Seven Devils: Upper Cannon Lake

This summer has been quite different than my last two.  After nine backpacking trips throughout the mountains of Central Idaho the past two summers I was only able to coordinate one trip this summer.  On the plus side, the trip was in the Seven Devils which is a mountain range that I had yet to visit.  Of course I couldn’t plan on a simple hike into a popular lake; I had to choose a relatively difficult cross-country hike up steep terrain.  My mind was pleased with this choice but my body screamed it’s dissatisfaction too often during the hike in to the lake.

My friend from Boise, Matt Caldwell, joined me for this adventure over Labor Day weekend.  The road from Riggins to the trailhead was steep but well-maintained.  The hike started off too easy.  Having read about the hike I knew the first mile was downhill.  In the back of mind I wasn’t pleased with this; the final mile on the hike back to the car would be exhausting.  Matt and I cruised down the trail making it to the junction to Cannon Lakes seemingly in no time.  The valley had experienced a fire some years ago.  There were young pines five to ten feet high amidst towering relics of the burn.  Hiking to Lower Cannon Lake was slightly more grueling due to the acclivity of the trail.  I knew this was nothing compared to what lay ahead in between Lower and Upper Cannon Lakes.

Upon reaching Lower Cannon Lakes we paused for a few seconds before continuing on towards our ultimate destination.  Despite the hike to Upper Cannon Lake being cross-country a trail does exist, though it is not maintained.  Unfortunately we lost the trail early making our progress much slower and more difficult.  At one point we waded through waist-high fireweed and fallen trees to cross a small stream.  Here the true ascent began.  Numerous fallen trees had to be maneuvered over and around.  This along with the steady uphill climb exacerbated my exhaustion.  Upon reaching what I thought was the lake, I was greatly disappointed to find a meadow below us and about 200 more feet to ascend.  To make matters worse, Matt and I chose a poor route that took us about 150 feet higher than necessary and a tenth of a mile out of the way.  This doesn’t sound like much but after five miles of hiking and dealing with sporadic foot and leg cramps superfluous steps were undesirable.  I now know that it’s unwise to choose such an ambitious location for the first and only backpacking trip of the season.

The following morning I woke up at 6 AM.  Unfortunately I was about 30 minutes early for dawn light so I laid back down for a few minutes.  Finally I put my gear together and ventured off about 50 feet to the shoreline.  The Ogre sits 1100 feet above the lake and She Devil rises 1200 feet above as well.  The Ogre was a better shot from my vantage and was the prime subject for the two mornings I shot at the lake.  After capturing some wide shots with my 18mm, I changed out to the 24-105L and began capturing as many reflection compositions in the lake as I could.  Overall it was a very good morning with lots of pleasing captures.


Morning Light at Upper Cannon Lake


Morning Reflection at Upper Cannon Lake


Our day hiking plan was to visit the two additional lakes neighboring Upper Cannon Lake.  After visiting the first lake both Matt and I decided to climb much higher than initially planned.  Matt had a sore ankle and I wasn’t planning on much exertion that day.  As things usually go for us in the mountains, one wants to go higher than initially planned.  Our goal was the ridgeline between the Tower of Babel and She Devil.  We made it about two-thirds up the slope before the chutes we were hiking became tighter and steeper.  I didn’t feel like continuing up the exposed granite slabs.  Perhaps the saddle between The Ogre and She Devil would have been a better choice.  Despite such a contretemps we had excellent views of the Salmon River canyon and the basin immediately below us.  Here are shots along those slopes:


Backlit Limber Pine


Exposed Limber Pine Roots


Once our descent was complete we visited the third and final lake in the small basin.  It was long, thin, very clear and very deep.  We enjoyed a short rest there and then had a longer rest on the opposite shore from our camp of Upper Cannon Lake.  Looking in the northeasterly direction the lake seemed to be on the edge of the earth.  Unfortunately the shots I took of that particular scene were badly tilted despite the use of a level (oops).  Upon correcting for a straight horizon too much of the scene is lost so here is a different shot looking towards She Devil.

After our rest, we continued around the lake and relaxed for a few hours at camp.  Around 5:30 we explored the remaining shoreline to the outlet.  Here the views were quite impressive with massive slabs of granite sloping off below us and 10-20 foot drop offs right at our feet.  The outlet meandered through granite and slid down the steep face to the meadow below.  We stayed in the area for about an hour taking numerous pictures.  Although this was a very nice area I found it difficult to safely and adequately capture the scene.  The best light was found upon going back to camp.  Trees were backlit along the shoreline and the rays accentuated the clarity of the water.


Late Afternoon at Upper Cannon Lake


During the night we had some visitors in our camp.  Around 1:00 AM I awoke to footfall outside our tent.  It was distinctly a hoofed animal.  Both Matt and I assumed it was the three deer we saw on the hike in.  We both put on our headlamps and exited the tent.  Whatever it was left before we could see it.  Our food and gear wasn’t disturbed despite the visitors.  About five minutes after going back into the tent we heard the animals again.  Instead of both exiting the tent we decided to open the rain fly and just peak our head out individually.  This time we were able to see our visitors plainly: a family of mountain goats.  The three goats were about 50 feet away from the tent, contentedly minding their own business.  A time or two one goat would look directly towards us (or at least the headlamp) and then go back to rummaging for food.  Knowing who the visitors were made it easier to get sleep afterwards but the disjointed sleep that night made for a tiring final day.

My picture plans for the second morning were the same as before: setup at the shoreline and wait for first light on The Ogre.  I took about a dozen shots as the light changed throughout the morning from soft dawn light to sunrise light on the mountain.  Our hike out was highlighted by a rest stop in the meadow between Lower and Upper Cannon Lakes.  Here a small but tall waterfall fed the meadow and all the wildflowers throughout.  Here are some captures from the meadow:


The Tower of Babel


Meadow Falls


As aforementioned, the hike out was easy until the last mile or two which was a grueling ascent after all the hiking I had done to that point.  A sore foot and blister didn’t ameliorate the situation either.  Nonetheless I made it back to the car albeit at a snail’s pace.  The views, photos and time spent in the mountains always outweigh the physical side effects of backpacking.  To me, any time spent in the mountains is time well spent.


The Ogre at Dawn


One thought on “Seven Devils: Upper Cannon Lake

  1. Aaron, the photos look great, sounds like a good time too. I’ve been thinking of making this trip some day.


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