Whenever I have several parts of a story to tell it can be a bit heartbreaking. I have to reread and experience again and again what I saw, felt, heard, smelled and thought. The nostalgia can be painful at times. Painful because anytime you embark upon a journey with people who are so like minded you grow close to them much more quickly than you do anywhere else in life.
You live with them 24/7 for a week or longer on these kinds of expeditions. If you added up the time you have spent developing relationships with people over time, I could easily deduce that I have spent more time with members of this crew than I have with friends I have had for years.
You are stripped down to bare bones. You are taken down to the core of who you are, and these people see you… really see YOU. When you add nature and very challenging circumstances to this equation- the sum of it’s parts is a new answer to life that has never been discovered before and it changes you. Forever. Wouldn’t be an adventure without a little sadness when it’s over, you say goodbye to your trail family and to the person you were before the trip. Its the changes like these that I am addicted to. The growth and the goodbye’s.
This is PART II: Hell’s Canyon & Snake River
Waking in the wilderness after the 2nd night of backpacking – the routine is becoming more familiar. The traveling home on my back is once again home sweet home.
The condensation on my tent is my first clue as I peek out from my night skin mummy sack. My nose is numb, my toes are stiff, the warm breath exiting my lungs is eaten alive once it passes my lips. It is going to take some coaxing to get me out of here.
Once my senses begin to awaken I hear a jet propulsion from camp. It’s cowboy coffee. My nose awakens with the smell of burning wood. It’s a fire. Suddenly my warm cocoon comes in 2nd place. Zippers being unzipped, chill hitting my bare skin. I almost forgot- best to get dressed inside my cocoon.
Photo: Val in Real Life
Our 3rd morning together and our last with the storytelling guide extraordinaire Marshall was enjoyed over a fresh omelet bar. We gathered around the guide gifted fire with warm coffee in our vessels admiring each others morning hair. Another gourmet morning of spoils courtesy of America’s Rafting Company was packed away.
Photo: Adam @ Hiking The Trail
We strapped our homes to our backs at 7,200 feet and began our descent to the Snake River in Hells Canyon, the deepest canyon in the contiguous USA . A mere 6K feet and some change below over 5 miles of terrain that has seen fewer than 100 pairs of feet on it in the last 10 years.
In the first hour that had passed our leading guide Rick’s machete had cut open about 1.5 miles of trail, we shed 2 layers of clothes, had a combined slip and fall count over 20, sacrificed several toenails to the trail gods and had each lost an inch of height with the packs on our backs pushing us down this madness. We had 3.5 miles of this traverse into Hell left to cover.
We spent 6 hours of dirt driven delirium, downed tree hurdling, bear scat stepping, trail route scouring madness. It was worth every painful joint crackling step to have shared this experience with some of my favorite people.
Our welcome to Hell’s Canyon. I wasn’t sure if I was still hallucinating from the smell of miles of fresh bear scat or if my eyes were so full of dirt and sweat that I my meditation skills had become so fine tuned I was seeing this in my mind. When I hobbled down the hill to the kitchen and found out that Becky and Parker from ARC got me Hard Cider I was certain I had ingested some mushrooms instead of berries along the trail.
Photo: Val in Real Life
A dip in the cood blooded slithery Snake River washed off the stitched in stench of the mountains and assured me that the revelations I had earlier were false.
Becky and Parker spoiled the crew with cocktails and what would be the first of a 3 day gourmet FEASTING frenzy. Our first dinner on the river made from scratch by Chef Becky as were the remainder of the locally bought and sourced fresh meals they provided. Honest, hardworking, talented adventurous souls who have an undeniable passion for their river. We were elated to be able to hop on their boats for the next few days.
The amount of gear we had to haul was considerable. Rick is always a good shirtless deckhand to have around for many reasons. He is carrying a half dozen Paco Pad’s down to the gear boats that we were treated to as beds.
I could never really figure out how to inflate them correctly, I made out with them every night in an attempt to. Either way my sweet talking worked and I slept listening to the babbling lullabies of the Snake River.
We took a short hike to scout out the first set of class IV rapids we had to contend with a mere minute and a half from our put in spot. Granite Rapids hissing and spitting venom was no lullaby. There was no doubt that I was going to experience this serpentine from the paddle boat.
The two larger slower moving gear boats always traverse the rapids first. Mighty Becky handled this boat like a beauty taming a hellish beast.
Parker was our captain. This was our crew. We were headed down the first set of gnarly Snake River rapids and were as small as a single scale on its back. Digging your feet into the crevasses of the boat while grinding your gears like a bulldozer into the white waters and getting smacked in the face with the trimmings from the extraction site. I was hooked.
We slithered through many more smaller rapids until we came upon a rapid called Waterspout. I was digging, excavating, feeling exhilarated then suddenly I couldn’t find my groove. We were dropping into the shoot as it shot all 7 of us out of the boat.
You feel it, you know the stability of the boat being sacrificed to the river gods. The moments after are a garbled mouth and stomach full of water paired with a body full of adrenaline. When your head rises above the violent rapids the slow motion clarity of the situation is crisp and clear.
I immediately saw Shannon then Jeff as they both insured I was ok. With my feet out in front of my body I let go and floated through the whitewater as a paddle and a flip flop floated by. I grabbed both as Rick was trying to pull me into the boat asking me why I was saving his shoe over my own life. I coughed up an answer that was undecipherable along with half of the water I swallowed.
Rick pulled 6 adults into the boat in record time, and he didn’t lose his flip flops. Once we gathered our whits Becky threw us all a cold one to celebrate what is a rite of passage for anyone who rafts. We were christened in the Snake River.
Sheep Creek Camp was the Shangri-La we were slumbering at on our second night on the river. We spent time recounting the day’s adventures as the family that we were. Later a skunk appeared in camp thinking it was part of the crew, it’s always a hilarity to see who is deathly afraid of critters when they want to join the team. This one wasn’t welcomed but left a reminder behind for us in the form of a pungent musk.
We enjoyed bellies full of laughs, spirits and gourmet grub. Luckily I was still hungry after my overindulgence in swallowing the liquids of the snake river earlier in the day.
The sun sets on another day in Hell as it sets on this chapter of Hell Hike and Raft.
The painful nostalgia will be recounted once again for Part III as with any addiction it always hurts so good.
Another goodbye for now…