To Hell and Back - My Family Travels


This was the summer of our epic father/son journey out West. My dad and I set out on a six-week adventure full of camping, hiking, mountain biking, rafting and fly fishing. We mountain biked the Deadman’s Ridge trail of Moab, Utah, the biking capital of the world. We hiked the Devil’s Stairs trail in Grand Teton National Park. We fly-fished and swam in the Snake River, but none of that prepared me for the hike down into Hell’s Canyon National Recreation Area.

I’ve never been to a place more appropriately named than Hell’s Canyon. They canyon spans 10 miles along the border of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington and is deeper than the Grand Canyon. I’ve grown up listening to my dad’s stories of this rugged place. A place where bear and elk are more common than roads and stores. A place where grown men have slept on the side of the mountain because they couldn’t take one more step. A place that could be as deadly as it was beautiful. Now it was my turn to make the voyage.

We camped for a couple of nights up along the ridge, just enjoying the area and getting ready for the descent. The morning arrived. It’s a good thing we started early, what we didn’t know was it would take us every bit of daylight to make it to the bottom of Hell.

The canyon is only a bit over a mile deep, how long could it really take to hike? It is downhill after all. My dad just smiled his knowing smile and we headed out. After two bear sightings, one extremely loud Rattle Snake, herds of Elk and 27 miles later, we finally arrived at the base of the canyon. Exhausted. Hell’s Canyon is so rugged and steep, you have to zig-zag your way down it, ever so slightly so as not to tumble down. It was like drudging through Dante’s Inferno one layer at a time.

As Dad and I relaxed by our campfire, pleased with what we had accomplished, a little flash in the darkness caught my attention. As we strained to focus our eyes, we finally made out the silhouette of a sweet little fawn. She had snuggled up under my hammock and seemed intent on staying. She was only 4-5 feet away; so trusting. It was then that the thought struck me. Even in the depths of Hell’s Canyon, one can find innocence and faith, you just have to look beyond the darkness and toward the light.

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