Hells Canyon is a huge chasm on the Oregon / Idaho border in the northeastern corner of Oregon. At points it is nearly 6000 feet deep between peaks on either side, though the depth varies over its length. A backpacking trip here had been a high priority for me and the spring is the recommended time because it gets very hot by summer and all but the biggest creeks dry up. At the bottom is the Snake River, at about 1200-1300 feet.

This trip was over Memorial Day weekend in 2008. There was rain and sun alternately during the trip, with the sun coming out in the afternoon every day, and sometimes in the morning as well. But it usually rained at night and around lunch time, and often in the evening. At the bottom, temperatures were in the 60s or low 70s when it was cloudy and rose quickly to the 80s if the sun came out when high in the sky. But the first day was much colder with snow on the ridges, including on the well-named (for that day) Freezeout Saddle, which I had to cross at 5300 feet.

The trip was five days and four nights in the canyon. I had planned on a clockwise loop, turning left on the High trail, which contours along the side of the canyon, dropping down the the river, and then returning back over the pass. But since it was so cold at the start, I reversed the direction.

The Imnaha River, on the drive to the trailhead.

Freezeout Trailhead, named after Freezeout Creek next to it.

The wet trail crosses a meadow.

Closeup of the ever-present mud on the first day.

A bit higher up, new snow framed the trail.

Across the pass (where it was too wet to take the camera out), looking down Saddle Creek canyon.

Saddle creek canyon. A fire swept up dozens of miles of the canyon the previous July, covering the entire are I hiked in the canyon.

Indian paintbrush.

More flowers near Saddle Creek.

The first ford/wade across Saddle Creek. Just under knee-deep. My boots were fairly wet before this, and I thought the current was too strong to do this in sandals.

Looking north on the Snake River, where Saddle Creek joins.

Looking south, including the Saddle Creek meadows and benches. A hunting group was camped just below in large canvas tents.

Camp 1 on a bench overlooking the Snake River. It was 11 miles in, 1700 feet up to the pass, and 4000 feet lower to the Snake River.

Looking back up Saddle Creek canyon.

Old McGallee cabin on the Idaho side on Bernard Creek.

A well-constructed part of the Snake River trail.

Rafters on the Snake River.

A jet boat on the Snake. These were numerous on the holiday weekend.

Continue to page two of the Hells Canyon trip.