Hell Hike and Raft: The Snake River

In the last Hell Hike and Raft episode I mentioned that after the brutal third day of hiking, the waters of the Snake River were more than comforting, they were rejuvenating. We embraced the new rhythm of the trip but it was an abrupt change from the challenge of the hike to floating down the river, basically in the lap of luxury.

Unlike the drama of the hiking portion of the adventure, the rafting was much more mellow, punctuated by the brief excitement of rapids and stops at historical sites.

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The Wild and Scenic Snake River…

Hell’s Canyon…

Dropping over 6,000 feet in six miles as we trekked out of the Seven Devils and into Hell’s Canyon, the surroundings were dramatically different. On the banks of the Snake River, we were nestled in the grassy, rolling slopes, a stark contrast to the jagged peaks of the Seven Devils.

Hell’s Canyon is the deepest gorge in the U.S. Yes, deeper than the Grand Canyon. It’s not a showy canyon, though. Formed from various phases of lava flows, uplift, and erosion, it’s beauty is more subtle than its cousin to the south. From its headwaters in Yellowstone National Park, the Snake meanders over 1,000 miles through six states before joining the Columbia River in Washington State. For kicks and giggles, check out this graph of Hell’s Canyon compared to the Grand Canyon, the Washington Monument, and the Empire State Building.

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The Hell Hike and Raft crew dwarfed by Hell’s Canyon.

Rafting the Snake River…

I haven’t done whitewater, well… in quite awhile. Maybe twenty years, I think. And being a southern girl, our whitewater is considerably different. Southern rivers have a lot to offer in terms of excitement and exhilarating rapids but I wasn’t prepared for the scale of the Snake. The volume of the river is simply so much larger than anything I’ve experienced in the southeast.

Our America’s Rafting Company flotilla for the rafting portion of the Hell Hike and Raft consisted of a giant gear boat, an oar boat, and a paddling raft. Attached to the gear boat was an inflatable kayak as well as a paddle board for the crew to mix up the river experience. Throughout our days on the river, the crew migrated between boats to get the full variety of whitewater experience. Given that I couldn’t hold a paddle because of my hand injury, I had to opt out of joining the paddling raft or hopping into the kayak so my time was split between the gear boat and oar boat. And it was still great.

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The paddle and oar boats heading into the first major rapid on the Hell Hike and Raft.

Directly out of camp on our first rafting day, we faced our biggest rapid. Adam, Scott, and I perched on an overlook to capture the crew as they tackled it before rejoining the gear boat for our own descent. It was fabulous to watch our crewmates faces as they worked their way through the whitewater. For us on the big, heavy gear boat, we didn’t get jostled quite as much.

A little later on, we got to watch as our guide, Rick, took the paddle boat through a rapid and “dump-trucked” the crew through a feisty rapid. There are very real dangers when that happens, but after the initial concern and all the crew was retrieved safely, everyone set to teasing Rick for his rafting prowess… or lack thereof in this instance.

Through rapids and slackwater, we all got to understand the Snake River. We spent our days floating along drinking beer with great people, our time occasionally punctuated by the thrill of rapids. In contrast to the demands of the hike, it was basically like being on the dirtbag version of a cruise. It was awesome.

As we made our way to the lower reaches, we began running into more and more jet boats and had to deal with jostling in their wake. Some were considerate and slowed appropriately, others not as much. Most of the wildlife decided to play shy while we were there but we were treated to watching a herd of mule deer drinking along the river just before we reached our takeout point.

hell hike and raft - val in real life
Parker of America’s Rafting Company guiding part of our motley crew in the paddle boat.
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Scott living large on the gear boat.
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Scout, the epic river dog, added much charm to our journey.
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America’s Rafting Company’s Becky takes a few of the Hell Hike and Raft crew through a rapid in the oar boat.
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Tara and Jes working the inflatable kayak.
hell hike and raft - val in real life
Four stooges drinking beer in the river during a break.
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Becky getting her zen groove on with the paddle board.

History…

The Hell’s Canyon wilderness area straddles the Oregon/Idaho border and is rich in history as we soon found out. In addition to the camaraderie built around the rafting, our trip featured stops at a few of the multitude of historical camps along the river. And this is where my crewmates got to see me turn into a history dork rather than a geology dork.

We got to stop at a few along the way and learn about the people who have been the stewards of this canyon over the last century or so. The most notable of the camps, Kirkwood Ranch, provided the biggest insight since it is maintained as a historic site with year-round volunteers and a small museum. The volunteers step back in time to a life without an outside connection other than visitors like us, much like the families who lived here beginning in the 1930s. The museum here is a wonderful snapshot of life was like during that time. If you find yourself in Hell’s Canyon, do yourself a favor and take the time to soak in the history at Kirkwood.

hell hike and raft - val in real life
The Sterling Cabin now serves as a mini museum at the Kirkwood Ranch.
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One of the historic cabins along the river. Vintage newspapers line the walls, a snapshot of a very different time.
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Relics of the past put a personal spin of life on the Snake.
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The geology dork in me got very excited about seeing core samples. And very disheartened by realizing how close the Snake came to being dammed.
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Artifacts at Kirkwood Ranch.
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A feisty visitor at the Kirkwood Ranch.

Roundup…

And after six days in the backcountry of Idaho, our Hell Hike and Raft time came to a gentle close as we floated to the landing to pull the boats out of the water and head back to town. There’s more to come, though. I’ve barely scratched the surface of reviews and camp life. Stay tuned.

hell hike and raft - val in real life
Parker guiding the gear boat onto the trailer at the take-out.
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Scott giving Tara a congratulatory post-trip “tattoo” while we awaited our ride back to town.
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The dirty, stinky Hell Hike and Raft crew on the way back to New Meadows.
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Back in New Meadows, we had our last PBRs and paid tribute to our much-missed crew members who couldn’t make the trip.

In keeping with the other videos of the Hell Hike and Raft trip, here’s a slideshow of the rafting portion of the trip. Enjoy!

And don’t forget all of my images from the Hell Hike and Raft can be found on Flickr.

And now for your moment of green…

hell hike and raft - val in real life
Our last view of the Snake before our epic adventure came to and end.

Hell Hike and Raft

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