Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Seven Devils Loop

It had been a while since we went out and walked around in a big circle for an extended period of time, so we chose the Seven Devils Loop for our multi-day backpacking fix.

Trip date: July 31-August 3.

Partners: Deez.

Stats: 32 miles and 5,000ft gain without side trips. Added Horse Heaven Peak and Dry Diggins Lookout for approx 8 miles.

Guide book overview.

Gear notes: Standard backpacking kit for 4 nights.

I've had my eye on the Seven Devils loop since I started doing doing longer backpacking trips more than ten years ago. Deez and I began planning for it in January which made it highly anticipated. We drove over to the Seven Devils campground for a risky Saturday night roll of the dice for a spot. As luck would have it, we happened to pull right up as an unlucky bird watcher was packing up his camp and headed out. We snagged a rather primo spot in an otherwise full camp ground. We filled the evening with a short walk to Seven Devils Lake, cooked dinner and relaxed around the fire.
Heading to the camp ground.
Seven Devils Lake.
Seven Devils Rye Whiskey.

Day 1. Hike to Dog Creek.

Today is basically a rest day.

We made the short drive to the trail head and examined the information board. There was a sign stating "trails not maintained" blah blah blah. We got on the trail proper about 10am with hardly a care in the world. The trail had scattered patches of Huckleberries; always a delightful trailside treat. As long as they're ripe, that is. There wasn't much in the way of obstacles, other than the 8.5 miles, on the way to our planned camp site, but when we arrived there we were a little bummed. We had hoped for a grassy, shaded creekside camp site. What we got was a dusty, sparsely shaded, mediocre at best... well, you get the idea. The discussion of trying to go up to Dog Lake ended and we made due with what we had. After all, it was only for one night. About a mile due north from Dog Creek, there is an excellent camp site and in my 20/20 hindsight, we should have camped there.
Heading south on the Boise Trail.
Start of the Trail
The Ogre.
Huckleberries along the trail
Chilling the whiskey and vodka.
Dog Creek camp site.

Day 2. Horse Heaven Hill to Baldy Lake.

We expected it to be tough, but dang...

I figured day 2 might be the most challenging. I had estimated 11 miles and 1,300 feet of gain. This is where the nature of the trail reared its ugly head. We woke up early to frost on our backpacks and a cold nip in the air. The trail meanders in and out of nearly every canyon which added mileage; at the same time, it goes down one side and up the other adding more gain. The Forest Service Topo doesn't detail this and the guide book we used underestimated the distance and gain, even without the recommended side trips. It was a hard push just to get to Horse Heaven Pass but the hike to Horse Heaven Hill was worth the extra effort. From here, the map showed a well graded but long and descending traverse down to about 6900, then up to Baldy Lake at 7200.

The trail went downhill, into every canyon, then back up the other side. Once past Potato hill, I hoped our troubles would be over and we would have an easy one mile hike into Baldy, but this turned out to be the hardest part of the day. Per the norm, all of the gain is right before the lake. Unfortunately, this is where all of the downfall was too. After a ten hour effort, we finally got to the lake and snagged up a fine spot. We were a bit behind schedule, but we were all set up before dark. There wasn't much energy left in the tanks after dinner to enjoy the rather warm night as the stars came out.

Looking south.
Trail past Dog Creek.
Heading up to the pass.

Seven Devils.

Cabin on Horse Heaven Hill.

Hells Canyon.

Baldy Lake.

Day 3. Hike to Dry Diggins lookout and Bernard Lake (proposed).

How much worse can it get?

Given the events of day two, I was weary of sleeping too late no matter how bad I wanted to. Despite the early wake up call, we were late getting out of camp. We were delaying having to deal with the horrific downfall leaving the lake. Dealing with the hard part first was both a blessing and a curse. Deez found the unsigned junction and we were heading toward our next destination. The plan was to hike to the junction to Dry Diggins Lookout, drop the packs, dig the views at the lookout and book it down to Bernard Lake to camp. We planned this leg of the trip based on the information in the guide book. We knew it would be high mileage but that would be offset by relatively little gain.

As we hiked toward Hibbs Cow Camp and approached the next junction in the trail that leads to He Devil Lake, we found the worst of the worst of the downfall. Walking the ups and downs with a few areas of overgrown trail, we entered a large meadow with tall burned snags. We tried to move quickly here, but the downfall was, well, to put it mildly, soul crushing. Basically, it straight up sucked. As we gained elevation up the hillside past the burn area, we heard a rather loud crack as the snags swayed in the wind. We were glad to be out of the danger zone.

We had done hardly 5 miles in almost as many hours and changed the plan to stop at Hibbs Cow Camp. Just as we decided this, we came across a large shaded camp site next to a creek. Not wanting to risk getting to Hibbs and not getting a site, and not really knowing what it was supposed to be like, we plopped down in our lavish score of a site. After getting the camp set up, we were both pretty beat. I really wanted to see Dry Diggins, so I peeled off and went for it on an out-and-back hike from camp. I estimated 5 miles round trip; it ended up more like 7.5 with a lot more gain/loss than I expected. The views are very impressive into Hells Canyon, so if you venture into this neck of woods don't miss it, just plan accordingly.

I was back in camp a bit later than I expected and got right to the Pringles and Seven Devils Rye Whiskey. After dinner, we had a symposium. The days had been longer and tougher than we expected. Either way we sliced it, it was still a long way back to the car. Option one: Continue to Sheep Lake and pray that there would be less downfall and that the trail would do what the guidebook and map indicated. Option 2: Cut off the last scheduled night and push to the car.

We felt pretty beat up at this point. After a good nights rest, we could start early and get the heck out of there. After all, we were on vacation!

Sunrise at Baldy Lake.

More downfall.

Hells Canyon from the trail.
More Downfall.

Dry Diggins Lookout.

Hells Canyon from Dry Diggins.

Seven Devils.
Duck, bird, thingy.

Seven Devils.
Deez next to a big tree.

Day 4. Hike to the trailhead.

Its just right there.

A cold start to the day warmed quickly as we started out on the shaded trail. When we got to the junction for Windy Saddle, the shade was gone and the sun was high. Walking to the next junction, we cursed every log, every up and down on trail. We did enjoy the Prairie Dogs that scurried about. We chatted with another couple that had cut their trip short and were having the same experiences. The next long descent into a wide canyon meant another long uphill on the other side. The only plus side to this section was a large Huckleberry bush at our break site. The views of Devils Tooth and across the canyon were nice, but not enough to distract us from the long uphill slog, only to drop down the other side, then back up to the car.

The consensus was that for the amount of energy required to do this loop, even with skipping the good stuff at Sheep Lake, was more than enough to second guess our plans. With all the miles and gain, we could have done something really cool like Glacier Peak, Sisters or something (anything). Basically anything else sounded better at that time. We hit borderline Type III fun.  Back at the car, a hand full of Pringles and a shot of whiskey helped us laugh it off and ease the fun factor back to Type II.

Dinner at McCall Brewing Co. was a fine end to an otherwise not real fine day. Our advise on the loop is to skip straight to the good stuff. Take the climbers trail into Sheep Lake, stay a night or two, fish and climb the peaks.  I'm looking forward to that trip.

Peaks from the trail.

Gazing into the canyon.

Downhill but no downfall.
Heading out.

Starting a big descent.
Top of the canyon.

Devils Tooth.
Main Group.

View from Windy Saddle.

There is always next time!

Happy trails!

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