Idaho's Seven Devils Mountains

Hiking and Climbing around the Rugged Hells Canyon Wilderness
By Tom Lopez
  |  Gorp.com

Adapted from Exploring Idaho's Mountains: A Guide for Climbers, Scramblers & Hikers

The Seven Devils Mountains extend along the Idaho/Oregon border for roughly 40 miles between the Idaho towns of Whitebird and Council. They are bounded by the Snake River on the west and the Salmon and Little Salmon rivers on the east. The range ranks high among Idaho's mountain chains in terms of ruggedness and scenic quality; it is the state's most precipitous range, with elevations varying from just above 1,000 feet at the Snake River to 9,393 feet on the summit of He Devil.

The range was formed by block faulting of the region's very complicated rock layers, which contain a little of everything, from oceanic sedimentary rocks to intrusive igneous rock and limestone caves, all within short walking distance of each other. In the past, mining activity has taken place in this range; old digs can still be found, mostly at the lower elevations. While the Seven Devils block was uplifting, the Salmon River cut an immense trench on the east side of the range, and the Snake River cut an even deeper canyon along the western side. Between the two river canyons is a high 3-mile-wide bench which forms the Seven Devils high country. This crest runs north to south and is most pronounced on its east side, where all of the major peaks are found. The western slope of the range, while at first more moderate than the eastern side, eventually descends rapidly into the Hells Canyon of the Snake River. The effects of Pleistocene Era glaciers are evident everywhere in the upper regions of the range, where there are dozens of prominent cirques and some thirty mountain lakes. From the central portion of the range, the Seven Devils crest loses elevation as it runs north and south.

In 1975, Congress established the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, which includes sections of both Idaho and Washington. This relatively new pseudo-national park includes most of the Seven Devils Mountains; 190,000 acres (including the entire high peak area of the central range) are designated as the Hells Canyon Wilderness. The southern section of the range is managed by the Payette National Forest , and the eastern foothills are managed by the Nez Perce National Forest.

The range is readily accessible, with the most popular route beginning in Riggins, Idaho, and allowing passenger autos to reach over 8,000 feet in elevation at Windy Gap. While the southern and northern approach routes are more primitive, they do offer quick approaches to most of the Seven Devils' most important summits.

Hiking and climbing opportunities are above average. Due to the large elevation differentials, the Seven Devils have the longest hiking season of any Idaho mountain range, with hiking beginning along the Snake River in early March. While the best known trails are located within the Wilderness boundaries, many excellent trails are located in the southern Seven Devils, west of Council.

The Snake River Trail follows the Snake river south for 29 miles, from Pittsburg Landing to the Hells Canyon Dam. A couple of trails spin off from the river, providing early season access to the western slopes of the Seven Devils. The Seven Devils Loop Trail circles the major peaks for 27 miles of hiking. Side and feeder trails lead to many of the high mountain lakes and provide access to the bases of most peaks.

Because the peaks are conglomerations of hard and deteriorated rock strata, shattered towers, massive talus slopes and slanted rock bedding, climbing opportunities run the gamut from Class 1 hikes to Class 5 climbs on the Devils Tooth. Seven Devils peaks have a deceptive quality that often puts route-finding abilities to the test. Ledges appear and end in the most unlikely places, and chimneys that look very prominent are generally traps for the unwary. Climbing is a combination of slushing in talus, boulder-hopping, and climbing short, broken ledges. Technical climbing opportunities are limited by the loose rock that clutters every ledge, shelf, or ridge top. Using a rope for protection would, in most instances, invite rockfall which would more than likely destroy the rope or injure the climber.

Although there is no record of winter ascents in the Seven Devils, several groups have skied from snowline to Windy Saddle in March. The snowbound road is closed to snowmobiles, making this a relatively peaceful area, and the snow in the vicinity of the saddle is reported to be excellent. Winter access to the major peaks would be entirely dependent on snow conditions.

Some Favorite Climbs

Devils Tooth - 7,760+ feet

This imposing andesite spire is located north of Sheep Lake in the Sheep Creek Drainage. Actually, there are two teeth (summits) separated by a narrow gap, the northernmost being the most formidable. The Tooth rises over 200 feet vertically on three sides, with the south face measuring about 100 feet. The southernmost summit is easily reached from the south via a short pitch of Class 3 climbing. The northern and highest summit is a technical climb. The peak is accessed from the Seven Devils Loop Trail. USGS He Devil 15-minute/HCW

Tower of Babel - 9,269 feet.

This formidable peak is located 0.5 mile east of Sheep Lake. It is visible from Windy Gap, from which point it resembles the witch's castle in the Wizard of Oz. The first ascent was in June, 1939 by A. H. Marshall. According to Marshall, the route followed ledges which"made a complete spiral to reach the top." This spiral ramp reminded him of a picture of the Tower of Babel he had seen as a child; hence the name. Marshall called the climb the "most interesting climb I had ever made, bar none." Access the peak from Sheep Lake. USGS He Devil 15-minute/HCW

The Marshall Ledges Route. (Class 3)

This route is not obvious. According to Marshall, the route begins at the southwest base of the peak and then circles around the peak, becoming steeper as it crosses the east face and climbs across a ledge to the north face, where it narrows, eventually reaching a rubble slope that leads to the summit. The Mazamas climbed the route in 1963 and described it as a broad 30-degree slope. covered with loose rock on the lower sections and with more solid rock above. According to the Mazamas, the route begins on the west face, then curves onto the south face, crosses the south ridge and moves on to the northeast face. At this point, the ridge narrows to one foot in width. From here, climb up on solid rock to a boulder field and then continue to the top.

South Ridge. (Class 3)

Climb to the col between Mount Baal and She Devil and traverse the east slopes of Baal toward the summit. The col can be reached from Sheep Lake or from Windy Saddle via the east side of the Loop Trail. Between Mount Baal and the Tower of Babel, you will encounter four towers as you approach the main summit along the ridge. Pass the first two towers on the east and then drop down about 100 feet on the west side of the third and fourth towers. Cross the talus to what appears. from a distance, to be a dead end corner. From this point, good ledges lead up the steep wall to the knife-edged notch above. Climb the boulder leaning against the north wall of the notch to reach the slanting slabs above. Follow the slabs up to and under the large overhanging roof to the talus slopes above. Climb loose rock from here to the summit.

Other Routes

There are many routes on this peak. Three others include the North Ridge, the Northwest Chimney, and the West Face. These routes can be reached from either Sheep Lake or Mirror Lake by climbing up to the north ridge and gaining access to the upper tower walls from this point. All three of these routes involve difficult routefinding, loose rock and the possibility of no retreat without rappelling.

Mount Ogre - 9,200+ feet

Mount Ogre is located 0.5 mile southeast of She Devil, east of the main Seven Devils crest. When Marshall reached the summit of She Devil in 1940, he spotted a large cairn on the top of the then-unnamed Mount Ogre. When he finally climbed the peak three years later by its west ridge, he found no record of who had made the first ascent and named the peak Mount Appollyon (a name not adopted by the USGS). The peak presents a massive 1 200-foot northeast face to tiny Upper Canyon Lake. The peak is accessed from the Boise Trail section of the Seven Devils Loop Trail by hiking south from Windy Gap to either Cannon Creek (2.0 miles) or Hanson Creek (almost 4.0 miles) and then following one of these drainages to the base of the peak. USGS He Devil 15-minute/HCW

West Ridge. (Class 2)

This ridge is accessed from the low saddle between Mount Ogre and She Devil. It is easily followed to the summit.

East Ridge. (Class 3)

From the saddle between the Orge and the Goblin, traverse to the southwest until a feasible route to the ridge top is visible. Climb to the ridge and follow it to the top.

North Face. (Class 4)

First ascent by the Mazamas. The route climbs the large central couloir and chimney system. The chimney is roofed by a chockstone. The route begins by climbing a series of steps to reach the west wall of the couloir. Then a Class 4 crack is climbed to a sloping ledge which runs under an overhanging wall. From here, the route leads to a triangular snowfield in the couloir one third of the way up the face. Look for a smooth V-shaped crack with a tree at its top. The Mazamas climbed toward the tree until the leader could escape the crack. moving out onto the face where he found a 'sheltered cleft." From this point, a number of options will lead to the top.

The Goblin - 8,981 feet (Class 2-3)

The summit of this companion of Mount Ogre is located due east of Ogre on the same ridge line. The Goblin was first climbed from the Boise Trail section of the Seven Devils Loop Trail via its eastern slopes by A. H. Marshall and Ed Hughes in August 1935. Marshall gave the peak its name. attempting to stay with the original devilish theme given the range by local Native Americans. Views of the main crest to the west are spectacular. Although the peak may be approached from a number of directions, the recommended route to the summit is from Hanson Lake USGS He Devil 15-minute/ HCW X.

Tom Lopez has lived and climbed in all four corners of Idaho. His climbing adventures have led his as far abroad as Bolivia and New Zealand.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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