Seven Devils Loop, Idaho
My brother and I wanted a somewhat relaxing four day trip somewhere. Our top priorities were to lounge in camp, and perhaps do a little fishing. Well, maybe next time. We had planned on Tuck and Robin Lakes, but then the weather report went to hell on us. Wednesday night came and we still didn’t have a location until I suddenly remembered the Seven Devils Loop in the Hells Canyon area.

We were on the Pullman highway by 6:30am heading south for Riggins, Idaho. We finally reached the trailhead at Windy Saddle and were hiking by 12:30pm. Under sunny skies we descended through an old burn to the East Fork of the Sheep Creek valley. We then gained 1,000’ to the northern spur of the Seven Devils range at 8,000’. From here it appeared that we were completely surrounded by forest fires. There are fires burning on three sides of the Seven Devils which obviously affected our views, breathing, and eyes. We had planned on heading up Heavens Gate, Dry Diggins, and Horse Heaven but cancelled them all do to the lack of views from all the burning.

After climbing to the Iron Phone Junction we stopped for lunch then went left toward the lakes basin, and heart of the Seven Devils Range. It didn’t take long to find the turnoff for Sheep Lake and before we knew it we were passing Lily Pad Lake on our left and eventually Basin Lake on our right. After a short but steep climb we found Shelf Lake on our left and eventually the turn off for Gem Lake just before the crossing of the outlet stream. After finding the lakeshore we decided the area was too gorgeous to pass up, not to mention we were tired. After circumnavigating the lake we found a private camp on the lakes west shore. We were surprised to have the whole lake to ourselves after hearing Sheep Lake was packed. Once in camp we dropped the packs for fishing poles and managed to catch a few good size cutthroat trout before calling it quits for dinner and bed. That night we caught a nice alpenglow and once the stars came out the lake was so calm that we could see the reflection of the stars on its surface.

The next morning we tried our luck at fishing one more time before packing up and finding our way back to the trail junction where we went left, putting us back on the loop. We made our way through a mix of old burns, and meadows littered with wildflowers to the junction for Hibbs Cow Camp. We continued left hugging the Seven Devils Range while descending toward the cutoff for Echo Lake. After a short break at the cutoff we descended then reclimbed the Little Granite Creek Basin to the cutoff for Baldy Lake. I don’t know if it was because of the heat or smoke in the air but the climb up out of Granite Creek to Baldy Lake was brutal. Once at the lake we found camp and talked with a couple of brothers who were on their eighth day, and were only half way through the loop. Now that’s the way to do it! After a quick swim we cooked dinner and hit the sack.

We awoke at 5am the following morning, ate breakfast, packed up, and were on the trail by 7am. This was our big day, we wanted to make Lower Cannon Lake in order to have a short hike out to the truck on our last day. We each filtered two liters of water from Baldy Lake before making the long, hot, and dry six mile climb to the Horse Heaven Junction. The entire Hells Canyon Valley was under a blanket of smoke from the wild fires which made for an awesome sight. We made the climb to Horse Heaven Junction by 9:45am where we took a short break before heading left onto the Boise Trail, which descended a short way into the West Fork of the Rapid River. The view southeast across the Rapid River was breathtaking. After the short descent the trail leveled and traversed northeast on a course for Windy Saddle. We were looking at five more dry miles to our next water source at Dog Creek, and it was beginning to get hot. Once at Dog Creek we were pretty disappointed in its appearance. There wasn’t even enough water flowing for me to soak my feet along with their new forming blisters. The traversing trail is not very level which quickly made for a few uncomfortable hot spots on my left heel, and right toes. After a lunch we decided to not filter and instead try our luck with Hansen Creek a couple more miles down the trail. This turned out to be a bad idea, for it only got hotter making it harder to conserve my water, and when we reached Hanson Creek it was barely a trickle, not even enough water to filter. At this point we had traveled 13 miles on little more than one liter, and still had two more miles to the next water source at Cannon Creek. The two miles to Cannon Creek felt like an eternity and when we finally arrived at this strong source of water we each pounded our final eight ounces of warm water and began filtering immediately. We had traveled 15 miles on two liters in temps now approaching 90 and both felt like crap. With all my time in the backcountry I should have known better to not have let us get so dehydrated, learned another lesson the hard way. After filtering another liter and drinking half of it before leaving the creek we limped into Lower Cannon Lake.

After dropping into Lower Cannon Lake we found a camp site for the night and decided to go for a swim. Lower Cannon Lake is a little funky, and not very clear. After our dip we headed over to a group of rocks to filter water and passed by a good amount of toilet paper submerged near the lakes shore, nice. We were both growing more and more tired of our destination by the minute. Don’t get me wrong, Lower Canon Lake is very scenic, but the area has been abused. Once back to our trash littered camp, and the thousands of ants carrying off food left from previous hikers we decided to just get out of there and hike the final four miles out to the truck. It didn’t take long to descend the three hundred feet to the Boise Trail where we went left toward Windy Saddle. The first two and half miles out were a breeze after rehydrating, it was the last two miles gaining 1,000’ that did us in. After getting up at 5am and hiking 19 miles the truck was a welcome sight. Now all we had was the four hour drive home. This was a great trip, but I think 37 miles in three days was a bit much.

The Seven Devils Loop was an awesome experience. I can’t wait to get back into some of those lakes and scramble some of the higher peaks. Three days for the loop felt more like a sample. If you plan on visiting the area take a lot more time and go when the area isn’t on fire. I hear the views down into Hells Canyon from the trail area awesome.
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