Amp up the adventure in Hells Canyon!
Travels with Deb
There were twenty of us plus six guides, who came together to raft Hells Canyon in early August. Our group was comprised of multi-generational families, couples and solo travelers. And though we hailed from different places and backgrounds, we all had one thing in common – a shared desire to discover this fabled place of the Wild West.
We wanted to experience the thrills and chills of rafting impressive Class IV rapids like Wild Sheep, Granite and Waterspout. Hells Canyon boasts the biggest whitewater rafting rapids in the Pacific Northwest. Who wouldn’t want those bragging rights? And with Hells Canyon Raft, you can alternate the type of craft you want to use during your adventure – oared raft with a guide at the helm, rubber ducky or standup paddleboard. The duckies are single and double inflatable kayaks. The latter have been humorously coined, “divorce boats,” for the arguments they often provoke among couples.
It was fun to try out all the options, and yes, initially, there was plenty of spills, or as the guides colorfully called it, “carnage,” on the duckies and paddleboards. This is par for the course, as it definitely takes a bit of practice to achieve a level of comfort and an understanding of how these boats and boards function in rapids. Hint: a strong core is helpful!
Rest assured, the guides give a thorough safety orientation at the start of the journey, with much attention paid to what to do if/when you accidentally fall into the river. Throughout the trip, they also take time to explain how to read the water and use the current to your advantage. They point out the obstacles and discuss the best path around these hazards.
Several times, we scouted the more extreme rapids before riding them, which provided an excellent view of the situation from the cliffs above the river. Having this perspective and knowing the plan of attack is essential, as once you’re in the water, everything happens quickly. Rafting a class IV rapid is like being on an extreme version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. The water packs a fierce punch and it knows no boundaries. It’s a life force with a heartbeat and mind of its own, and you learn to give it the respect it deserves.
There’s immense satisfaction in mastering the rapids. It’s a personal, yet also shared accomplishment. On a raft, teamwork is key and each person needs to commit to doing his/her part in the process. Everyone becomes conscious of the responsibility they have for each other’s well-being and safety, and for the group as a whole. As a result, a strong sense of camaraderie develops and bonds form quickly.
Though rafting is the obvious focus of the trip, you’ll discover there’s so much more to the experience. This is a multi-faceted vacation where the rewards are many.
You’ll gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the geology and history of this national showcase. The first thing you’ll notice about the canyon is that its austere, brooding beauty is so vast, it’s hard to capture on camera. Every part of it is massive, making hikers and boaters feel miniscule amid such rugged and awe-inspiring landscape.