35 Years Hells Canyon

Trip Journal


The vacation begins! I can’t believe it’s finally time to leave the real world and head to the land of whitewater – Hells Canyon!

We arrived in Halfway this afternoon… a lovely valley town with just one main street where we stopped for supplies and got our fishing licenses. We are expected at Lynette and George’s, so we checked into our hotel and freshened up a bit, then headed over to Canyon Outfitters’ headquarters. 

As the sun set we sipped our drinks on the porch and looked out at the panorama of the valley. Relaxed already! Soon we were introduced to our guides and the other guests that would be on our trip. If the quality of the meal served (delicious!) and the volume of chatter at the table (very high!) were any indication we’re going to have a great time. 

George introduced us to the dry bags and lifejackets that will play a major role in our lives over the next four days. After a safety talk and a wonderfully evil desert, we practically waddled back to our hotel, with visions of whitewater dancing in our heads.

Day One

Awoke early this morning and were treated to another amazing Lynette meal. Then we hit the road and drove the 40 miles from Halfway to the Hells Canyon launch site. The boats were launched and ready to push off. We watched in awe as the guide expertly loaded the last of our gear, and we were off. The canyon is beautiful and the water a perfect 70 degrees. The fishing poles hit the water immediately and we start hauling bass & trout into the boats, and before we knew it, it was lunchtime and those fish we just caught are on the grill. 

In our first afternoon on the river we saw a black bear, an otter, a small group of mountain goats traversing the steep edges of the canyon and bald eagles. Late in the afternoon, we pulled into our campsite, which was all ready for us. What luxury! Imagine our surprise at seeing an elegantly set dining table – as fine as any high-class city restaurant, out here in the wilderness. All we had to do was pick out a tent and sit back while the guides cooked us an extraordinary dinner. Tomorrow will be a full moon… can’t wait to see it rise in the canyon.

Day Two

Today was a big rapids day! As we pushed off this morning, we knew we’d be facing the two most challenging stretches of the river. (Of course, our guides, who would be doing all the rowing, insisted on fortifying us with a huge breakfast) At first glance Wild Sheep rapids were a bit intimidating. After discussing the best route to take, the guides coached the intrepid few who would be navigating the inflatable kayaks (not me, thanks!). It was so exhilarating to watch the first guide row the massive supply boat flawlessly through the huge waves that when it was our turn, we forgot to be scared. In fact we were shouting crazily as water sprayed into our boat. What a thrill! Its amazing how we have all become thrill-seekers, eager for the next stretch of rapids.

That evening we settled into a gorgeous campsite, which used to be a homestead and sheep ranch. As the sun set we recounted stories of our ‘bravery’ in the rapids. And after another fabulous meal, as we headed off to bed, the full moon crept into the canyon, so bright we didn’t even need our flashlights to find our tents.

Day Three

If yesterday was full of exhilaration, today was full of relaxation. We started the morning off at a leisurely pace. After breakfast George lead us on a historical tour of the ranch site, and recounted amazing stories that he had heard first-hand from the old timers that had grown up here. We head back to ‘camp’, and it’s gone! A whole village packed up and loaded onto the supply boat, off downriver for tonight’s campsite.

The river still had some thrilling stretches to offer us, but most of the day we spent fishing (giant sturgeon), spotting more wildlife (six big horn sheep) and just floating alongside the rafts in our lifejackets, which is the kids’ favorite pastime. This is possibly the most worry-free vacation we have ever taken. Our big concerns are; putting on enough sunscreen, catching enough fish and drinking enough water.

Our campsite tonight is the prettiest yet. And, since it’s our last night the guides pull out all the stops food-wise. We had the most delicious ceviche made from the bass we caught this afternoon. Shrimp and avocado salad, juicy steak, fettucine, stir-fry vegetables, biscuits and strawberry shortcake. After a hysterical evening with the guides (playing a game called half moon-full moon… don’t ask!), we rolled into our tents for one last night in the canyon.

Day Four

It’s our last day! It can’t be. We got up early, just in time to see three mule deer cross through our campsite. Our grand finale breakfast featured a gigantic pancake, flipped dramatically in an equally gigantic skillet, to great applause. Another lazy morning, which involved lots of group photos; we pushed out of our beautiful camp and headed down the last stretch of river. After stopping for a hike at another old homestead we savored our last hours on the water. When we rounded the bend and saw the landing, there was almost a rebellion. We wanted to keep going! Our guides lured us off the river with the promise of another delicious lunch, which we lingered over for as long as possible. It was hard to say goodbye to the people who had just seen us through the last four amazing days… our trusty guides and our fellow guests who had become our new friends… but alas, we had to do it.

I guess we’ll just have to come back next year!

Amy Fau​st