A Heavenly Boating Adventure: Hells Canyon
Hells Canyon Adventures Takes Visitors On An “In-Your-Face” Thrill On The Wildest Section Of The Raging Snake River
Along the Eastern edge of Oregon and the Western side of Idaho lies a canyon that stands as distinct amongst the multitude of similar landscapes this country has to offer. Hells Canyon has quite a few features that make it unique. First, it is a low release canyon. As one journeys down the Snake River, which winds through its center, the gorge gets deeper and deeper. In fact, Hells Canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America with an extension beyond the Grand Canyon of about 1500 feet. Hells Canyon is also one of the youngest attractions in the current national forestry system having not been designated as protected until 1974. As a matter of note, Hells Canyon and the Snake River feature some of the world’s foremost white water rapids, making it an international destination for boating adventurers. These singular wonders of Hells Canyon can be experienced in a variety of ways but only one company offers an “in-your-face” thrill on the wildest section of the raging Snake River. It is called Hells Canyon Adventures and they provide the ultimate white water experience….on a jet boat.
“We’re located in the extreme section of the canyon,” explains Mark Yates, co-owner of Hells Canyon Adventures who also captains one of the jet boats. “Large water means large waves. Running through the heavy rapids is kind of like being in a hurricane for about 30 seconds.”
According to Brandie Lincoln, Manager of Hells Canyon Adventures, the definition of a “jet boat” is simple: “They’re part boat and part tank, with a little race car thrown in for good measure. [The jet boats are] basically flat-bottomed boats that are built to run in a minimal amount of water and run very narrow channels. They’re heavier duty than most boats, made to be very durable and able to withstand [multiple] impacts.” By impacts, she means “rocks” while plunging through Class 4, otherwise known as “advanced”, rapids. “You never want to hit a rock,” she continues. “You don’t want that to happen...but sometimes [it happens.” Mark agrees, “When the water is low, it becomes a bit of a racecourse to dodge all the rocks.” The HCA’s boats are built especially for that section of the canyon and receive regular Coast Guard inspections and certifications. “These [boats] are designed to carry large groups of people in and through the rapids safely,” Brandie assures. For her the adventure is part of the appeal. “People want to say they did it. [That] they tackled the big water in Hells Canyon.”
There, however, is more to a trip on the river than white water and powerful boats. According to Sweyn (pronounced SWAY-n) Wall, a local Recreation Specialist at the National Forestry Service, “A lot of folks are able to come and explore the area by the jet boats but we also have outfitters providing backcountry horse and hiking tours or float boat activities. There’s a lot to do here and the history is quite unusual. Miners came looking for gold but found silver and copper instead. A huge Chinese population grew up because of the mining industry and then 30 of them were murdered in what became known as the Hells Canyon Massacre. Despite all that people stuck with it and stayed here.”
Homesteading back in the 1800s in this desolate landscape was not uncommon but definitely not for the faint of heart. The stories of these hardy souls often become the highlight of trips down the river. As Brandie says, “People who lived in Hells Canyon weren’t your average Joe Blow. They were living on the edge. The weather is intense. To get in and out is to literally walk up or down a canyon wall. It’s hard and very dangerous. If you couldn’t care for yourself it was likely you would die.” Sweyn laughs, “As I’ve heard said many times, if it doesn’t bite, sting, or make you itch then you aren’t in Hells Canyon.”
Perhaps it is this same sense of adventure that drives visitors to ride the jet boats over raging white water like it drove the early pioneers. “People [out here] were just trying to find a place to eke out a living,” continues Sweyn. “But there was also this idea that they wanted to prove they could do it. Prove they could make it out there.” Many, of course, gave up or moved on. Many died but some of the old ranches still exist for people to see. According to Brandie, Hells Canyon Adventures has even hosted some of the descendants of these hardy souls: “We have taken members of the Barton and Wilson families down to where their relatives’ homesteads used to be so we get access to that direct experience. That’s not something you’re going to get anywhere else.”
Whether you are seeking your own adventure or to get in touch with the adventurous spirit of our forebears, Hells Canyon is the place to go for a taste. As Brandie remarks, “If you’re going to see a park or recreation area then Hells Canyon should be in the top 5. The intensity of the landscape of Hells Canyon is not comparable to anything else.” Seems like sound advice.
A graduate of St. Louis University in Communications with a focus in
Advertising & Promotions, Michael has worked for Blue Man Group,
Oito Zero Oito and Counts Media among others. His interests include
DJing and Lawn Mower Disrepair.