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M Hiking Hells Canyon Rim to Rim

by David Drake, with Nathan Orosco

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Article Summary:

The sun had dropped below the west rim of Hells Canyon, although it was still hours before nightfall. A breeze washed up from the Snake River below our campsite and stirred through the hackberry thicket lining the river bank.

We squatted in the dust beside two taut-pitched tarps. The site had been heavily camped, beaten down to dirt and a nap of dry grass. Not many flat areas in this part of the canyon.

It was mid-summer. Bunchgrass and invasive cheat had already turned yellow, but the land was punctuated by a vivid line of green at the river’s edge. Across the water, ragged basalt outcrops contrasted with the smooth slope of an ancient landslide. We were surrounded by the murmur of rapids echoing off the canyon walls, water for coffee coming to a boil.

There should have been that exhilarating mixture of exhaustion and achievement I’ve come to associate with a hard day’s hiking, and yet both of us were plain spent. “I’m not doing another day like this one,” Nathan said. The frustration in his voice was clear.

The day before, we’d driven south from Moscow, Idaho to Imnaha, Oregon. From Imnaha we’d followed a single-lane dirt road up to Hat Point, the highest elevation on the canyon’s west rim.

We left the truck at Hat Point trailhead and planned to spend four days crossing Hells Canyon, hiking from the west rim down to the Snake River and climbing back up the other side. It was a hike I had wanted to do for several years, one which, as far as I could tell, is rarely attempted.

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