Up the Snake River 1811 Style
Picture of Idaho Mountainneer
Here's a quick little story of my adventures in the Snake River canyon earlier this spring.

Caldron Linn Camp 2016

Most people wouldn't think there was any relation between Astoria Oregon and Southern Idaho. The one is wet almost all the time while the other struggles for want of water. But any good student of the fur trade knows of Wilson Price Hunt or Robert Stuart.

Hunt came westward, sent by John Jacob Astor, to explore a route across the continent in the years 1810-1812. This was the first overland expedition through these parts since the Corp of Discovery. Hunt though, did not cross the Bitterroot Mountains as did the Corp. but he and his men, and one woman with two children and one more on the way, decided to travel further south along what is the present day Snake River.

Hunt's hope was that he could float his way to the mouth of the Columbia. But this was not to be. "Our journey was less fortunate on the 28th; for after passing through several rapids, we came to the entrance of a narrow gorge. Mr. Crook's canoe capsized, one of his companions drowned, and we lost a great deal of merchandise."-Wilson Price Hunt October 1811

A few more attempts were made to float what they would soon come to call the "Mad River" but they relized that there efforts were in vain. Abandoning their canoes they were forced to walk almost the entire way to Fort Astoria.

A year later Robert Stuart led a party heading East from Fort Astoria. In August of that year they reached Caldron Linn.

"In a place called the Caldron Linn , the river is confined between two banks of rocks, far less than 90 feet from each other; the prospect is so awful that it defies description; it's a crash, agitation, confusion, that have earned this place the name of Devil Hole ." Robert Stuart-1812

Needless to say this stretch of the Snake River was not a pleasant place for these early explorers.

Now we jump ahead just a little over 200 years. A camp had been planned for April 15-17 at the location of Caldron Linn. This camp was booshwayed by my good friend and AMM co-sponsor Dennis Knapp. Having some extra time on my hands I made plans for starting out a day early and hike to the camp from about twelve miles down river. The plan was to make camp where ever I made it to the first day and continue on to meet up with the party of men at Caldron Linn.

April 14. The first day I wanted to get an early start. For any one who is not familiar with this section of the Snake River Canyon let me describe it for you. When you stand on top you say to yourself, "There is no way to get down there." When you stand on the bottom you say to your self, "There is no way to get up there." But despite the spectacular views of the towering cliffs there are a few, and I mean a very few, places that are decent routes to get in and out.

When my darling wife dropped me and our dog Henry off, we made our way down one of the trails that I knew would take me to the bottom. The river was quite low and it was my hope that we could walk along the dry rocks that were normally under water. Starting off, I had the excitement of having an adventure ahead of me, but little did I know it was going to be more adventure than I had planned on.

For the first couple hours I made ok time. There were a few spots that were rough to get around with big rocks and thick willows. The poor dog was tossed over rocks that he couldn't jump. I was starting to think that this was getting kinda tough. Soon I camp to a big bunch of willows that stretched from the cliff bottom to the river. There was no way around. I had come this far, I wasn't going to turn back. Diving into the willows, Henry and I bushwhacked our way through, measuring distance in inches. What a relief when we found the other side.

Over more giant rocks a more willows we soon found ourselves at a location where the cliffs came down to the river leaving a ledge about two feet wide to walk on. This is where a person comes to the point and says, "Should I go back through all that crap I just came through or go on?" I really did not want to back track all that way. It had been some really rough going, maybe it was better up ahead.

Hugging the cliff face I sidestepped along all the while wondering what they would say at my funeral. The two blankets and grub I had packed on my back would surely sink me to the bottom of the river, if I fell in I would try to grab my butcher knife and cut the pack loose.

Sitting down on the opposite side of this challenging bit of trail I rested and was thankful that I was still alive. Now there was no turning back, I was not going to go around that point again unless there was absolutely no path ahead.

As the afternoon went on I was feeling fatigued. It's amazing how a person can think they are in perfect shape until in situations like this. I had been excercising and preparing for a long walk but I was not prepared for this. As I stumbled over the rocks I knew I was in danger of taking a wrong step and breaking a leg or my neck. At least I did have a cell phone signal if it came to that point. I like being period correct, but for the sake of my family I like being alive even better.

It was then decided that I had better stop, though there was still plenty of daylight left. My legs needed a good long rest. I knew I was still a good long way from Caldron Linn and I knew I would be endagering myself if I tried to continue at the pace I hoped to go. So I changed plans. I would rest the night where I was at and in the morning find a trail to the top and have my wife drive me the rest of the way.

Camp was pleasant and restful while eating smoked salmon and raisins. My camp was set up in a bunch of willows and that was what was used as fire wood. I was told later that the temps were in the mid thirties that night but I passed it comfortably. All night, when not asleep, I thought about my plan for the next day.

The 15'th. After spending the pre-dawn hours by my fire I raised camp and was on the trail when it was light enough to see. The going was the same as the day before. Rocks and willows and river. At one point I heard a splash and looked to see four otters swiming toward me and grunting. They soon dived under the bank and were gone.

After walking a little further on I came to a rock slide that looked like it led up close to the top. Working our way up this we found ourselves on a wide ledge. There was still about twenty feet of rim rock between me a what I percieved was the top. Walking along this I hoped to find a route for us to climb out. As we went along the ledge narrowed to the point that we could go no further and I had seen no way up. At this point I was feeling mighty discouraged. I was trapped in this miserable hole and not more than twenty feet above me was my freedom.

Well there was nothing for it; I would have to backtrack and make my way back down to the river bottom. When I came to where the rock slide led down I stopped and rested for a minute. Now here is where you are going to have take my word as being the truth, and if you don't then that's all right, I know what happened while I was down there. As I rested a strong breeze blew past me and I turned around to see a patch of sun on the cliff and it was shining right on a series of little legdges leading to the top. Talk about hope springing up in my soul!

I grabbed my pack and we worked our way along the top of the rock pile to the base of the cliff. Looking up I knew it was going to work, as long as I didn't topple off . Pulling off my pack I slung it up on the first ledge. Next came my rifle, then the dog, and finally myself. This proccess was reapeated until I made it to the last ledge and poking my head above the rim rock I found I was not out of the canyon yet. Instead I had found what I would call a bluff. It was all flat ground, probably 400 yards wide but there was still more rim rock above me. Well at least I was out of that nasty river bottom.

Looking along this new challenge of the trail I saw another rock slide that went strait to the top. I was almost there. I found a new energy in my step and soon I was working my way along the rock slide next to the rim rock. One last rock to climb over and I was out. What a trip this had been. Pulling myself up I saw the top, and something else. Between me and the rest of the world was an eight foot wide, twenty foot deep chasm. What else could happen!!! At this point I was a little frustrated. I climbed back down the rock I was on and started walking along the rim. Soon I found a place where a little one foot wide zig zag ledge spanned the chasm. We tipptoed across this and I sighed a huge sigh of relief. Walking to a tree along a near by road I waited and rested until my dear wife came and picked me up.

The camp at Caldron Linn was one of the most enjoyable camps I have attended. This was my first camp as an AMM pilgrim. On the 16'th a local college professor treated us with some in depth history of the Astorians and there time and place in American history. My family joined the camp that day which was a big day for my one year old son as this was his first period camp.

What a pleasant rest after the two previous days and I came away with a new appreciation for the original mountaineers. Thanks to Dennis for booshwaying this camp and thanks to everone for attending and make it all that more enjoyable.

Out of the several things I learned from this camp, two stand out the most in my mind. First, there are times you have to change your plans, this frustrates me greatly but sometimes that's the only thing that keeps your alive. After the first day I knew my legs would not hold out for another full day of the same and I would more than likely end up with a broken leg or worse. And the second thing I took away from all this. I will never walk this section of the Snake River canyon again!

Hoorah for mountain doin's!

For a few photos of the camp click on the link. http://idmountaineer.blogspot.com/
Posts: 330 | Location: Twin Falls ID | Registered: 29 January 2011Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Great story.
We don't have the willow thickets here in the southern Appalachians. Instead, we have "laurel thickets" (rhododendron) I've been tangled up in some of them, so I know how you were feeling.

Know what you believe in. Fight for your beliefs. Never compromise away your rights.
Posts: 1021 | Location: Cherokee Land, Tenasi | Registered: 06 January 2011Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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If you have some experience traveling through the out doors you have to marvel at what the early pioneers of our country accomplished. Here in eastern PA we have Sullivan's trail. They started in Easton Pa, and hacked a road through the wilderness to Wyoming PA, probably 70 miles, and I do mean hacked a road wide enough for wagons to travel. Idaho Mountaineer I take my hat off to you for your trek. I for one realize that I would have been forced to live close to if not in town were I alive back then.
Posts: 310 | Location: Pocono Mts. in PA | Registered: 12 June 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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