For the last few years, I’ve been giving money to the Idaho Trails Association to support their work. I’ve even been on a few trail work trips myself. But this year, I hit the “jackpot” and won the chance to accompany the ITA Board/Advisory Board members, and employees on a jet boat trip on the Snake River in Hells Canyon to do trail work there.
The trip is fully supported, so we didn’t need to bring food, just gear. And, it turns out you can bring a lot more gear when you’re on a boat than when you’re backpacking. I thought perhaps Ambrose and I had too much, but by the third day, I was regretting some things left behind!
But that’s getting ahead of the story.
The trip was a weeklong, but there was an option to just do half, either coming in or going out on Wednesday. While I initially wanted to do the whole week, we ended up going for a half week instead. In on Sunday and out on Wednesday, in part because we were going to be closing on a house the next week.
There was another person doing the half week who lived pretty near to us, and so we agreed to give her a ride both to the launch point and back on Wednesday. Lucky timing for her, since we would have been way far away if we’d already closed on that house.
Dark and early Sunday morning, we drove over to pick her up, and then headed out to Hells Canyon. I hadn’t actually driven out that far before, though I had driven as far as the junction of 95 and 71.
The road to Hells Canyon is lovely.
After chatting for a bit, the general ‘get to know you’ kind of chitchat, I put on an audiobook. I chose short stories so we wouldn’t be left hanging too badly, but I ended up picking a pretty weird one, First Person Singular by Haruki Murakami. I like Murakami’s style, but I’m not sure it works as well on audio than on print, at least for me.
But the narration was nice, soothing. I’m pretty sure our passenger caught a nap, and I don’t blame her one bit. I was staying awake for the stories, but also because I was nervous about the whole experience to come. Not the jet boat – I was excited for that. But hanging out with a group of nearly 20 strangers in a place where I essentially can’t escape? A bit nerve-wracking for me.
Still, I’d made the choice. My husband and I were about to meet a whole bunch of people and eat food that would most likely fall outside our respective diets. I was at least as nervous about the food as I was about the people.
Ambrose and I have done a lot of work over the past few years to figure out how to eat to support health in general and weight loss. I cut yeast out of my diet in 2022, and I knew there would be bread here. Ambrose eats low salt and low carb, and we expected both salt and carbs to be on the menu. What eating “normal” food would do to us, we weren’t sure. But we agreed to try, while also bringing some snacks in case they were needed (or wanted).
The drive to the launch site was quite pretty, and I was glad that I got to gawk since Ambrose was driving. The agreement was that he would drive there and I would drive back. I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to doing the drive back, but only because I would have preferred to gawk both ways.
We arrived at the launch. Wind was whipping through the canyon, chilling the day despite the sunshine that was starting to peek over the canyon’s high rim. I wasn’t quite sure what to do, but we managed to get our gear down to the boat, and then, faster than I expected, we were getting on the boat.
I wanted to sit where I could get some good footage of the trip, but I ended up kind of in the middle of the boat. My views included a lot of other people’s hands and bodies, but I got a few neat shots. And I consoled myself with the thought of the mid-week return trip, which would only have a few people on it. That would be when I’d get my cool river shots.
We all received a safety lecture and had to put on life vests. The boat had clear plastic curtains drawn down so we wouldn’t be able to just fall out, but I was glad to be wearing a vest on the water. It was very cold, and the water was also flowing very high for the time of year.
I’m not sure what I expected out of riding on a jet boat, but the first surprise for me was to see that the pilot was actually in the back of the boat, and we had boarded from the front. I wasn’t sure how the pilot was going to be able to see from back there, but he managed just fine.
The jet boat was loud, and many conversations were going on as we took off. I let the sound wash over me, not trying too hard to follow anything. Ambrose was next to me, and I tried to be snuggly though the life vests do somewhat interfere with that activity.
The trip down the river didn’t take all that long. We only had one big rapid to traverse before we stopped at the Granite Creek site. There, we all waited while the trip leaders scouted the area. They weren’t sure that site offered sufficient room for all of us and the large group tents they’d brought for cooking, eating, and warming.
After about 20 minutes, they came back and we continued downstream through another rapid before pulling up at Dry Gulch. This was a much bigger campsite, though water would need to be hauled up from the river. In fact, all our gear needed to be hauled up – but only after we bucket brigaded the whole lot of it onto the rocky shore.
Once the gear was all off the boat and the boat was headed back upstream, we all went up to look at our campsite. The very first thing done was an introduction to what poison ivy looks like at this time of year in Hells Canyon. No leaves of three this early in the season, no, instead, we were shown these peculiar brown stalks, some covered in dull white berries. I had never seen anything like it before, but I made sure to avoid all such stalks.
Next, small groups were gathered to erect the kitchen and communal tents. I wasn’t close enough to the leaders to get picked for those teams, so I headed down to the bank to start hauling gear from the bank to the bluff. Ambrose was already there. It was a good twenty foot climb, along a sometimes slick path that was too narrow for more than one person. Those of us hauling gear quickly fell into a system wherein whoever was going down unladen gave way for those coming up laden.
I enjoyed the lifting. I was glad that CrossFit had given me the opportunity to build up the strength to be able to haul up the gear. I even took the full can of water up, about 50 pounds in one hand. That one wasn’t easy, but I hauled it up, yes I did.
After the gear had been all hauled up and placed in piles, the next thing to do was set up our own individual tents. Ambrose and I found a good spot on the north side of the site, just barely far enough from some poison ivy stalks. I pitched the tent low to provide us a bit more internal space. There’s less headspace, but more stretching out space.
Then we got to eating the lunch that we’d brought. That was one of the few meals not being provided on the trip. Ambrose had made and packed us some absolutely delicious chicken salad with apples and sprouts and chunks of the chicken he had cooked with his spices. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it, but once I started eating it, I was enamored.
There wasn’t much else to do that day. The toilet situation was different from what I’m used to on a backpacking trip – in a good way. There were two toilet “tents”, those tall, narrow pop up tents. Inside each tent there were 3 buckets. One for pee, one for used TP, and one for pooping. The poop bucket had a lid and a special seat, but the pee bucket did not (bet that was a guy’s idea). Each toilet tent also had a baggie with toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. However, the hand sanitizer didn’t need to be used as there was also a handwashing station at a bit of a remove from both toilet tents, on the path back to the main camping area.
The weather stayed dry through the afternoon and evening, but it was chilly and windy. Well, the wind wasn’t too bad in the afternoon, and a gathering did take place outside while that was the case. But once the wind started really picking up, I sought refuge in the big tent, setting up the backpacking chair that I’d just bought this spring in the conversational grouping. Ambrose stayed outside longer than I did.
Dinner was the first meal provided by the trip, and it was very nice to have a hot meal served up out there, with the river rushing by below and the canyon walls making our sunlight hours quite short. The main part of the meal was a delicious soup.
There was a wood stove in the tent I was in, but no fire had been lit since the weather was staying decent. From experience, folks knew that the firewood would go quickly, and we could only burn what we’d brought. They were saving it in anticipation of the forecasted rainy days to come.
They kept talking about doing introductions, but somehow that never happened. I picked up names through conversations for the most part, and a few people introduced themselves one on one, but that was a bit frustrating for me. I want to know how to address people. I want to know who people are and what their positions are. But since this was the ITA Board trip, everyone except the lottery winners (myself, Ambrose and another lady) knew each other from long standing.
After dinner, conversations continued for a bit. I ducked out close to sunset to join Ambrose in our tent.
That night, it rained hard, as if to make up for the day’s earlier lack of rain. I was a bit worried about the pitch of the tent, but I had done well. No rain leaked in while we slept, and the morning was cloudy but not rainy.