Snow on Hells Canyon

Snow on Hells Canyon

Hells Canyon is worth seeing, whatever time of year you manage to get down there.

I’ve heard several connoisseurs of the canyon argue that an early spring look at those imposing walls is an entirely different experience and not to be missed.

The canyon is all greened up, for one thing. Even the smaller creeks are in business and waterfalls are running full force. Wildflowers run streaks of color up to the rims, and you might catch sight of more wildlife than later in the year, before they move to higher ground as summer heats things up down low. Also, if you’re looking to save on sunscreen, the temperatures not being cranked up as high will be working in your favor.

I got my first look at Hells in the spring last year, and the temperature was definitely lower than the summer float trips I’d been on. Usually it doesn’t take much to work up a sweat, but this time it was snowing on us before we even left the boat ramp below Hells Canyon Dam. But it was a light snow. I will say that. And it soon let up. The few flakes were worth it to look up later from camp and see the top of the canyon white, where I’m used to seeing sun-baked rock.

Coffee tastes better on a brisk morning, anyhow, and it was refreshing to not be chasing shade like it was worth ten dollars a square foot, which can be the summer routine. Instead, we’d float into a sun break and start peeling off the fleece jackets to soak up the blue sky and sunlight.

It doesn’t get terribly cold, but I do recall waking up to find a light frost on the ground. And technically that’s freezing. So if you want to see the deepest canyon in North America when Hells is freezing over, spring’s your time.

Jon Rombach is a writer and river guide living in Oregon’s Wallowa County. His newspaper column, ‘And Furthermore’ is online at wallowa.com and ‘The Gearboat Chronicles’ rafting blog can be seen at windingwatersrafting.com.

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