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Hells Canyon - Spring Backpacking Trip '17

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  • RSVPs will open Sunday, Feb. 12


    The Spring Hell's Canyon backpacking trip returns for 2017!  This is a great beginner's backpacking trip and a great way to test out your new gear or get your old gear into shape.  We'll be hiking from Pittsburgh Landing up river to the historic Kirkwood Ranch, staying overnight, and then returning the next morning.  The distance is about 6 miles each way on a well maintained trail. There is lots of open space to set up camp and even a flush toilet for hikers to use at the ranch! A museum of pioneer canyon life is open (and free) and if you're in good with the caretakers, they may even give you a peek at the concrete bathtub in the house.

    The Hike:

    The trail is a well maintained wide single track that is sometimes cut into the rock. It slowly climbs along the Snake river and then quickly descends a set of switchbacks that are just above the ranch. Along a couple stretches, it traverses a steep slope several hundred feet above the river. It's not particularly difficult or dangerous but not for those afraid of heights - figure about 3 hours each way with rest stops.

    What to expect:

    This is definitely NOT a beginning hike but not too high on the difficulty scale - it's a great first-time backpacking trip. There are three water crossings:  one is knee or thigh deep (if you don't walk on the stones), one ankle deep, and one will just get your shoes muddy. I recommend bringing water shoes or something you can change into and out of quickly for the big crossing.  The creek flows can vary widely and, although I've been proven wrong about possible high flows on the first creek, I'm going to remain cautiously pessimistic in a Grumpy Cat sort of way.

    The only part that gives me pause is descending down the switchback to the ranch with my pack - it's steep with some loose gravel. I've done it with and without trekking poles and descending with poles is definitely better. The flip-side is that you have to climb it at the beginning of the return hike in the morning.

    This time of year in the canyon, poison ivy usually isn't too bad (it hasn't started growing or hasn't grown too much) but I always wear long pants, just in case.  I have heard reports of ticks in the area but haven't encountered any yet - this may be just luck - there isn't much tall brush along the trail unless you go down along the river bank.  I'm going to treat my clothes and equipment this year, just in case.

    There is a vault toilet at the trailhead.

    Trash is Pack-In-Pack-Out.

    We're meeting again this year at 5:30 a.m. so that we can get an earlier start - the transit time from Eagle to the trailhead is just over 4 hours and the sooner we can start, the better chance we have of getting choice camp sites. I plan to be on the road by 5:45 a.m. that morning.  Also, the earlier we arrive at camp, the more opportunity there is to explore.


    The weather this time of year can vary quite a bit depending on regional conditions.  Daytime highs can be anywhere from the 40's to the 80's and lows can be pleasant to freezing.  We'll have a better idea as the date approaches.


    Pack, on-the-go water, light rain jacket/windbreaker, tent, sleeping bag, food preparation, good hiking shoes & socks, water filtration, and trekking poles (not necessary, but definitely a plus).  Bring some cord and a bag to hang your food to keep it safe from smaller critters.


    Lunch on the road or at the trailhead, on-trail snacks, something for dinner, and something for breakfast.


    There is no potable water available, but the creeks will be running so you'll need to bring your filters to re-supply. There is a shady area at Kirkwood Creek where you can fill a bucket without much difficulty. Spring runoff makes for very cloudy water that will clog your filters, so bring a pre-filter if you have one.


    I'm not planning on having a fire but if you want one, fires in firepans are usually allowed this time of year (but no gathering of wood is permitted). A couple fire logs can be split up and distributed.  You will need to carry out the ashes.


    Again this year, I would rather there be no dogs for the trip.  This is for safety - while the hike isn't necessarily dangerous, the trail can be very unforgiving of carelessness.  Playful dogs running up and down the trail can easily knock a hiker off the single-track and much hurt will ensue.

    Getting there:

    This is a popular time of year to hike the canyon, so the sooner we can get to the trailhead, the better chance we will have at getting one of the campsites with a table (not to mention park up close to the trailhead). It's a 4 hour drive from Boise up Hwy 55 and Hwy 95 to North of Riggins. We'll cross the Salmon River just South of Whitebird on the old Hwy 95 bridge and then climb the FS road over the pass and down to the Pittsburgh Landing. We'll discuss departure times as the date approaches.  There is a link to a PDF map at the bottom of the post.

    **** A Note About RSVPs: ****

    RSVPs will open up this Sunday, February 12. 

    Please, please, please:  only RSVP if you are very likely to attend. 

    If later you find you are unable to make it, please be sure to change your RSVP as soon as you can so that someone else can sign up.


    The PDF map is no longer available - I'll hand out maps before we leave.

    Hell's Canyon (Wikipedia)

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  • Karin

    I just canceled. I'll be attending a memorial service that day.

    February 16

  • Lon B.

    Been with the group the last couple of years and this is an excellent spring trip

    1 · February 12

  • Brenda M.

    Yay! I was just recovering from surgery to repair a broken ankle at this time last excited to see this on the calendar for this year...Thanks!!

    1 · February 9

  • Miste

    Yay and thank you, Chris!

    1 · February 8

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