Category Archives: Idaho

Babel, She and He Devil

Devils from north of Babel

Devils from north of Babel

The Seven Devils are an odd little clump of mountains on the eastern side of Hell’s Canyon, the surprisingly-deep Snake River gorge separating Oregon from Central Idaho. Thanks to an amazingly well-maintained Forest Service road from the Idaho side reaching over 7,000 feet, all the peaks are easily accessible as dayhikes. She and He Devil are the co-equal regional highpoints bounded by enough deep valleys to give them over 5,000 feet of prominence; Tower of Babel was in the way.
First snow chute from trailhead

First snow chute from trailhead

Starting from the hiker parking, I passed through the mostly-empty campground, then wandered through the woods southwest toward a snow-chute. The summer trail passes near here, but was mostly covered by snow. After bypassing the steepest snow on some rocks, I followed bits of trail west, side-hilling to the higher north-south ridge.
Babel from approach

Babel from approach

I wasn’t sure exactly what was what, so I followed bits of use- and game-trail south along the ridge toward the obvious peak.
Crux gap before Babel

Crux gap before Babel

Where the ridge narrowed and steepened, things got surprisingly tricky thanks to multiple gendarmes and steep gashes. After some exploration on mossy but more-solid-than-it-looks rock reminiscent of the eastern Cascades, including some easy 5th-class downclimbing through one notch, I reached the summit of what I learned is Tower of Babel. From this vantage, She and He Devils were obvious to the west. Large summit cairns were clearly visible on some other nearby peaks, and no doubt it is possible to link up all seven “Devils” in a day, but I did not have the will.

After an extended moss-and-choss session, I reached the saddle with She Devil, from which cairns and bits of trail lead along the north side of the ridge to the broad summit.

He Devil from She Devil

He Devil from She Devil

The traverse to He Devil looked somewhat tricker. After causing myself some difficulty on another step in the ridge, I passed the inviting couloir down from the She/He saddle, and followed more choss and mossy 3rd class to a giant cairn on He Devil.
Summit of He Devil

Summit of He Devil

Like the other two peaks, its register showed it to be well-visited but, for some reason, almost never before July.
Hell's Canyon and Wallowas

Hell’s Canyon and Wallowas

Looking west, I could not quite see the Snake River in its gorge, which is slightly deeper and far less impressive than the Grand Canyon. Farther west, the snow-covered Wallowa Range, my next destination, was clearly visible. South and east lay many peaks in Idaho which looked higher than He Devil, but which probably fell short of 5,000 feet prominence by being connected to Borah by a high plateau.

After chickening out on a steeper couloir, I returned to the saddle and made a quick glissade north to the shore of a large lake. After an ascending traverse toward what seemed like the way back, I found a bit of a well-established trail, lost it again, and crossed my original north-south ridge somewhat south of the traverse back to Windy Saddle. From there, I retraced my steps, boot-skiing most of the way into the campground and returning to my solitary car at the trailhead.


Diamond from the valley

Diamond from the valley

The highpoint of the Lemhi Range in southeast Idaho (named for a Mormon prophet?), Diamond is one of Idaho’s three ultra-prominence peaks. It is also one of nine peaks in the state over 12,000 feet, making it popular with the locals. This part of Idaho is basically Nevada done right: “pines, not spines.” It shares Nevada’s basin-and-range topography (hence the ultra-prominence), but the flora are grass and low sage in the valleys and northern evergreens above instead of unpleasant spiny things and junipers.

After sleeping in the middle of nowhere, I finished the drive to the “trailhead” (i.e. “end of the road”), where I found one pickup truck already parked. The route up the east ridge is obvious, and travel would be easy even without occasional bits of use trail. The first part of the route is an easy hike through open terrain and sparse woods. Above this, the ridge turns to loose scree for a brief stretch, then narrows to some fun class 2-3 scrambling on mostly-solid rock. I passed two groups on the way up: a man with his two kids, and a group of five men, two of them packing pistols. In all my outings, this is only the second time I have encountered armed hikers, which I still find strange.

I met yet another group on the summit, three guys working on the Idaho 12-ers. They asked when I had started, and were surprised to learn that I had taken half as long as they had to reach the summit. I was also pleased to find that I am physically ready for my main objectives, as 4000+ feet in 2 hours is good for me when not consciously trying for speed.

After hanging out on the summit for a bit, I headed back down the ridge. With some hesitation, I asked one of the armed men why he was carrying a pistol, carefully avoiding a political discussion, especially after his throwaway line about having a Constitutional right to carry it. I learned that he saw nature in a way alien to me, inserting himself in the food chain: the pistol was to defend against the threat of bears and wolves, while he would carry a rifle or bow to hunt elk later in the season. With the exception of grizzly bears, I tend to see animals as scenery, not food or threats; I worry more about falling off things, or things falling on me.

Jogging the last bit, I was back at the car before noon, ready for the long drive to the other side of the state.

Regan Peak

Regan and Sawtooth Lake

Regan Peak is what you see on the other side of Sawtooth Lake, at the northern end of the Sawtooth wilderness. Since it was advertised as a 4th class scramble with a trail approach, I figured I could make it to the top and not get lost.

While getting ready at the trailhead, I saw a man walk by with a dog and a gun. Not a hunting dog and a rifle, but a pet dog and a medium-sized pistol. That’s legal, of course — even in national parks these days — but it hardly put me in a good mood towards my fellow man. I assume he was himself against his fellow hikers, since I doubt it would do much to a bear or an enraged elk, and he probably couldn’t brain a grouse with it for dinner.

Moving on, the trail was snow-free until just below Sawtooth Lake, where I was accosted by someone’s “friendly” dog. The snow was hard-packed in the morning, so I traveled quickly around the lake, and on to the second small lake beyond, where I believed the climbing started. It looked like I could crampon up a snowfield, then scramble along a minor ridge to the skyline.

Alas, beyond the snowfield I ended up on trouser-filling terrain consisting of loose rock, steep dirt, and small patches of snow. With much nervous sweating and swearing, I reached the skyline and found walk-up terrain on the other side. Figures.

There was a bit of a fun block-maze to the summit itself, but nothing too difficult. The register canister, a thin-sided aluminum thing, contained only a note from a previous climber that the original register had been stolen, so I signed the note, then looked for a different way down.

I made for the large snowfield that slanted directly back to Sawtooth Lake and, after a bit more loose rock and some treacherously steep and soft snow, had a nice plunge-step and glissade descent to the lake.

The Sawtooths

There’s a lot to be said for the Sawtooths: They have fairly good trail access, and since they are a desert range, there is little undergrowth to get in the way of bushwhacking. Not many visitors seem to venture beyond the trails, and many of the peaks have no easy route, providing awesome solitude.

On the other hand, they are not far above treeline, so much of the approach can be in the forest. Also, they have a nasty mosquito season, which seems to occur exactly when I timed my visit.

The Sawtooth Wilderness

The Sawtooth Wilderness get a few things very right. For example, the trailheads allowing dogs also have a supply of leashes (cords with a loop at one end). Most people break the rules because they are lazy, not malicious: they left their leashes in the car or at home. Pieces of cord cost almost nothing, and make it easy for everyone to choose to do the right thing.

However, it’s among the most annoying National Forest Wildernesses I have visited. The popular campgrounds, and even some picnic areas, have been franchised out, so you now pay up to $16 for a campsite (picnic table, fire ring, shared outhouse), or $5 for a few picnic tables together. Things are better outside the Redfish Lake area, but still not great.

The developed trails are built for pack animals, with absurd near-horizontal switchbacks that eat up miles to gain relatively little elevation. I prefer not to cut switchbacks, but it was impossible to resist in many places.

Finally, note that while it no longer requires fording the creek, the upper Hell-roaring Creek trailhead is thoroughly hosed. A survey turned up that the parking area was about 200 yards into the designated wilderness area. The easy solution would have been to redraw the line. What actually happened was: they closed off the road a whole mile before the wilderness boundary, and have temporarily provided parking for perhaps 4-5 vehicles. Parking won’t be an issue — I found a slot in the woods — but the extra road-hike is a pain.

Stanley logistics

Stanley’s not bad for a town of 100 people. The library has free, donation-supported wireless and a small selection of current magazines. The Chamber of Commerce has a sparkling public bathroom, friendly staff, and some genuinely useful information.

Mount Borah

Informational sign

I’m not really a high-pointer, but when I realized that both tagging Borah and visiting the Sawtooths would only cost me about 200 driving miles, I couldn’t resist the chance.

Some farmer with a herd of maundering insomniac cows decided it was a great idea to turn them loose near the trailhead; I never knew there were so many ways to say “moo,” or that some cows are nocturnal. I still managed to get an early-ish start, and blasted the super-steep trail to treeline. I got a clear view of the rest of the route where it first levels out at the ridge: a long, slowly-climbing “C” curving south. I also got a face-full of miserable wind.

I tried to strike up a conversation with a friendly high-pointer from Chicago, but the wind made it too frustrating, so I gave up and moved on. The use trail through the talus was mostly clear of snow, and where it crossed snow-patches there was a good boot-pack. I tried to drown out the wind with loud, angry music, but I still wasn’t loving life.

While “chicken-out ridge” was slow class 3, the climb was much easier above that. I managed to lose the trail, but it didn’t really matter, since it was only marginally better than climbing the mixture of talus and rock ribs.

The summit has quite a view of the weirdly-striated rock of the Lost River range. It is also quite a sight, with no fewer than three American flags, a deer skull, an ammo box, and a piece of Christmas kitsch. Truly, this is the most patriotic mountain in the most patriotic state in the most patriotic nation on earth.

I thought I might do something really cool and tag Horstmann in the Sawtooths in the afternoon, but a combination of bushwhacking and total unfamiliarity with the area left me with a long, hot walk. Oh, well.

Seismic note

Borah rose seven feet in a 1983 earthquake, which also left an unvegetated stripe separating the valley floor from the range. I seem to have a knack for running across unexpected recent earthquake sites.

Ascent rate

The Borah trail is incredibly direct — 5100 feet in about 3.5 miles — so I also thought I might be able to put in a good ascent rate. My 2:49 was pretty disappointing — I had hoped for sub-2:30 or even sub-2:15 — but I think I lost most of the time talking to an actual high-pointer and putzing around on the ridge and talus. My split from the trailhead (7,500′) was about 1:10 to where the climb first levels out between tree-line and 11,300′ (“chicken-out ridge”), so I was probably managing close to 3,000′. I won’t be winning any races, but that’s good for me.