The nights are getting long and our Indian Summer has come to a close. We would prefer that the perfect fall weather we were experiencing would go on and on, but prudence would dictate that we need to wrap this expedition up. Evidence being that we have traversed the Bitterroot Divide and the forested abundance of the Selway all shrouded in a grim cloak of cold grey drizzle. The weather has improved as we approach Hell’s Canyon on the West edge of Idaho but the long term forecast calls for uncertain conditions at best.
The Salmon River Mountains that separate the Salmon and Snake Rivers also form the Idaho half of Hell’s Canyon. I fought fire both on the Idaho and Oregon side of Hell’s Canyon. This will be my first time to visit this place as a form of recreation rather than enduring an experience designed in Hell.
Our first foray is a four wheel trip on our Polaris Trail Boss quads
from the Hammer Creek Camp Ground on the Salmon River, about 20 miles downstream from Riggens, Idaho, up and over the Salmon’s and down to the Snake River at a place called Pittsburg Landing. This route is one of the few motorized accesses all the way down to the Snake, a trip of about 16 miles one way gaining and loosing about 10,000 feet elevation. There is a National Recreation Area Campground at Pittsburg Landing for those who like to hang out in an oven. The normal summer time temperature at the bottom of Hell’s Canyon is set on broiling. Throughout our expedition we have anticipated seeing bears and while being successful in viewing wildlife, bears have not been on the menu. The bottom of Hell’s canyon didn’t seem like suitable bear habitat so we were very surprised when we spotted bear tracks in the dust. This would be as close as we came to seeing a bear. At the upriver trailhead we found a poster from the day before describing a missing hunter. We never heard if he was located but it served to remind us that this country regularly claims even the experienced outdoorsman.
The next day we took the quads up a decent gravel road to the Seven Devil’s Trailhead. The trailhead elevation at 6,000 feet provided stunning views of the nearby granite peaks of the Seven Devil’s Mountains bracketed by the impossible depths which hid the Snake River at the bottom of the canyon. Twenty some years
ago I led 80 firefighters from the same trailhead eight miles into the wilderness to combat a series of fires started by lightening strikes. We were successful in keeping the burned area to about 100 acres. In the intervening time, a very large wildfire has burned the entire landscape including the lookout. All our good work got burned up. A short hike led us into Seven Devil’s Lake that sets like a gem at the base of a 2,000 foot granite guardian. I could count six to twelve fish finning in the exceptionally clear water; my fishing pole safely tucked in the camper back at camp.
As we crossed the Snake River the next day at Brownlee Dam, we camped at Copperfield Campground on Hell’s Canyon Reservoir. There is an extraordinarily steep primitive road that ascends 6,000 up the west slope of Hell’s Canyon. Climbing this route provided views that showed the great difficulty of the topography that
comprises the descent into the Canyon. Had we given thought to our return down this route we might well have chickened out going up. My wife told me to “never do that to me again.” Descending felt like you would not only fall off the road but that you might well fall off the planet. But our faithful Polaris Trail Bosses safely returned us to the bottom. In the six years that we have had these machines, they have never malfunctioned or let us down.
Popularity: 26% [?]