Hell Hike and Raft Part I: The Hike

I think my favorite part of adventuring is meeting new people.  I am fascinated by groups of people.  I studied Sociology in college and have forever been completely enthralled with the dynamics of groups.  In spite of this, I am admittedly a bit of an introvert.  I crave my alone time like I crave the sun shining on my face.  I am recharged with these things.  Without them I don’t feel complete.  When I enter a situation with strangers I feel I can be myself.  There is no expectations.

It is so liberating to be raw, honest, vulnerable, dirty, greasy haired with dirt under your fingernails and sweat on your brow.  Having 14 other people with the same disposition is a completely magical experience.  The trail dirt that you earn on your skin as a badge of honor then shedding that layer to reveal a brighter skin after the experience is something I will never grow tired of.

I was invited to join a very special group of fellow adventure bloggers, social media influencers and outdoor loving addicts.  Parker and Becky and their support team from America’s Rafting Company were the brave Captains of this Motley Crew.

ARC holds one of only two permits in existence to access the backcountry of the Seven Devil’s Mountains in the Hell’s Canyon Wilderness.  With names like these adventure howls loudly across the world calling travelers to come experience what purgatory means in Hell’s Canyon .

This trip however was a maiden voyage for Parker and his grizzly crew of backcountry gourmet chef’s.  We were to be the first commercial group to take the route in 25 years.  They estimated  there have only been about 100 people that did a portion of the trail in the last 10 years.  The reward we received after this thrilling triumph was 3 glorious nights being catered to on the Snake River while white water rafting some of the most epic whitewater in the world.  We called it Hell Hike and Raft.





This was my first view of Idaho as I landed in Boise. I was mesmerized with the thought of getting up close and personal with a completely unfamiliar wilderness without personally knowing anyone who would be in this abyss with me.

We had 11 crew members from all over the country meeting in New Meadows Idaho on Monday September 1st.  Very few of us had ever met in person.

Shortly after landing in Boise I first met a very vivid soul named Trevor from Colorado and spent the next 6 hours at the airport with him welcoming arriving crew members as the twisted skies left the wake of many missed and delayed flights.  Once they arrived and we all washed the chem trails off our packs we met Becky a very sweet, small and mighty Woman handling a 15 passenger van like it was a purring kitten.

With Becky at the helm and myself sitting shotgun we had a 2 hour drive to New Meadows Idaho. The winding roads follow a big section of the 425 mile long Salmon River that’s relentless rapids led to one of the most notorious pairs of explorers Lewis and Clark declaring it unnavigable.  I took advantage of the seat I had and spent the next 2 hours listening to Becky use foreign lingo to describe this river in a vernacular you could never articulate unless you were intensely intimate with it.





Meadow Valleys Motel

Photo: Shannon Croom

Eventually we arrived at the very quaint Meadows Valley Motel where we all continued the beginnings of our relationships with one another.  It was an atomic explosion of gear throughout these rooms with a bunch of junkies going from room to room to see what other addicts had.  It was an immediate bonding of a chemical kind, we sealed the bond with a little wine brought straight from Napa by the gentleman known as  Russ aka The Wine Hiker.







Morning arrived as the personalities of our groups shuffled into the coffee shop at the Motel.  Val in Real Life flipped everyone the bird, she said get used to it- until I have coffee this IS Val.  I completely understood as I allowed the coffee to enter my veins and speak it’s morning words of rationalization before I chose to speak.

Once we arrived and saw the wilderness we were heading into Val became the speechless by nature, adoring and lovely lady that she is in real life.






This was our last chance to say goodbye to the world of cell phones, signal and civilization.  We were headed into one of the most remote portions of the lower USA.  It seemed hard to believe there are still places without these modern afflictions.





Seven Devils Mountains

I had that all to familiar fleeting feeling.  I was hungry for some solitude with a view.  We took a torrid pace up goat’s pass with restless soles pattering up the path to our first overlook.  The relief – the reality – the rugged was now ours.






He Devil, Sheep Lake

We pushed up and over Goats Pass to view Sheep Lake with He Devil peeking over his lair.  We each had our moments paying homage to the He Devil, we were hoping he would allow us to climb to his horns later that day.  We took some time to lunch in the belly of the beast at Sheep Lake.  So far this beastly wilderness was nothing but full of heavenly sights.





He Devil

The brave souls standing on the shoulder just below the horns of the He Devil Beast that same afternoon as the sun began to drop and the clouds began to line up when our permission to pass expired.  We respected the beauty of the beast.






Shelf Lake

We were happy that we respected the signs of the He Devil as we hobbled into camp at the breathtaking beauty that is Shelf Lake.  Annie went immediately over the the lake to soak her feet as I snapped this photo knowing what a kindred spirit that I shared with her.






Shelf Lake Camp

The gathering around the campfire is as ritualistic in Hell as it is in Heaven.  Our guides Marshall and Rick were already part of our motley family as they took the sweet and sour lashings that came plentiful and often.








We saw a book titled “The Mountain Men of Idaho” in the coffee shop at the Motel.  This scene of Rick making guacamole from scratch with fajitas to pair it with made us think of a calendar called the same.  This would be titled “Guacamole and Guns”.  Now- getting this kind of gourmet feast during any backpacking trip is complete royal treatment but having a couple of guys like Rick and Marshall to provide it- well I guess that is how they just do things in Idaho.







Chef Marshall and his Sous Chef Rick in their kitchen feeding a crew of 14 in the Hells Canyon backcountry of Idaho.  Purgatory never looked so good.








The next morning after Val got her coffee we set off to our full day of hiking through more of this scenic serenity that had yet to show us what if anything was hellish about it.  I watched as Val saw this shot- a woman who had reconnected with her muse in the form of a lillypad filled lake.  It was a beautiful scene indeed.








We hiked to the top of this old abandoned lookout tower called Dry Diggins Lookout.  Jeff Howell looking right at home at 7,500 feet with our stowaway stick loving Tubbs.  There is nothing like a great man with a dog in his element.  It’s artwork.  HOWELLLLLL!!!







baldy fire map

The lookout was abandoned after a devastating fire called The Baldy Fire.  It has some amazing relics throughout the building.








The sign in book was just as rustic as the rest of this scene.  Shannon signed our group in and underneath it the infamous Highlighter signed in as our group leader.  After all Adam was the reason we were all being treated to Hell.  He deserved his own page in Hell as far as I was concerned.






Lookout Tower

Just a desert dwelling chick standing with her head in the clouds in Idaho with two great guys from the East coast looking down into the 7,500 foot deep canyon below.  Another day in purgatory.






Annie and I breathed in the crisp summit air that our lungs begged for.  Almost simultaneously we said if this all ended right now we knew we died in heaven.  Lucky for us we were headed to the Snake River below the next day where our tour of nirvana would continue.






We walked off the bliss of the beauty we saw and landed at Horse Camp for the night.  Our second gourmet meal was a bit more modest yet unexpectedly delicious courtesy of Fish People  … we were backpacking without dehydrated meals!  Marshall was bidding us farewell in the morning so we sipped on some Johnny Walker Black and Zinfandel.

It was a bitter cold night, It dipped down into the 20’s as we woke up in the morning shivering around the fire getting ready for our 7,000 foot descent to the deepest canyon in the lower 48 states.





packerjohn Photo: America’s Rafting Company

Packer John handled these three pack horses that allowed for our gourmet meals and comfortable accommodations.  He was a true cowboy, gentleman, outdoorsman and had so much adoration for his animals.  We said our goodbye’s to him as his pup Tubbs tried to once again stow away with us for the day.  Those two mountain lovers weren’t interested in the white water adventure of the Snake River we were headed to.

Just one small trek 7,000 feet down a very rugged and unmarked trail was between us and that Shangri-La.  But that story will continue the next time we meet in Hell.

Click here for Part II:  Hell’s Canyon & Snake River





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