“A lot of people think the Grand Canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America, it’s not, dropping 8,000 feet to Snake River, Hells Canyon is the deepest gorge, and amongst the most treacherous areas to hike.”
Joel Riggs is an Oregon based geographer who freely admits that he often seeks out “really gnarly” hiking and backpacking opportunities in some of the most remote areas of his state. Joel had previously attempted to hike the notoriously dangerous Hells Canyon last year but was unable to complete the hike due to a severe thunderstorm.
With a new hiking companion, a botanist colleague of Joel’s, the two set out to revisit the 55+ mile trek through Hells Canyon making a pact to work together as a team and not put each other in danger along the way.
“We are extremely experienced hikers and given our professions, we planned for a multi-day hike, knowing we would be traversing extremely steep terrain, most of which was not on a trail and required bushwhacking along the way,” said Riggs.
A journey defined by extremes, the canyon is known for its unpredictable weather, arid air and landscape untouched by visitors.
“We were really doing great and were already 50 miles into the hike at about 4,500 feet above the river and realized we were running low on water, we had to make a plan to figure out how that was going to happen.”
The two decided to divert their course to find a spring or water source, leaving the trail. The diversion took a full day and required more bushwhacking while avoiding large amounts of poison ivy, steep terrain, and tons of ticks along the way. It left them exhausted and unsure of how they would eventually find their way out of the canyon.
“We reached a point where we were exhausted and knew we were done, we weren’t injured, but knew that if we continued, we could see serious trouble for ourselves ahead. We both agreed, it was time to hit the SOS button on my SPOT.”
The team activated their SOS and made camp for the night, not knowing how rescue would occur.
“When daylight came around, it became brutally hot, really quickly. We went to cool ourselves off in the river when two jet boats came around the bend.”
Local authorities arrived on the scene, rescuing the pair and bringing them back to civilization.
“In the end I was reluctant to use the SPOT, but I had a responsibility to my hiking partner. The big takeaway with any of these types of situations is ultimately knowing when to ask for help. Put your ego and pride aside and look out for each other. For me, a product like SPOT is essential.