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Hell's Canyon Float Trip

Oct 15 - 17, 2005

Old Fred Willerup was going to be in town for his annual visit and wanted to backpack in the Sawtooths. I said to him "are you kidding? It's going to be coooold! Let's surround ourselves with 55 degree water instead".

So we set about organizing a river trip in the warmest part of Idaho we could think of which turned out to be Hell's Canyon (elev. approx. 1400'). Hell's Canyon between Idaho and Oregon is the deepest canyon in North America; it is 8000' from mountaintop to river making it quite a bit deeper than even the Grand Canyon.

Gary Chadwick organized things to perfection and brought in the very experienced river runners Dean Schlomer (I think this was Dean's 30th Hells Canyon trip) and Scott Schaefer. Theresa Rhoades Willerup, Echo Chadwick, Mike Sharpes, and Brent English rounded out the 9-some. We were 3 rafts, 2 hard-shell kayaks, and an inflatable kayak (and enough food to sustain the state of Idaho for 14 years). I rode in Mike Sharpes' boat. This was his 2nd trip in command of his own boat and he followed the lines of a oarsman with 10 years' experience. And I even took the oars for about 1/3 of the trip.

The weather turned out to be beautiful: temps in the 60's/70's and when the breeze was blowing it was blowing downriver. Unheard of. The flow was pretty low at about 9000 cfs.
We made it a 3-day/2-night trip.

It was a wonderful trip, totally exceeding my expectations.


Climbing into our drysuits. Turns out we really didn't need them but an unexpected swim would have been pretty cold.
I borrowed a drysuit that had just had its gaskets replaced right before the trip. I'm just about certain they made a mistake and put a small wrist gasket on the neck; the thing was so tight that the blood in my head could not return to my heart and would gradually build up until a certain pain threshold was exceeded at which time I would have to manually pull the gasket away from my neck to let the blood pass.


Scott Schafer stressing out.


Our two 'yakers: Fred and Brent. "Where do I put my bag?"


Wild Sheep Rapid, one of the two biggies on the trip. It's a class IV rapid at high flows but I'd say it was a III+/IV- at this flow. The 16' raft does look pretty small in the river tho. And if you happen to end up in the hole on the left it could mean trouble.


Evening fishing at our first camp.


This catfish Dean caught measured 25 inches.


Packing up the boats on the morning of day two.


Mike and Adrian scouting Granite Rapid, another class IV (but III+/IV- at this flow).


Happy Hour at camp two. Margaritas and Train Wrecks (cream-cheese, shrimp cocktail, and Ritz crackers), frisbee, bocci, and hacky-sack. What a life.


Gary, Adrian, and Mike pulling over to check the beer supply.


Near the end of the trip the canyon starts to open up. This is looking upstream from whence we came. Beautiful scenery. The 30 miles of river we floated is classified as Wild and Scenic and there are no roads; it really has a wilderness quality about it (except for the occasional jetboat).


Well-deserved munchies at the take-out. Clockwise from Fred in the front: Scott, Dean, Adrian, Gary, Echo, Mike, Brent. (Theresa is taking the picture)