26 March 2014

Hells Canyon Adventure Run 2014

Hells Canyon and the Snake River

The Hells Canyon Adventure Run is not a race. It's an annual for-fun run that's been put on by Alan Douglas for many years. There's a 30-mile stretch of trail between the Pittsburg Landing campground and the Hells Canyon Dam. I've been down to this trail a few times before, but this was my first time coming down for this organized run.

The run has three options:
  1. Long Version - Take the jet boat from the campground as far as it can go upriver and then run back to the campground. The distance seems to vary each year depending on how far upriver the boat can get due to the rapids. This year we were dropped off just shy of 25 miles from the campground. I've been told other years the boat has been able to get much closer to the dam to make for a near 30-mile run.
  2. Short Version - Take the jet boat upriver for 15 miles and then run back to the campground.
  3. Out and Back - Skip the jet boat (and save $65) and just run an out-n-back from the campground. 
We were told there were no 'drop bags' allowed on the jet boat, so the dilemma for all the long version folks was how much to wear on the hour-long jet boat ride starting at 6:15 am when temperatures were below 30 degrees Fahrenheit but would be up around 50 degrees by the end of the run. I dressed for the run (shorts) so I didn't have to carry all those extra clothes when I was on the trail and then spent every second of that very long boat ride regretting my decision not to wear full winter gear. 

Sadie wasn't too thrilled with her first jet boat ride either. She was as nervous as I was cold, and I spent the entire ride trying to calm her down and keep her from freaking out. But it was all worth it when we hit the trail.

With Sadie happy to be on solid ground and me excited to get moving, a group of four of us started down the trail. After five miles or so, our group was down to three: me, Dan H., and Riley.

We spent a good majority of our run in the morning shadow of the west-facing canyon walls. The Snake River was rarely out of our site as the trail weaved in and out of smooth, grassy meadows and then up and down rocky cliffs that boasted wobbly-leg inducing drop-offs up to four hundred feet high.

This is one of the trails worth bragging about. This is one of those trails worthy of a road trip. I tell trail runners new to Pullman that they must run in the Wallowas, and they must run this section of the Snake River.

I took a bunch of gopro video on the run. A lot of it didn't turn out so great because of the poor lighting from running in the shadow most of the day. But I put a few of the clips together in this short video.

And enjoy some photos.

Freezing with Sadie on the jet boat.
But enjoy the views and herds of elk.
(photo by Dan Hollingshead)

Early in the morning.

Dan H during the first couple miles of the day.

When the sun was out, the views were spectacular.

Riley and Dan enjoying trail.


View from Suicide Point.



Dan and Riley as we leave Kirkwood Ranch.

Campsite trailhead, and the end of our day.

Boston is less than a month away, and I'm excited. But I can't help being even more excited to see winter melting away from my favorite mountain trails. I think this is going to be a great year for trail running.

Keep running!



  1. Each one of your adventures keeps getting better. Great photos and video. Brings back good memories of just the few miles I ran on this trail with you and Annie and Sadie a few years ago. Beautiful!

    1. You hit a couple of the best miles on the trail. You wouldn't like the big cliffs later on. :)

  2. I can't remember a more enjoyable trail run. Already looking forward to next year.

    1. Pretty sweet, huh. Definitely makes my 'best of' list. We may have to swing out there again before the rattlesnakes come out. :)

  3. You did a great job with your report, the video and photos. I so wish I hadn't wimped out this year. Btw, the 30-mile option up the Wild Sheep Rapid and starting at Brush Creek was run only in 1988, 1989 and 1990, and dropped after the jet boat got swamped trying to go up the canyon in 1990. I was riding in the front seat and all I saw in front of me was a green wall of water, and water rushed in between the top of the windshield and roof canopy and doused me. The driver had to back down the river a bit, and make 2 more attempts. We made it on the 3rd try. Also, some years later the trail above the rapid had washed out and impassable with no possible bypass. I don't know if that ever got fixed. They would have had to blast a new trail in the cliff or something. That information flyer you probably saw I typed back in 1989/90 or so, and it's just been passed along but never corrected. After getting dropped off above Granit Rapid, some runners actually turned upriver for a few miles to get their 30 or 32 miles and see the very steep and rocky and cliff-like part at the beginning of the trail, which is very beautiful and rugged.

    1. Correction: the jet boat got swamped trying to go up the canyon, but I meant to say the Wild Sheep Rapid, when it ran smack into the wall of water rather than going up and over. Gunhild Swanson

    2. Thanks for the history, Gunhild. I'm not sorry that I missed the year the boat got swamped.

      I do want to see the last few miles on the upper part of the trail. Maybe next year I'll turn up before heading down.

  4. So awesome! Those steep cliffs = no thanks!

  5. http://www.seaportstriders.com/2016HELLSCANYON-1.pdf