C of I Outdoor Program leads trip to Hells Canyon

A dozen Coyotes stood atop Suicide Point. The river flowed fast, dividing the towering canyon rim. Snow-topped mountains on the left morphed into a field of natural grasses near the bank. A forest service ranch on the Oregon side of the Snake River glowed a shade of deep grassy green.

“The view at the top of (Suicide Point) was spectacular,” sophomore Brittaney Bones said. “You could really tell why it is called the Snake, with the winding of the river.”

Click here to check out photos from the trip on the C of I Flickr page.

Over Spring Break 2015, The College of Idaho’s student-run Outdoor Program organized a five-day backpack trek through Hells Canyon—jet-boat ride included. And the anticipation for the trip started well before a step was taken in America’s deepest canyon gorge.

“It’s my senior year and I haven’t gotten to go on one of the OP’s week-long break trips, so I was really excited for this,” Gary Parkinson said.

After being dropped off at Granite Creek, the crew hiked more than 20 miles to its destination at Kirkwood Ranch, encountering a myriad of weather patterns, interesting people and scenic views while creating another reel of college memories.

“Each day has been a complete adventure,” said sophomore Will Callahan. “They’ve been different from each other and also from my days at home, where the days can run together.”

Senior John French also welcomed a break from the grind of college life.

“[Fellow students] Pragna (Naidoo) and Ruth (Lewinski) knew I had a lot of stuff to do, but they kept harping on me,” French said. “And I’m glad they did because I really wanted to come and do something outside, but I never usually make the time to.”

Rain pounded and high winds blew the first night as the group rested after hiking five miles. A seven-mile journey the next day would lead to a highlight of the trip.

After matching pace with the drip, drip, drip of the rain, the group arrived at the second campsite and found an unexpected surprise—Bill.

A mountain man festooned with a jean jacket, grizzled gray beard and a turkey feather tucked in a brown cowboy hat, Bill gave refuge to the pack of wet Coyotes in his house at Sheep Creek Ranch, or “Sheep Crick” as Bill called it. Inside, a wood stove and hot drinks of cider, tea and hot chocolate kindled the soul. The rain let up and night gave way to flames flickering across faces as Bill told stories—some enlightening, some spooky—of ancestors that once roamed the canyon’s crevices.

“Bill and Sheep Creek was definitely my favorite experience,” Naidoo said. “We got to use a stove and hear a lot of interesting stories.”

The C of I Outdoor Program’s mission is to provide access to outdoor activities that will foster the development of friendships in the campus community, to educate, and to promote outdoor recreation. And the Hells Canyon trip accomplished all of those goals.

“To have a group come here and experience Hells Canyon for the first time…I really enjoy the experience of seeing other people have those first moments of enjoying nature and being outside,” said Lewinski, one of the student Outdoor Program directors.

International student and sophomore Shayan Shokrgozar started hiking as a 13-year-old in his native Iran. For him, the outdoors offer breathtaking views and inspiration. Plus, he’s met some of his best friends on his travels.

“I feel like coming here, I had the opportunity to meet a lot of people that I would otherwise would not have,” Shokrgozar said. “It’s really nice backpacking. You have the opportunity to spend 4 or 5 five days with 12 people on the trail. So, I think it is an opportunity that you will be unlikely to have after college, unless you really pursue that.”

The group had several first-time backpackers who experienced Idaho’s beauty up close and personal and learned new skills, such as how to light a burner or filter water.

“Coming backpacking and feeling how heavy each step can be and how long 20 miles really is makes people appreciate things that they do every day and places that they normally are,” Lewinski said.

And whether it’s carrying a 50-pound backpack through scenic country, seeing petroglyphs, or any of the countless other memories collected along the trail, these C of I students are sure to tell stories about their Spring Break trip to Hells Canyon around campfires for years to come.

“A lot of people have built bonds with one another and gotten close to one another,” Naidoo said. “It was a great experience for everybody, that’s for sure.”

“I would do this again in a heartbeat.”

Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state’s oldest private liberal arts college. The C of I has a legacy of academic excellence, a winning athletics tradition and a history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars and 14 Marshall, Truman and Goldwater Scholars. The College’s beautiful, residential campus is located in Caldwell. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. For more information, visit