Seven Devils, Hells Canyon Wilderness, Idaho

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The Seven Devils mountains are a rugged bunch of sky scraping, basalt pinnacles. Though the peak elevation of this geographically small region at He Devil is only 9,393 ft., short by most diehards’ standards, the stunning fluctuations between the ancient and narrow, lake-filled, green glacial valleys walled in by their towering, lord like, mountain brethren give you a real sense of the word gigantic.

Backpacking idahoLike I said before, the Seven Devils range is relatively small compared to many mountain ranges. A loop trail circles all the Devils in only 28 miles. No big deal, but many of the interior gems of these mountains: lakes, wildlife, vistas, and der- peaks, reside miles inside with only one trail for each destination. If you think of the loop as a bike wheel, the trails into the interior are like spokes. This means that in order to reach some interior destination, you must first walk a great deal of the “wheel” just to reach the interior trail. That’s B.S.!

Except in ONE occasion- The Climber’s Route. This trail takes you to, in our opinion, the best location in the Seven Devils, Sheep Lake. Named after the weekend warriors who use this long abandoned trail to weave over tricky ridges, up shale rock fields, and down fractures in cliff sides, this trail is more defined than its “abandoned” description. The trail is used by climbers of mountains as an arduous 3.9 mile shortcut to reach Sheep Lake and the tallest of the Seven Devils, He Devil. The traditional way of traveling 5.5 miles on the loop to Sheep Lake trail, then another 5 miles toward Sheep Lake is almost pushing the envelope for most mid to beginner climbers. The short cut is tough, definitely doable, and worth the time saved.

backpacking idahoThe unofficial trailhead conveniently begins at the Seven Devils campground, which is reachable by vehicle. . It has become popularized somewhat which makes the trail very visible, but at times its tough terrain cannot support a conventional trail as we know it, so simply “climbing to that ridge” is all you can go for. The trailhead is located exactly after the first campsite past the second set of bathrooms.

Meander through the pines uphill and you see your first obstacle. This rock slide has a visible trail portion most of the time, but jeebsus is it steep. This rock slide is the western ridge of a mountain called The Ogre. When the trail levels out at The Ogre’s saddle, breathe deep knowing that was the most arduous uphill of the hike. From this saddle head west, right, and skirt along the ridge to get good views of Mirror Lake and its foreboding dark fortress, the Tower of Babel.

The trail curves towards Babel with the ridge, then crosses over the ridge to a west-facing slope where you catch views of Dry Diggins Lookout, Hell’s Canyon beyond that, and the Wallowa Mountains in Oregon far in the distance. As you follow over the ridge and down, you can see a prominent structure in the valley below known as Devil’s Tooth. The trail here is well defined into the mountain slope, a very steep mountain slope. Check yo’ self before you wreck yo’ self.

mountaineering idahoSoon Sheep Lake is visible and so is He Devil, She Devil, Tower of Babel, and the Middle Ridge. There are many great campsites along the lake, all in the wooded shore lines. This lake is the deepest and coldest of all in the region. The water has a moraine quality and appears turquoise. Big Rainbow Trout cruise the shore. They are really smart up there so catching them is not easy. Use artificial flies that match bugs of the area. Two times something sinister took my fly, swam furiously deep towards the center of the lake, and snapped my line. Stories like these and a personal sighting of a deep swimming, salmon sized trout, make many question what kind of monsters lurk in Sheep Lake’s depths.

fishing idahoWe stayed over night, got up with the sun, and set out towards He Devil. A trail up the mountain begins below the mountain, on the Southwest side of the lake. The trail switchbacks up to a saddle where some other lakes become visible far below. Take some pics, but your destination is the next ridge over that climbs all the way to the top of He Devil. Rock hop across the boulder field to the ridge, and a trail appears on the ridge’s spine. This will take you to the top. Great views of all Seven Devils, Hell’s canyon, Little Salmon River canyon, and Salmon River Canyon are beheld. Sign the notebook in the PVC pipe at the top, take an adventure nap, and leave.

Many hike in from Seven Devils Campground, climb He Devil, then hike out in one day. If you have two or three days, spend some time up there by Sheep Lake. The basalt cliffs that isolate each valley climb high with ancient erosion to craggy, and incredibly unique and devilish peaks. The climb up He Devil from the lake takes 3 hours with breaks, and 1.5 hours to go down. Look for mountain goats, sheep, deer, and wildflowers. Also, watch out for the Cyclops.

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