I honestly thought I was prepared for the hiking portion of Hell Hike And Raft, but was sadly mistaken. Apparently Midwest hiking combined with some occasional stairs at work is not enough to get ready for the Death March that was Idaho (I kid, I kid). (But really it was tough.) The folks at America’s Rafting Company say that this is a trip less often taken by most of their clientele, and I can see why, though the scenery was crazy amazing.
Driving up and through the mountains to get to our take-off point in the Seven Devil Mountains was uneventful, though my somewhat labored breathing let me know that the altitude was going to affect me, though how much was uncertain. Spending 4 days in Utah definitely was a good bridge between my near sea-level existence and this hiking.
First thing I noticed was that nearly everyone else’s backpack was smaller than mine. I had brought too much, winnowed it down to what felt like essentials, and yet still mine looked overstuffed to the others’ sleek and slim packs. My pack weighed 31 pounds before I got rid of some stuff, so I suspect it was more than 25 pounds and less than 30 on the trail. BTW, the Teton Sports Escape4300 did a masterful job of getting me and my stuff up and over and down and through the mountains, super comfortable the whole way. (A full review forthcoming.)
After walking down the road a piece, the trail started up, continued up, and then went up some more – the Goat’s Pass is aptly named. In between passes we did get some downhills, but that just meant we had to go up again. This was the standard pattern of each day’s backpacking: a LOT of elevation gain and loss, fantastic frigid lakes that we sometimes stopped at to eat and/or bathe, then a weary trudge into camp, dinner, then some conversation before bed. Y’all, we were whupped each day and it didn’t take long for most of us to turn in each night. Guides River Rick, Woody, and horse packer John made sure we ate well, kept us moving, and set up camp each night along the trail.
Probably the most difficult aspect of the hiking for me was the uneven footing, pretty much from start to finish. If you weren’t stepping on a rock, you were stepping over or around one. We went through scree and boulder fields, sidestepped roots, and generally spent half the time looking down to make sure we had good footing. The other half, however, made it all worthwhile – the views were fantastic, and there were a lot of them. If it wasn’t a craggy mountaintop, it was the aforementioned lakes, or a wildflower meadow, or something equally Instagrammable at each turn. Simply amazing country.
While I struggled at times (cursing Idaho and the trip planners under my labored breathing), generally I hiked pretty well. I usually picked a point ahead of myself, stopped there to catch my breath, then continued on, pretty much the whole way. It usually wasn’t until we hit the campsite that I realized I was utterly spent.
It wasn’t until the 3rd day that I thought I was going to die. Six miles of steep downhill followed by a mile to the River doesn’t sound that difficult, but add in scorching temps (107 degrees at the river, slightly cooler on the mountain) and there were times I did not think I could make it. Shout outs to my fellow crew who kept me moving when I didn’t think I could, Cascade Mountain Tech for the trekking poles that kept me upright, and PROBAR for giving me the energy to finish the second half of the day, after I had given up and was lying down dejectedly at the halfway point.
But enough gloom and doom, there were so many positives from this misery. The toughness of the hiking really brought the crew together, as we all struggled at different times and worked hard to keep a positive spirit. Though insanely difficult for my current fitness level, the tough trails pushed me to a breaking point and I got past it – that is a huge opportunity that we don’t get in everyday life. I can’t say I appreciated the difficulty, though I definitely enjoyed the beauty, camaraderie, and new experience.