River guide leads a busy life

We meet them from time to time, people who juggle like everyone else – consumed by children, careers and the commitments of daily life – but they have another dimension, less visible: an insatiable thirst for adventure in the midst of air.

Hannah Binninger is one such person. She has plenty to do with a husband, two homeschooled children, two thriving businesses, and around 20 horses and mules, but she always finds time for deep adventures in distant lands.

At the end of June, Binninger slipped off her moorings to spend 12 days rowing a heavy raft on a remote river in northern Alaska. Being this far north, the sun never set and the wind blew as if it came from another planet. By the time she was done, she and her party of nine other people were only a few miles from the Arctic Ocean.

“It wasn’t an easy trip,” she said of the 100 mile trip on the Hula Hula, “but there aren’t many places like that anymore, places where hardly anyone never will.

“For me, it’s about the country, the people and the challenges.

Finding the time wasn’t easy as Binninger and her husband, Jon, own Pullman’s busiest cafe, Roost. Their other business, Landgrove Coffee, also keeps them busy as they roast over 75 tonnes of beans each year. Their children, Flora, 16, and Clem, 13, are their top priority, but all of these horses and mules need attention too.

Still, Binninger couldn’t refuse when Moscow-area outfitter Lonnie Hutson, owner of Sundog Expeditions, asked him to row a gear boat on the Hula Hula. She guided for him on the Grande Ronde in northeastern Oregon and the lower Salmon River above Lewiston, so Hutson was well aware of her skills.

“It’s a tough trip,” Hutson said of the Hula Hula, “but he’s a good, solid boater. She wasn’t made to face more than she could handle.

“She’s knowledgeable, her outdoor skills are good, and she’s very good with people,” Hutson said. “What really stands out is that she is a happy worker. In Alaska, when the weather is tough and conditions are tough, I don’t need to manage the crew to keep them happy.

“Hannah was awesome,” added Tom Besser, a Washington State University professor who was a paying guest on the trip. “She’s super upbeat and positive, even when the wind is blowing 50 mph across the river.”

Given his talents, one would think Binninger grew up rowing rafts on wild rivers and fighting over pack mules through the forests of the west. In truth, she grew up in Vermont and spent her high school years in a Connecticut boarding school.

In 1995, she came to the West. The first stop was Boise, where she worked as a wildlife biologist for the Peregrine Fund. The job required a lot of driving early in the morning, and it required coffee, and his favorite coffee belonged to a knowledgeable young cowboy named Jon Binninger. They began to talk and a romance blossomed.

After Boise, the couple embarked on a semi-nomadic odyssey through northern Idaho, with stops near Sandpoint, McCall and Salmon. At that time, they owned a small roaster that they carried in a horse trailer. From those humble beginnings, Landgrove Coffee – named after its hometown of Vermont – was born in 1998.

In 2002, the Binningers and their coffee wholesalers finally settled down near Troy, Idaho.

Hannah Binninger started swinging a pair of oars in 2000, when she and Jon lived in Tendoy, south of Salmon. She gained some experience and quickly began organizing multi-day trips on the Salmon River between North Fork and Corn Creek. When she and Jon moved to Troy, the Grande Ronde and the Lower Salmon River became her native rivers.

Although she is good at it, rowboats are just one of the arrows in her quiver of outdoor skills. A marathon and ultramarathon runner, she has a solid foundation in fitness and, as a naturalist, she knows how to be careful in the woods. It was a combination that got her into archery hunting four years ago, and for the first time she shot down a six-pointed male moose with an arrow.

No discussion of the Binninger family is complete without mentioning its connection to horses and mules. Jon grew up running in the backcountry of Idaho and parents pass the tradition on to their children.

In September, the four of them got in the saddle and rode the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness for three weeks. They worked in a lodge in the backcountry, but most of their time was spent packing hunters, equipment and supplies back and forth from remote camps.

It was hard work in a spectacular country, but the hard work suits Binninger and his family perfectly.

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