Saturday, January 25, 2014

Hells Canyon in Winter: the long darkness

You don't go into Hells Canyon in January. At least, I don't. The access roads leading to the trailheads are snarled with ice and a spackle of slippery mud, sometimes deep snow. There are places the sun never reaches below the towering canyon walls. The jetboat traffic of summer is long gone. You are alone. If something happens, you could be out there for days before someone finds you.

But this year is different. A ridge of high pressure has clamped over the region and we have had cold sunny days for endless weeks. If you are brave enough, you can go anywhere. Even fifteen miles of hairpins, winding down to where the icy Imnaha heads towards the Snake.

Eureka Bar. No, it's not a beach. It's a bar.

I've been to Eureka Bar, the confluence of the two rivers, many times before, but never in deep winter, with nobody around, the blackberry dying back, the silence of a place abandoned. An inversion blocked out the sun, and it felt like I was the only person left in the world.

I scored the good campsite under the lone tree, which is hardly ever available in spring. I had never noticed before, but there's a spooky mine tunnel behind it:

Darn, a gate. Can't go in any farther. BOOOO.



Confluence
If you want peace and time to think, this is the place. I snuggled into the -20, four pound sleeping bag I had brought and was blissfully warm. The river sang all night. The canyon held me in its arms.

I could easily have not gone. The long drive, having to make up some work hours later, the cold weather. The short hike--barely five miles. The long darkness. But I've decided--this will be the year of little adventures. Excuses begone!

View from the campsite
Someday, it will snow. The roads will drift shut. Later, the poison ivy will grow across the trail. The canyon will sizzle. There is such a short window in this place. I'm glad I went.


10 comments:

  1. I've helped put gates like that up. They're so the bats can get out but people can't get in, and made so that little kids can't stick their heads between the bars.

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  2. I pray every day for Mother Nature to bless the Wallowas with more snow, and I worry about conditions this summer if she does not see fit to answer my prayers. I am glad you were able to get into the canyon Mary, sounds like such a peaceful time.

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  3. How awesome! I love little adventures, not all of them have to be grand epic ones.

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  4. Unexpected adventure....looks like a quiet peaceful day and night. Can I be glad that there was a gate across the mine, so adventurous hikers couldn't go in a potentially dangerous place? Hmmmm?

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  5. Through your photo of the Confluence I can imagine 'the river sang all night'. Beautiful.

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  6. I'm thinking I'm glad they had a gate to protect my very curious friend. My mama always told me "never go in the mines they are dangerous!" When I was little they didn't have gates over the mines we like to ride into. One is flooded and one now has a gate. The one that is flooded still creeps me out. My biggest fear is one of the kids accidentally getting to close and falling in and it being too deep to get out. (I know overprotective much)
    The river looks so crisp and your camping spot perfect.

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  7. Mary, I loved your writing two years ago when I first wrote to you, and I still do! Write more for High Country News, please.

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    1. Thanks Krista! I was just thinking I should send them something!

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  8. These little adventures are sometimes the best ones. I know I personally get dragged into normal life and forget to be a little adventurous when opportunities arise, like a dry and clear winter in the northwest.

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    1. It has been nice, hasn't it? Of course we are now in Icemageddon. Hope that changes soon!

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