It was my second week back at Wet Planet when whispers of a river trip began to spread amongst my friends and coworkers. The plan was to spend three days and two nights on the Snake River in the deepest canyon of the United States. Hells Canyon! This would be my first Wet Planet staff trip, an adventure I had only heard about in the past and hoped to become a part of.
On Tuesday, April 29th, fifteen of us banded together to gather gear and groceries, and to execute the precise logistics of a multi-day river trip. With four rafts, four kayaks, two SUPs, and fifteen stoked river folks, we began the drive to Hells Canyon.
Hells Canyon plunges more than a mile deep on Oregon’s west rim, reaching depths over 8,000 feet below the Seven Devils Mountains – making it deeper than even the remarkable Grand Canyon. Below the rim it averages at 5,500 feet over a distance of 75 miles. This natural phenomenon was protected in 1975 when Hells Canyon National Recreation Area was formed to prevent further construction of dams, in response to the dam constructed in the 1960s. Unfortunately, the construction of this dam has restricted salmon and steelhead from continuing their journey upstream and has eliminated the Chinook runs that formerly took place in the fall. The tributary streams now void of these fish include the Boise, Payette, Malheur and Owyhee. In addition to a political history, Hells Canyon has been home to civilizations for thousands of years. The Nez Perce Native American tribes inhabited this land before settlement took place in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Petroglyphs and pictographs indicate human inhabitants in the canyon up to 15,000 years ago. With this knowledge of the canyon, it is undoubtedly an incredible and unique place.
For those who have never journeyed on an overnight river trip, there are many different aspects coming together to create this awesome experience. For our group, Hells Canyon was to be three days and two nights without contact with the outside world. This means that work can truly be left at home, family and friends will be out of contact, and the people you are with combined with the place that you are in become the source of all entertainment. Furthermore, meals are extravagant. If any reader out there has been on a backpacking trip, you might too believe that food instantly becomes more delicious when you are in the remote wilderness. Wet Planet knows how to do food right – whether it is a raft and BBQ trip, cafe meals, or overnight river trips. I can safely say that we all looked forward to each meal on this trip, as we knew meals would be an intricately prepared feast!
On Wednesday morning, we put it into high gear to get ourselves out on the Snake River! As we reached the put in, we worked to unload the cars, pump rafts, rig the boats and strap down the entirety of the gear (kitchen tables, stoves, campfire chairs, massive coolers, personal gear bags, and more), and prepare the day’s lunch to eat on the river. Kicking off the trip with two class IV rapids – Wild Sheep and Granite – and ten river miles ahead of us – we knew it would be an exciting day.
A short hour later, after hard work and perspiration, we were loaded up and ready to go. As we launched from the put in, surrounded by canyon walls and at last on the water, we were at rest after nearly twenty-four hours of preparation. Enveloped by beautiful blue water and big crashing waves in this desert canyon, we began our float with friends new and old. Big John’s raft led the way, followed by my raft guided by the one and only Jared. Kayakers played in the surf waves and paddling alongside of us, and the two gear boats rowed by Giani and Todd took the rear. With my minimal rowing experience, this trip was a great opportunity to relearn some skills and to row our raft through some class 2 and 3 rapids. When not rowing, kayaking, or stand up paddle-boarding, my fellow ladies and I would sun bathe in the raft and enjoy the float – with occasional frigid splashes to wake us up again. Singing, dancing, and raft-surfing are a few more activities that took place on our fun-loving boat.
After an hour or so on the water, we approached the first big’ne. All of the rafts caught the eddy upstream of Wild Sheep, and we clamored out to scout. For both of the class IV rapids, my stellar raft guide Jared took the rowdiest lines! At Wild Sheep, my crew paddled hard as Jared steered us left of center. Our raft became airborne as we were launched off a wave! At Granite, we punched through a 20 foot wave – taking the most stylish line of the day. Adrenaline was pumping! At about 3:30pm we arrived at camp. Lined with poison oak and with a steep uphill trail to the flat ground, we began a 15 person long fire-line, passing endless gear up, each handing off to the next person. The dinner crew got started on our feast – pasta with marinara sauce, garlic bread, and pineapple upside down cake as a surprise for a special birthday boy (YUM), while the rest of us enjoyed a beer and started the trend of Spike Ball that would be a staple game in the remainder of our trip. Later that evening we celebrated Giani’s birthday by singing to him, and we enjoyed a campfire beneath bright and shooting stars. The next morning we woke up with the sun to the smell of blueberry pancakes, bacon, fruit, and coffee. We began day #2!
River life quickly becomes rhythmic – as 15 of us get into sync of setting up camp, setting up our sleeping areas, pitching in to cook, clean up, and enjoying the evening. The next morning our group woke with the sun, and did everything that was done the night before in reverse – pack up the tents, the personal gear, and begin another fire line to re-load gear on the boats. The simplicity of these three days was uncanny, and the entirety of this trip was phenomenal. Great company, delicious food, endless fun and recreation, and many memories. As we made our way down the river, all fifteen of us were smiling and filled with bliss. Hells Canyon – success!
Author Hayley Spear spends her summers in the Columbia River Gorge and enjoys paddling, hiking, and exploring as often as she can.