Thursday, May 30, 2013

Hells Canyon 2013

Doug enjoying sunny limestone in Hells Canyon
Three years ago, I made a pilgrimage to Hells Canyon over Memorial Day weekend.  Armed with just enough beta to find this remote valley, we explored numerous unknown sport climbs of unknown grades, met a few committed regulars and even picked up some tidbits of information that I filed away for future trips.

I promised myself a return trip but fast forward three years later and I still hadn't managed to make the time.  When the weather gods recently washed out a planned trip into the mountains for Memorial Day weekend, Hells Canyon immediately came to mind as Plan B.  The forecast looked a bit marginal but drier than pretty much everywhere else north of the Sierras.  By 10 pm Friday night, we rolled into Allison Creek campground and unloaded our kit down by the river.  

The beta for this place is sparse, but the climbing is quite engaging, usually well protected by bolts and mostly easy to locate.  All in all, its perfect for those willing to explore a bit and to launch up unknown routes with a fist full of quick draws and a bail biner (which we thankfully never had to use).  We started on the South Face of the Flatiron, highlighted by ascents of what I think were Desperado and a route next to it, both of which felt like 5.11 or so.  Both these routes are quite long with mid-point anchors that we now know are supposed to be used as lower offs.  We ended up climbing both routes in multi-pitch style, which worked just fine, but probably wasn't ideal.  In the shot above, Doug is finishing off the steep 5.11 pitch that starts in a small, triangular alcove off the ledge and then finishes high on the face through several roofs and bulges.  Poke around up there, and you'll find lots of cool routes - there's way more to explore than we had time to check out. 

Turning the corner on the Flatiron and headed towards the West Face
A small portion of the West Face of the Flatiron
At the end of the day, we climbed a cool route that starts off the ledge leading towards the West Face.  It climbs up through a bulgy corner system - maybe called Lady - maybe not.  Who knows but the route was cool with a fun crux through some bulgy rock.  At the end of the day, we checked out the west face and looked for lines of bolts leading up the 300 ft formation.  We eyeballed a couple of routes but of course had no idea what they were.

The approach to Big Bar Buttress
On Sunday, we went up to Big Bar Buttress, hoping to stay in the shade all day.  The highlights were definitely the two routes we climbed on the north side of the buttress, which we managed to squeeze in before getting bouted by a downpour (right as I was cruxing at the lip on what I think is Saturday Jesus).  We finished the day off with a couple of quick pitches on the Glass Wall after the rain abated. 

Monday, armed with a bit of beta from the Yoder/Ford camp, we went back up to the Flatiron and knocked out two of the multi-pitch routes that we had early eyeballed on the West Face.  Oh yes!  These lines are really high quality and would be heavily traveled classics at most crags.  The right hand line sports pretty consistent 5.10 climbing throughout the three pitches.  The left hand line included a stellar pitch 3 crux that involves delicate 5.11- face moves off the anchor into an airy 5.easy roof system way off the deck.  Cool!  We were back at the car and on the road by 1 pm.  Major props to Team Yoder/Ford for putting up these excellent lines!  If you can find 'em, climb 'em, because they're definitely worth it. 

This place is remote and adventurous - 2.5 hours from I84 at the bottom of what's supposedly the deepest river gorge in North America.  Its well worth checking out for the solitude and climbing, and the few regulars we met have been very friendly and welcoming.  Hopefully the last few pictures intrigue you enough to go check it out.   

Allison Creek Campground along the Snake River - a former orchard used to feed the local miners


  1. Chris, Really enjoyed reading your past two accounts of trips to this place. Your descriptions and pictures actually do this place justice. Many years ago I was lucky to be on the ground floor as this place was pioneered and slowly developed. It remains to this day one of my favorite spots in the world. Even though I am not climbing at the same level now, still going back 2-3 times a year with friends and family the feelings and enjoyment are just like it was in the beginning. Thanks for sharing your experiences, I hope you get back often. Enjoy.

  2. Hey, thanks for the note. I can't wait to go back - maybe we'll run into each other, and I'll get hear some stories from back in the day.