Grueling. This hunt is grueling. “Hardcore” would be a good word except it can actually have positive undertones in my mind. Grueling is a better word to describe this hunt. The entire hunt is grueling. What were we even thinking? With snow packs unrivalled in recent years, the only option to enter “The Canyon” is from the river. The Snake River Canyon. Even the insects and worms are black. What did we expect to find but a grueling hunt? And what made us think we could make it across the Snake River at flood stage in a 12 foot row boat? Oh, yeah, the guy in Lewiston that manages the river. He’s the one that said we could make it across the river in a 12 foot row boat. What was he thinking? He must have thought we were going in October. But, I get ahead of myself.
Spot and stalk is my kind of hunting. Good optics, good vantage points, knowing where the animal is (or was) then going after it. That’s hunting at its finest. A spring bear hunt is the epitome of spot and stalk hunting. The wide open ridges of Hell’s Canyon country just scream of spot and stalk opportunities. And, besides varmints, what else is there to hunt in April and May? Spring bear--what a great idea!
Apply for the tag. Gather the gear. How in the heck are we going to get a bear out of that country if we kill one? Young legs. We’ll recruit young legs. Get the family together. This isn’t the stuff for the faint of heart—possibly for the soft of mind--but not for the faint of heart. Hire a jet boat to drop us off down the canyon. Boy, that’s getting expensive but, hey, the river manager says we should be able to cross with a row boat. He should know if a row boat crossing of the Snake River is feasible this time of year, shouldn’t he?
We arrive on the Idaho side of the river with our 12 foot row boat. That looks like a lot of water. The Corp can only release 78,000 cubic feet per minute from Hell’s Canyon Dam without flooding the towns downstream. They released 72,500 cfm yesterday. Dang, that’s a LOT of water. I think we can make it if we don’t get too close to that seam of rough water most of the way across the river. After all, the river manager said we could.
Life jackets. The bag of life jackets seems to have only one real life jacket in it if you don’t count the one for a 30 pound child. The “Floaty Cushions” look pretty sea worthy. It still looks like a LOT of water but we only have to make two trips to get all five of us across the river. My brother and his son are going with me on the first trip. My nephew is the only one with a real life jacket. Why did he strap his 13 pound rifle to his back? Is it his equalizer to make sure he doesn’t have too much of an advantage over his dad and his uncle with their Floaty Cushions should we not make it across? Don’t know.
Hitting the current was a wake-up call. Did I mention that there was A LOT of water? The tops of the bankside trees sticking out of the river are an obvious indication of the water level but it’s now the Power of the current that has our attention. “Are we still heading towards the barn on the Oregon side?” “Yeah…well, we were!” my nephew says. “Are we still heading for the opening in the tree tops on the far shore?” “Yeah.” A couple of minutes later my brother looks over my shoulder and says, “Row, Tim. We’re in trouble!”
The river current swinging us into the corner helps us get within arm’s reach of the top of one of the trees sticking out of the river just ten yards from the next stretch of white water. My nephew lays hold of a branch and stops our progress towards a certain shipwreck. A strategic, adrenaline-assisted push or two on the oars gets us to the next tree top. A couple more strokes and we’re against the rocks.
A quick assessment of the ship’s crew says that we are NOT going to do that again. None of us are sure what the options are but none of us really care. This will not happen again with us in the boat. This may have been one of the stupidest things anyone has ever done and lived through it.