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  • Aria Zoner

FKT - Lessons from Hell

Have you ever wondered what it'd be like to walk across the deepest river gorge in North America, twice in one day? Probably not, but it case you have. It's scary! At least that's how it was for me. But it wasn't the 50.26 miles of hiking that concerned me, it was a bridgeless crossing of the Snake River, midway through.

Aria Zoner at the Snake River crossing.

Just twelve days earlier, I had successfully completed this route in 23 hours, 47 minutes, 47 seconds; however, my time was not officially recognized since I was shuttled across the river by a jet boat on the way back. Having already swam the first side of this crossing, I knew I didn't want to do it again. Solution? A portable packraft.

Hells Canyon 2.0

On October 2, 2020, I departed from the Windy Saddle Trailhead at 2:15am Oregon time and entered Hells Canyon Wilderness. Besides a wide range of updates and improvements to my strategy and gear, I had much better weather conditions and a full moon overhead. By the time I left the far side of the first crossing, I was an hour ahead of my previous time.

Hat Point Lookout Tower

At Hat Point, the views were obscured by smoke from a nearby fire. I summitted the lookout tower then without sitting down, began heading back.

Despite having a packraft, the return crossing was still scary. The water's moving fast here, with rapids immediately downstream. During my first attempt, a jet boat came by as I was scouting for the best line. Standing there in my underwear, in the middle of the deepest river gorge in North America, I was visibly shook and the driver gave me a ride. This time, I paddled across and made the eddy I was aiming for without a hitch. On the east side of the canyon once again, I was now an hour and a half ahead of my previous time.

Hell yeah!

The climb back up to Windy Saddle is much bigger than the one up to Hat Point, as there are several ups and downs on this side. During the final hours, I battled between being cold from low temps and a stiff breeze, and sweating from exerting harder than I ever have. By the top, I had lost some of my lead time but got to enjoy the views. The moon was casting shadows on the 7 Devils peaks. On my first crossing, I was ducking lightning and getting showered on with sleet during this part!

Hells Canyon R2R2R (Rim to Rim to Rim)

All in all, I have to say this was the most challenging day hike I've ever done, especially when considering the poison ivy and deadfall that I had to navigate thru, on top of the 2 river crossings and 18,283 feet of elevation gained. While these numbers are indeed impressive, this simple yet dangerous feat begs the question, why do something like this in the first place? To face your fears, find your limits, and grow from the experience. After 2 successful crossings of this route, I can confidently say, I've done just that.

New Hells Canyon R2R2R FKT:

22 hours 43 minutes 25 seconds by Aria Zoner

Previous (Men's Unsupported) FKT:

26 hours 4 minutes 56 seconds by Peter Meighan

Hear all about this record breaking FKT, in this record breaking episode of the Cascade Hiker Podcast:

Cascade Hiker Podcast - Episode 182

I hope you enjoyed this episode. Let me know what you thought of it in the comments below, plus what your biggest sub 24 hour day is. Want to go further while feeling better too? Upgrade Your Nutrition, then see what's up!

Until next time, chow...on superfoods!

Aria Zoner



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