Monday, April 21, 2014

Hells Canyon Rim2River2Rim (Almost)

As I slogged up the endless switchbacks to Freezeout Saddle, I wondered why a Hells Canyon RTR isn't more popular, like the Grand Canyon's. Obviously doing an RTRTR would be challenging as you have a major roadblock, the Snake River, with no handy bridges. You would have to rely on a passing jet boat, perhaps waving beer as an incentive for them to stop (but mostly, they have their own).

You don't usually encounter a "Cow Jam" on the way to the Grand Canyon Rim.
But seriously. From the trailhead it's 22 miles round trip if you believe the signs, and 24 if you don't. The scenery is desolate, stark, and powerful. Though Hells does not have the layer cake rock that the Grand does, it has many more secrets. All of the times that I have dropped below the rim, I have only seen a handful of people, and often not a soul.

As was the case this time. I left a chatty band of day hikers on the saddle and descended into the heart of the canyon. The steep climb just to get to the first rim might weed out the less serious, as would the lack of trail maintenance and no friendly rangers waiting with water and encouragement. You really are truly alone here.

At 8.5 miles if you believe the signs, and 9.5 if you don't, I passed my potential camp for the night. A serene grove of ponderosas perched above the creek, it had always seemed like a perfect place to camp. From there a person unencumbered by a backpack could tag the river and return.

Today, however, was not that day. A vicious wind whipped through the pines, and I have seen enough ponderosa carnage to know that fire-weakened trees like these can suddenly fall, crushing anything in their path. I elected to go on, thinking that surely I would find a campsite between here and the river, or at the river if all else failed.

Soon it became apparent that it was the river or bust. The canyon narrowed to a sliver of its former self. I struggled through downed trees and brush. Every step was a challenge of prickly bushes and hurty trees. And I hadn't even reached the famed Poison Ivy Forest. I was down to less than an inch of water and didn't feel like fighting to the creek to get more. It was time to admit defeat.

See the trail? Me either.

I could see the Idaho side and knew I was less than a mile from the river. It's always so hard to turn around, and as I trudged back up the steep "trail", I second-guessed my decision. It's hard to let go of a goal, especially if there isn't someone else along to confirm that you made the right choice. Maybe if one of my partners in crime had been along, that person could have convinced me to put on rain gear and press on. Or maybe that person would have mutinied long ago. There are so few people who go below the rim; it's hard to say.

In the end what I miss most about living an isolated place are "my people." I'm starting to kind of want to see a few people on these trails. I like standing with our packs on exchanging information about what's ahead and behind, where the next water is, what the ivy situation might be. I miss the same enthusiasm for adventure and wanting to go past the next bend. I want to find people willing to try a silly RTR but also willing to give it up if it becomes too stupid. If I ever move away from here, this will be why.


  1. Too bad we don't live closer. I'd totally join you on this adventure!

  2. Yup, I would go in a heart beat! I've long since learned to be "flexible" and let go of goals when out on crazy adventures. The Smart Girl always wins to live and tell the story. Conservative, yes but good to be when adventuring on one's own.

  3. I'll be happy to be a partner in crime next year.


Hello out there. If you liked this post, please leave a comment so I keep writing!