A Guide Unlike Any Other

By Brian Chaffin

Seda Witten passed away at her home in Emmett, Idaho; her partner and best friend, Dean Snell, by her side. Seda was a guide through-and-through. She floated and fished the waters of Idaho, Oregon, South America, the Middle East, and Asia since her early twenties, always with a contagious positive outlook and a smile that could melt the most hardened of crusty old river guides.

Many of you had the opportunity to work with Seda and get to know her well. I was lucky enough to work on the same MF launch date with her during my formative years of guiding and then worked with her side-by-side for many years of fall fishing trips. I have never been around someone with such a genuine love of life. Everyday was a joyous privilege for Seda and she showed it through the care she put into her work and the people around her. She took great care of her fellow guides; she could always see when someone needed a kind word or a little support. Her voice and her words had healing power. I’ll never forget a moment in my first year of guiding… the river was very low in August, and I was stuck beyond belief on a shoal far from shore. Seda rowed up and eddied out behind me. I had been pushing and pulling for an hour and I was frustrated and angry. Without even talking to me, Seda hopped from rock to rock over to where I was and gave me a huge hug and embrace saying, “well, you’re in the shit now, aren’t you!” All my frustrations vanished and we laughed and joked and hung out until more help arrived. It was a magical moment for me–one that changed my approach to guiding early on, a moment that I am forever grateful to have had with Seda. She had such a divine way of balancing an unmatched professionalism with not taking it all too seriously.

Seda will be deeply missed. But I encourage all of us to keep a little bit of Seda alive in what we do. To me, her approach to life and guiding is why we care about the guiding community as passionately as we do. Seda’s wit, humor, passion, talent, humility, and inclusive motherly approach to those around her is part of the energy that binds us together. I am so grateful that before she passed, she was able to share a part of her story with us. She left us with a gift that will live on and hopefully serve as a North Star as we continue to pursue our mission to support guides so that they can support each other.

Stories of Seda

By Skip Volpert

When you worked with Seda, there were phrases and sayings you would hear from her that always put a big smile on your face. Here are a few of my favorites:

It was a muddy September river trip, and the fishing was slow. Around noon, we pulled over and began setting up lunch. Seda’s boat was nowhere in sight, still out fishing. As the guides set up lunch, we discussed the morning challenges in anticipation of a slow day ahead. When Seda finally arrived at the lunch spot, her guests were beaming with joy. Stepping off her boat, she approached us and proudly declared, “boys, only big fish!” It was quite possible that her guests had caught only a few fish, or perhaps they really did catch only big fish. Either way, Seda showed us that no matter how the day unfolded, or how muddy the river was, you could still have a great time.

After the first day of a trip, word would often spread that Seda’s boat was THE boat to fish from. Not that the other guides lacked in skill, but Seda had an energy and positivity that guests gravitated toward. On this particular trip, multiple guests asked to be placed in Seda’s boat the following day. I approached Seda to discuss the situation and jokingly expressed my wish that we had more of her. She simply responded, “There’s only one Seda.”

On July 24th, 2006, a powerful rainstorm caused a massive blowout at Lake Creek, resulting in a log jam that blocked passage for hundreds of boaters. Seda was working for Hughes River Expeditions, and I, at 16, was swamping for IRJ. Both companies decided to have the guests and crew hike around the log jam and fly to the Flying B to continue the trip. Seda and I stayed back with the boats, instructed to wait for a new crew to fly in and raft the boats down once the log jam became passable.

That evening, the Forest Service cleared the log jam with explosives, making it navigable but still cluttered with many trees. As we saw a line open through Lake Creek and Pistol Creek Rapids, Seda suggested helping coordinate getting the boats downstream to the next crew; we should run them down through the log jam. However, before we did so, she wanted me to get permission from my Mom. So, the next morning, Seda pulled out the satellite phone, and I called my Mom. The first question my Mom asked was whether there were any trees in the river. I replied sarcastically, “Yes, it was a loggg jam.” She then asked to speak with Seda. After the phone was handed over, Seda assured my Mom that I would be safe and she would lead me down. We spent the rest of the day running one raft at a time through the log jam, each time pulling over at Pistol Creek Camp, then hiking back up to do it all over again.

7:18 you can view Seda.

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  1. We were fortunate to travel with Seda on eight great adventures. In grieving her passing, we revisited our pictures from those wonderful trips. They so effectively captured Seda’s joy in sharing her life and travels with others. We first met Seda in summer 2002 when we joined friends for a rafting trip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, with Hughes River Expeditions. Seda and I quickly bonded, as the only silver-haired women on the trip, even before the initial launch. Staying in touch with Seda, we went to eastern Turkey in 2006 with Seda Expeditions during her “off” season from the Idaho rivers. Our most special trip was traveling with Seda and her father Necmi in 2010, a year when her joy for living every moment of life was so evident.. The four of us had wonderful experiences exploring around the entire perimeter of Turkey, from Necmi’s home village to the Kurdish areas, and the entire southern border, along with spending wonderful time with Seda’s family in Istanbul. In 2012, we traveled in Peru with David Chavez (a very special person to us) and Seda, exploring historical and cultural sites off the usual “tourist” routes. In 2013, Seda took a small group to Nepal and Tibet….again, an unparalleled trip off the beaten path and a chance to interact with Tibetan and Nepalese friends of Seda.

    When Seda began her work with Dario and Diego, she asked the two of us to join her in explorations of Patagonia after the last fishing trip of the season. We enjoyed celebrating her 50th birthday on that trip, as well as getting to know the two guys. While on this trip, Seda got a request from Hamish McMaster of “Water By Nature” (another colleague from her early days on rivers in Nepal & India) to come to Morocco as a last minute replacement on his team. We jumped at the opportunity to join that trip too. (yes! river rafting in the Atlas Mountains!). We took a second Middle Fork trip in summer 2014, when we finally met Dean (the last time we traveled with Seda). We stayed in touch, and Seda and I continued our friendship via phone and email over the subsequent years. We both anticipated the time when she and Dean could come to our West Virginia home and raft the Neu and Gauley Rivers. Alas, it was not to be– in one of our last calls near the end of 2023, Seda told me to be sure that John and I continued to take joy in traveling around the world. I shall always carry a piece of her in my heart wherever we go.

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