This past weekend, I had the pleasure of spending three nights in Idaho’s Seven Devils. The devils are a series of craggy peaks between the Salmon and Snake river canyons. They rise over 7000 feet above the rivers and offer spectacular views and recreation opportunities, and for about three months of the year, they are accessible to people of all ages and abilities.
I went camping with seven other graduate students from the department and we had a blast hiking, fishing, enjoying the scenery, and spending time in the outdoors. We left Moscow Thursday afternoon and made it to Riggins by early evening. All descriptions of the road to the Seven Devils campground were way off. We were prepared for narrow, steep, unmaintained driving suitable for high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles. While the first half of the drive was steep, the road was quite wide, enough for two cars to pass each other, and the surface was fairly smooth for a gravel road. I think anyone could make this drive in just about any car. We ascended for 17 miles, and when we popped out of the forest in to the alpine meadow, it became apparent that this place was going to be awesome.
The first thing I noticed was the carpet of flowers through the grassy field. And then the view; wow, we were high up. We hit Windy Saddle during that golden evening light, but rather than start photographing, we had to secure ourselves a campsite. To our surprise, the trailhead parking was pretty full, and so was the campground just beyond. We found a spot that seemed like it would work, though I don’t think it was an official campsite. So Tim and I drove over to the horse facilities to find several of the sites open. When I went back to inform the rest of the group, they had found an open site, but it wasn’t very optimal. On our way back to get Tim and look at the sites in the horse facilities, we ended up finding two more sites, one of which was tucked away from the road near the lake. That ended up being our site for the three nights. We got camp set up just as darkness fell over the mountain.
Our campsite was quite optimal. For one, we were away from the main hustle and bustle. Many of the other sites were within visibility of neighboring sites, and we were afraid that we’d be too loud for other campers. Our site was tucked away, next to the trail to Seven Devils Lake. From the site, we could see a giant 1000+ foot cliff towering overhead. The morning sun bathed the rock and made for a most spectacular view to wake up to. Though as much as I tried, I failed to wake in time to catch the pink alpenglow the first two mornings. I did make it to the lake for some fairly early morning shots.
Friday morning, Tim and I drove out to the Heaven’s Gate Lookout before everyone else had gotten up. Though we missed the early morning light, we had a pretty spectacular view and brought back some good images of the mountains and the canyons. Later that day, we all packed our day bags and headed over to Sheep Lake. Normally, this would be a 12-mile hike, but the unofficial climber’s route drops the trip down to two. This trail is very steep and very strenuous. In half a mile, we must have gained nearly 1000 feet to the first pass on a trail made from loose rock and gravel. Once on top, there is a spectacular view of the Tower of Babel and Mirror Lake. Then there’s a fairly steep decline to Sheep Lake. It took us two hours to hike two miles, but it was worth it. Sheep Lake is the largest lake in the Seven Devils and it is surrounded by four of the seven peaks: He Devil, She Devil, Mt. Baal, and the Tower of Babel. A few of us had planned to make the scramble to the top of some of these, but after the strenuous hike over with the return trip looming, we decided it was going to be too much to do in one day. So we spent the afternoon lounging and fishing around Sheep Lake. The hike back isn’t nearly as bad as the hike out since the incline isn’t as high or steep. However, because this is an unmarked trail, it’s easy to follow a false path, and this slowed us down quite a bit. I’m not sure how others make this route with full packs, but I don’t think I want to give it a try.
Since we were all tired and sore from Friday’s hike, we spent Saturday relaxing at camp. Some of the group spent the day fishing at Seven Devils lake, but there was no major activity. I headed to the Heaven’s Gate Lookout in the afternoon with Tyler and Genevive, and returned again at sunset with everyone else. The hike to Heaven’s Gate is only .3 miles and very easy to a fire tower with a 360-degree view of the surrounding area: Seven Devils to the south, Hells Canyon and the Wallowa Mountains to the west, The Salmon River canyon, Frank Church Wilderness, and the Bitterroot mountains to the East, and the Snake River Canyon and Cottonwood Butte area to the north. At 8300 feet, I don’t think I could get tired of that view.
Sunday morning, I finally got up early enough to catch the pink light on the mountain behind Seven Devils Lake. The color was so good that I want to return and capture it from the lookout. In fact, the Seven Devils is quite easy to get to, so I may return for more trips. I certainly would like to return and backpack the devils. There aren’t a lot of day-hiking destinations from Windy Saddle, so an overnight trip would get me to more lakes, more views, and maybe even up one or more of the peaks. However, if you only have a day to kill, it’s worth driving to the top to get the view from Heaven’s Gate.