcanoes and the like – enabled Ashlee to develop a deep appreciation for the great outdoors.
After learning of FIRST DESCENTS by way of a magazine article, Ashlee volunteered as medical staff for her first program in 2011. It took just one week climbing in the Rockies with FIRST DESCENTS to fall head over heels in love with all that is FD. Currently a full time pediatric nurse in Chicago, she will be returning as both Lead Staff and medical volunteer. Forever an outdoor enthusiast and camp nurse at heart, Ashlee spends her free time rock climbing, traveling, laughing, volunteering, and preparing for life’s next great adventure 🙂
Jenna (aka Lambchop) began working as a chef for First Descents in 2012 and came on board as the chef manager to develop the FD nutrition program in 2015.
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in NY, Jenna spent the early part of her career working in fine dining. She has also worked in school nutrition reform and now specializes in health supportive cooking after completing her certification in plant-based nutrition from Cornell. She teaches cooking skills to individuals wanting to use nutrition to support their healing from serious health conditions. Jenna is also a registered yoga teacher, loves sharing her passion for the healing power of good food and is super grateful for the opportunity to do this with amazing people in beautiful outdoor settings.
I currently live in the great state of Montana, where the abundance of outdoor pursuits keeps me busy and out of trouble. I love kayaking, plain and simple. I live through the idea that if you’re doing what you love all the time, you’re happy. I don’t go to work everyday wishing I was somewhere else. I get up and go to work everyday and I am stoked. And that does not suck! I absolutely love First Descents and find sharing my passion for kayaking the greatest reward I could ever receive.
Upon first hearing about First Descents, I knew that it was something I needed to be a part of. I wrote the staff a letter and the rest was history. After spending a few days with the group, I was fully enamored with the organization and am so excited to be a part of this amazing family. When I am not out galavanting with the crazies of FD, I am living the mountain babe lifestyle based out of Bozeman, MT and pursuing a peak a week and making every day another best day.
Adriene has been known in the profession whitewater community for ten years now. She grew up in Southwest Michigan but always found a calling to the southern Appalachian mountains from when she was a young child. She moved south when she was finally legal to leave the nest of her parents and started pursuing her real life dreams, being a professional kayaker and a Paramedic. In the last 10 years, Adriene has kayaked in over 20 different countries and has been crowned victorious many times. Her high energy on and off the water helps her entertain people to all levels and she is more than stoked to be sharing that energy with everyone at First Descents.
I started volunteering for First Descents in 2009 after taking a paddling trip to SE Asia with Brad. I was inspired by what he was doing and, after almost 20 years of kayaking I wanted to “give back.” After my first camp, I realized that not only was I able to give back, but I got so much more in return. I was truly inspired by the courage and determination of the participants and all the love and commitment of the staff. I was hooked and, after being a volunteer counselor, photographer and a kayak guide, I’m now super stoked to be part of the FD Lead staff for 2015. I feel really lucky to be involved with FD and I am literally working with some of my heroes! I grew up in South Carolina but have now lived in Montana for 17 years. I love to kayak, surf, paddleboard, snowboard, skateboard, bike, travel and a good adventure off the beaten path. Now climbing, on the other hand, scares me a bit. So when you’re feeling gripped out there, you won’t be alone :o)
Born the second son of two school teachers in what was once a small town of Bothell WA. Ben started guiding in high school and has had a seasonal life ever since. He moved to Bellingham WA to get a degree in outdoor recreation at Western Washington University and has made recreation into a lifestyle. Now has a small place in Glacier WA, a town without cell phones, and skis 150 days a year as a professional ski patroller at Mt Baker Ski Area. He spends his time off in the winter snowmobiling and ski touring in the surrounding backcountry. In the summer when not working for First Descents, Ben is a kayak guide for a family run guiding company, Anacortes Kayak Tours, in the San Juan Islands. In the bit of summertime not working , Ben spends the rest his time mountain biking, paddling whitewater and sleeping in the pacific northwest. Do what you love for work and you’ll never work a day in your life!
I originally never grew up in New England, a place that will always be dear to me; the Hermit Thrush is my favorite soundtrack. Luckily, I discovered this little bird is also out west, so I can bounce back and forth and never lose my tunes. Google it and listen for it. The YouTube by Lang Elliot is great.
People think I like kayaking, skiing, surfing, and climbing. I actually prefer rivers, snow, oceans, and mountains; the games just provide the necessary tools and skills to immerse. People think I’ve been a camp counselor, climbing guide, Outward Bound instructor, photographer, river guide, catski guide…I just like being outside with people.