As difficult and tiring as the Hell Hike And Raft backpacking was, he opposite held true for the rafting on the Snake River. On the river, there are no backpacks to carry, minimal effort for maximal pleasure, and a chance to just lean back and savor what we had done to get there. River Rick, Shipwreck, and Hines took care of us (coddled us really) while we were on the water and off.
Heavy backpacks went into enormous dry bags, which all went on to the gear boat, a raft that also carried the camp kitchen, our tents and sleeping bags, and anything else not needed on the water. A smaller boat carried an oarsman, lunch, a beer cooler, and a few crew. Last up was the paddle boat, with an oarsman and six crew wielding paddles (though I’m sure we did more harm then good). A ducky (inflatable kayak) was also available and used the second and third river days by Thom (TauSpotting) and Scott (Hiking Forward).
The three days went something like this: wake up to a fantastic breakfast, head downriver through both exhilarating rapids and relaxing calm water, take breaks to explore cultural/historical aspects of the river, eat an awesome picnic lunch, and stop early enough that we had plenty of time to socialize and eat a sumptuous dinner before it was time to hit the hay. America’s Rafting Company really knows how to show guests a good time. Hells Canyon (the deepest gorge in North America!) is truly gorgeous – this is a bucket list trip for sure.
While sparsely populated now, there were once groups of homesteaders up and down the river. At one location, they even had their own phone service – families in the valley could talk to each other, though they couldn’t call outsiders. An infamous moonshiner built “The Mansion,” a fancy log cabin with plaster walls, hardwood floors, baseboard and other trim. Lying in a state of neglect, The Mansion, like the other historical structures, rely on volunteer work to keep them standing and clean.
After sitting in the hot sun all day, when we got to camp we always wanted to sit in the shade and cool off. All of our camp sites happened to be located where a creek entered the Snake River, so beers and a chat while sitting in the icy creeks were the order of the day. On tap were local brewery Payette, PBR, and some great Colorado beer from Crabtree Brewing brought by Pablo of Where’s Pablo?
With some extra energy available, there was fun to be had. At Sturgeon Rock, we climbed and jumped into the River before heading to shore for lunch and a catnap. River Rick threw out a line to see if he could catch the sturgeon, but no joy. (Since the sturgeon have no escape with dams at either end of this section of the Snake, they grow fat and enormous due to the catch and release policy – 10 to 14 feet is not uncommon.) Besides short hikes to the historic cabins, Thom (TauSpotting) and Roxanne (Mountain Matron) completed a longer hike to Suicide Point, a scenic spot overlooking the River. The lazier of us tried out “hippoing,” floating in an eddy, beer in hand – recommended. On the last day, Shipwreck and Hines flipped the paddle raft over and created an ersatz slip and slide, great fun!
All too soon, it seemed, we were at Pittsburg Landing, and it was time to get off the Snake River. Another glorious picnic meal awaited us, then it was into the van and the drive back to New Meadows, where a dinner (after hot showers!), packing for home, and sleep in a bed awaited us. Hard to believe Hell Hike And Raft was over.