Announcement: Riggins-to-Imnaha Hells Canyon Traverse

Hells Canyon is the deepest canyon (7,993ft/2,436m) in North America. It is located along the border of Oregon, Idaho, and Washington, so pretty much in our backyard (Figure 1). Check out some cool facts about Hells Canyon here or here. Figure 2 shows a comparison of the Hells and the Grand Canyon.

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Figure 1. Hells Canyon is conveniently located in the Pacific Northwest.

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Figure 2. Hells vs Grand Canyon. I think we win. Source: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/wallowa-whitman/specialplaces/?cid=stelprdb5239080

On Saturday, Oct 24, 2015, I will attempt a supported solo traverse of the canyon. To add a bit more meat to the challenge, I will start in Riggins, ID, climb the 9,400ft high He Devil, the highest peak in the Seven Devils Mountains, then cross the canyon to Hat Point, and finally run from Hat Point to Imnaha (see Figure 3). The total distance will be about 60 miles with 16,000ft of elevation gain. Figure 4 shows an elevation profile of the traverse. The Grand Canyon elevation profile is included for comparison.

Figure 3. The Riggins-to-Imnaha Hells Canyon traverse. The route is approximately 60mi long with 16,000ft of elevation gain.

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Figure 4. Elevation profile of the Riggins-to-Imnaha Hells Canyon traverse. The Grand Canyon profile is shown for comparison.

While Hells Canyon double-crossings have previously been done (e.g., see http://gearjunkie.com/hells-canyon-idaho-rim-to-rim), I am not aware that someone attempted to extend the traverse from Riggins to Imnaha and included the He Devil. For comparison, a classic Grand Canyon double crossing (rim-to-rim-to-rim or R3) is—depending on the route—about 45mi long with 12,000ft of elevation gain.

Besides the usual uncertainty on such adventures, there is a number of additional challenges to overcome on this Hells Canyon traverse.

  • I expect icy and snowy conditions on the He Devil (9,400ft). It is only a class 3 scramble in normal conditions, but things could get ugly this time of the year.
  • I will need to swim across the Snake River with all my gear. The river is big water (see Figure 6). There are dangerous rapids and the water temperature is a concern. Depending on the location, the swimming distance will be about 300ft/100m. Crossing the river will be a critical part.
  • There is no crew access to the bottom of the canyon where I will attempt the swim-crossing. If I get in trouble, help will be far away distance- and elevation-wise.
  • The drive from Riggins to Imnaha is around 6h, depending on the route. That poses some extra challenges for the crew for support and rescue operations. In addition, cell phone coverage is mostly non-existing.

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Figure 6. The Snake River at the bottom of Hells Canyon. Source: http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/wallowa-whitman/recarea/?recid=59662

William L. Sullivan, author of many Oregon hiking books, says the following about the Hat Point hike: “Perhaps the most difficult day hike in Oregon descends 5600 feet from Hat Point to the bottom of Hells Canyon and back” (http://www.oregonhiking.com/oregon-adventures/100-hikes-in-eastern-oregon/hikes-in-the-wallowa-mountains/hat-point-hike). Another statement motivated me to move the start from the Windy Saddle trailhead, the entry point to the Seven Devils Wilderness, 18mi back to Riggins: “It would be fool’s errand to attempt to climb these peaks [Seven Devils] all the way from the town of Riggins” (http://www.summitpost.org/he-devil-she-devil/151965).

I’m very excited about this extended traverse because of its simplicity, symmetry, the mixed terrain, the special challenges, and the incredible beauty of these landscapes. Also, it will be my first adventure across time zones.

The planned start is at 4am (Mountain Time) on Sat, Oct 24, 2015. You can follow my SPOT here: http://bit.ly/Riggins2Imnaha