Last time around, I talked about the beginning of the Hell Hike and Raft, what it took to prepare, and some of the logistics involved. Now we get to the good stuff, the actual adventure.
The funny part about this trip for me was that prior to June of this year, I’d never set foot in the state of Idaho. In my 42 years, I’d never managed to get there and here I was returning for the second time in three months, having been there in June on the Pacific Northwest Tour. Not that I’ve gotten around to writing that up yet, mind you, but stay tuned. 😛
Just so you know what we’re dealing with, the hiking portion of the Hell Hike and Raft took place in the Seven Devils, a series of Rocky Mountain peaks within the Hells Canyon Wilderness on the western edge of Idaho. This is a rugged range spanning elevations from 1,000 feet at the Snake River to 9,393 at the He Devil summit and is nestled between the Snake, Salmon, and Little Salmon Rivers.
I set out to Idaho from Georgia via a couple of flights, not my typical or favorite mode of transportation, and by the time I landed in Boise it was late afternoon. With a big drive north up to New Meadows remaining ahead of us, we blasted out of the Boise airport almost as soon as I got off the plane. Most of the rest of the crew had arrived earlier in the day but I was a straggler. With Becky of America’s Rafting Company playing chauffeur, we arrived at our motel just before dark. Even though the entire crew was travel-weary, we still had to sift through sponsor products and frantically repack before our early morning departure.
Sadly, that’s where things got a bit wonky for me on my pack weight. I already had major concerns about it as well as great discomfort about my unfamiliarity with the gear but the time constraints left me with not a lot of options other than throwing stuff in my pack, weight be damned.
Fortunately my crew mates had fair warning that I’m not a morning person. Our early morning wake up in New Meadows did not bode well and, indeed, only Russ had the moxie to dare knock on the door of the room I was sharing with Annie and Jes. He’s a bright man, though, and quickly mentioned that bacon and coffee were readily available at the coffee shop which landed him a hug rather than an obscene gesture.
With some effort, I got myself together and oozed into the van for the ride to the trail head. Everyone got to witness what it takes for me to get prepped for this kind of undertaking… taping the toe, containing the knees with supports, clipping the camera gear into place, etc. And after we commandeered a poor soul to take group shots for us, we set out.
Goat Pass and Windy Saddle…
Of course, you know how it goes at the beginning of an adventure, you’re full of energy and excited about what lies ahead. And then we started to understand the warnings about the difficulty of Goat Pass. Up, up, up in the dry Idaho air and at an elevation far above my HQ of Atlanta. I may have slung a few f-bombs and middle fingers at our guides, Marshall and Rick, young bucks who easily bounded up and down the trails in their large packs while I labored under my 40-pound one.
Marshall kept encouraging us on, even using the time-honored parental tactic of only “5 more minutes” left to go. To which I looked at him with raised eyebrows and called bullshit. Those of us with in the crew who have kids basically said “Dude, really? You think we don’t know that game?” Please, darlin’. Not our first rodeo.
So we marched onward over Goat Pass. And we were rewarded with a view of Mirror Lake that was both numbingly beautiful and exhilarating. Then it was time to go back down. Over loose, steep, often sketchy terrain that had our sense of self-preservation on high alert.
On this section, Scott and Annie learned about what has been affectionately deemed “Valgasms” by previous adventure-mates. This is when I go uber-nerd about something and can barely speak for the beauty and intrigue of it. A rock. A view. A plant. A bug. It can be any number of things that will stop me in my tracks to ponder and be amazed.
Miraculously, even amidst countless Valgasms, we made it to lunch at Sheep Lake in decent time. The approach was something out of a fairy tale. Lush green grass blanketed the banks of the lake. Soft, squishy mud yielded to a boulder field at the far end. We basked in the sun through lunch, still high on anticipation of what lay ahead.
Before we set back out on the trail, I decided to give my new Potable Aqua PURE device a real-life test. Originally I thought I was packing too much water but by the time we reached the lake, I had already downed two liters and realized I should get some more going on the treatment process. So I gave the PURE a go with my fellow PA ambassador Scott, grabbing some shots for me. But more on that later.
We toddled off after lunch, bellies full and with much discussion about attempting to summit He Devil, which was to be a side-trip. I knew before heading to Idaho that I would not be attempting the climb. It was far too rigorous for my physical state at the time, I knew my knees couldn’t hack it AND still hike hard for another two days, and the scrambling involved was too risky for my vulnerable and sensitive hand injury.
At the split, Rick took all the women except me (Dag nab it!), as well as Russ and Shannon to summit He Devil. Shannon was indecisive about it initially. When he had almost landed on not attempting it, we got a taste of what the trip would be with Paulina on board when she quipped… “You’re not as epic as I thought you were.” As you can imagine, that was the tip of the Paulina iceberg and she made the trip very entertaining.
As for the non-He Devil crew… Scott, Adam, and Jeff were left to keep me company as Marshall led us to our camp at Shelf Lake. Shannon caught up with us part of the way into the hike, having reconsidered the He Devil attempt. And so we trundled our way along the rugged trails towards Shelf Lake, starting to grasp the landscape and the joy of being in the Seven Devils.
We approached Shelf Lake not entirely certain which camp we’d be in for the night. If it was occupied, we’d have to find another. But as we approached, we saw the America’s Rafting Company “sign” for camp and we descended to the lake shore to get our first glimpse of our home for the night. It was also our first glimpse of John the horse dude, our team of three trusty steeds that hauled in our tents and food, as well as John’s epic adventure-dog, Tubs.
We got to setting up our tents, somewhat self-satisfied that we got first dibs at tent spots over the He Devil crew. But it wasn’t long before they arrived at camp, unsuccessful in the ascent. They decided part of the way up that they didn’t have to complete it and get back to camp in time so they rerouted early.
Their disappointment was easily relieved by the fact that we were having fajitas for dinner… and we didn’t even have to cook them ourselves because America’s Rafting Company is just all kinds of awesome. Having never been on a supported trip before, I didn’t know what to expect of meals but boy-oh-boy, did we feast on this trip. As you can tell, our first dinner in the Seven Devils was nothing short of amazing. And it was just the beginning of an adventure full of great food and great company.
And with that, we closed out our first day in the Seven Devils and the Hell Hike and Raft adventure. With one amazing day behind us, it was hard to believe we still had five more blissful days to go. More to come. Stay tuned…