Idaho Snake River Trail: 4/15/21-4/17/21

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Born2BBrad
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Idaho Snake River Trail: 4/15/21-4/17/21

Post by Born2BBrad » April 24th, 2021, 8:29 am

What: Idaho Snake River Trail
When: 4/15/21-4/17/21
Who: Just Me (Born2BBrad)

Opening picture:
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General Information

Route: Trailhead at Pittsburg Landing, north along the Idaho Snake River Trail all the way to Granite Creek, back the same way
Miles: 56 (out-and-back)
EG: 9500’ (out-and-back)
People encountered on trail day 1 & 2: 0
People encountered on trail day 3: 20
Drive time from The Dalles: 6 hrs 30 minutes, with stops for gas and rest stop

Links:
Fred Barstad “Hiking Hells Canyon & Idaho's Seven Devils Mountains”
Forest Service webpage
NRT webpage
Best trip report I found
Great blog about the geology of the area with emphasis on ice age floods

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Trip Narrative and Pictures

There really isn’t much detailed information online about the Idaho Snake River Trail, officially called Snake River National Recreation Trail #102. There are some websites with general information, and a few trip reports with some, but not a lot of detail. Therefore, this will be a long and detailed trip report. Boring for some, captivating for others.

By far the best resource is the Fred Barstad book “Hiking Hells Canyon & Idaho's Seven Devils Mountains”. That was used extensively for research. His text will be used in this trip report with a “FB” notation.

One aspect to consider is whether to hire a jet boat to take you upriver and drop you off, saving you from an out-and-back trip. That would require more planning and an added expense. I did not hire a jet boat.

The trailhead at Pittsburg Landing can be accessed year round, as it is plowed in winter. The road up and over the pass can be steep at times, but even a basic passenger car can handle the drive. Just note that the actual trailhead is at the end of the road at Upper Pittsburg Landing.

Upper Pittsburg Landing parking lot, but not the trailhead:
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This is the trailhead with a smaller parking lot:
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Nice view even early in the morning:
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At the time of my trip, all named creeks were flowing:
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The first of many jet boats:
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A fair amount of balsamroot were blooming:
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There are mileage markers, but not every mile, seemingly accurate:
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Low flying plane, either sightseeing or going to land at an airstrip:
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Looking back at the trail:
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The western Hells Canyon rim will have snow for another month or two:
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The approach to Kirkwood Historic Ranch:
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The southward ascent to Kirkwood Historic Ranch is the biggest of the Idaho Snake River Trail. 475’ in 0.6 mile. Not a lot unless you are coming back from and out-and-back trip in two and a half days.

FB: Native Americans heavily used Kirkwood Bar. Early visitor to the bar found extensive artifacts proving this use. In 1885 the Kirkwoods moved to this site. Several other partied owned Kirkwood Bar after the Kirkwoods moved out, and in 1932 Len Jordan bought it. Jordan, who was later to become governor of Idaho and a U.S. senator, lived here for 11 years. The Kirkwood Historic ranch now belongs to the Forest Service and is used as a living history museum.

This Link has more of the history of the Kirkwood site.

Clean flush toilets at Kirkwood:
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Hanna Cabin:
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Inside Hanna Cabin:
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Hydropower electric generator:
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When I was at the Kirkwood site, I spoke with the volunteer caretaker at length, asking all sorts of questions about the area and history. The museum was not open to the public due to Covid restrictions, so it was great to get information from another source.

Among the interesting tidbits of information had to do with electricity. Prior to recently added solar panels being added to the caretaker house (Jordan House), the water wheel was the only source of electricity. It worked for decades.

Sterling Cabin, now a museum:
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Something interesting learned was that there were proposals to add more dams on the Snake River within Hells Canyon. Core samples were drilled and are on display outside the museum. So much history and natural wonder was almost lost.

Core samples outside the museum:
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Museum (L) and caretaker house (R):
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At the site are a couple dozen or so pieces of old farm equipment with interpretive signs. The signs included graphics of old Sears and Roebuck catalog ads of each piece of equipment.

There is even the relic of an old hand crank telephone. Apparently telephone lines were strung there from I have no idea where. When I picked up the receiver someone asked me to deposit a dime to complete the call. That’s a joke of course.

Old farm equipment and interpretive sign:
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Operator, I’d like to make a collect call:
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Grave site located nearby:
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The south end of Kirkwood Bar:
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Lots more historical pics on the Google Photos link at the bottom of the trip report.

View upriver just after Kirkwood Bar:
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Lots of PPC (prickly pear cactus):
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Great view from Suicide Point:
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The ascent/descent up and down Suicide Point is noteworthy.

FB: Suicide Point is the most spectacular point along the Idaho Snake River Trail. From the point it is more than 300 feet nearly straight down to the Snake River. Cutting the trail out to this point took a tremendous amount of trail crew work.

The legend how the point got named tells a Romeo and Juliet type story of a Native American prince who jumped to his death when not allowed to marry the love of his life.

Temperance Creek Ranch on the Oregon side:
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Temperance Creek Ranch site is a former private sheep ranch located at the confluence of Temperance Creek and the Snake River in Hells Canyon National Recreation Area (NRA). When the NRA was established by Congress in the 1970s, the Forest Service was given authority and funding to purchase private land within the NRA. The FS purchased the Temperance Creek Ranch soon after the NRA was established, and the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest has managed the property since that time. Livestock operations ceased at the ranch when it was purchased by the FS, but several operators have held permits to use it as a base outfitters. The site is used on an intermittent basis by the outfitters, the FS and Idaho Power employees. Currently, Hells Canyon Packers offers lodging, meals and other services. Buildings on the site include two barns and a house, along with several smaller sheds and cabins. Various pieces of farm equipment are also present, as is a working airstrip.

Big Bar across from Temperance Creek Ranch:
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Piping at Myers Creek
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FB: This pipe was used to divert water from Myers Creek to irrigate the hay fields on Big Bar.

Stone cabin built into a hillside:
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Perfect place to spend the night, just ignore the mouse and bird crap everywhere:
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This stone cabin was not mentioned in the Fred Barstad book. A relatively new sheet metal roof and support beams have been added. Nevertheless, I would rather sleep outside in a tent than in that disgusting place.

Next up was a Pine Bar, named for the out of place grove of ponderosa pine trees. There was a light sulphur-like smell there.

FB: At Pine Bar a large number of ponderosa pine trees grow clear down to the river. The high alum content in the soil in this area supposedly allows the trees to prosper in this dry harsh climate.

From the FS: The yellow-stained rocks mark a mineralized zone along a fault called a "gossan". Deeply weathered parts of the gossan form alurn deposits. Floyd Gossan Harvey, early outfitter, boated his Hells Canyon Excursions guests to a camp at this site in the 1960s. The main lodge and six tent cabins were burned by an arsonist in 1974.

Ponderosa pines at Pine Bar:
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Stitch pic of ponderosa pines at Pine Bar:
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Game warden cabin at Sand Creek:
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On the Oregon side, there is another Snake River Trail. That trail can be seen continuously while on the Idaho Snake River Trail. There is very little information about the current status of that trail. Recent reports note zero maintenance, overgrown poison oak/ivy and difficult terrain.

FB: On the Oregon side of the river, an exceptional bit of trail work can be seen near Sheep Creek. Here the Oregon Snake River Trail has been cut out of a cliff. It is not a ledge but is actually cut into a nearly vertical rock face. This section of trail is called the Eagles Nest.

Eagles Nest:
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Jet boat mail service at Sheep Creek Ranch:
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Sheep Creek Ranch:
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FB: Bill McLeod settled in this area in 1884. There is a house, barn, and some other outbuildings at the ranch. The house was first built by Bill McGaffee and his brother Fed, and later was rebuilt by Ace Barton. Sheep Creek Ranch, which now belongs to the Forest Service, is being used as a lodge by Hells Canyon Adventures.

Great view upriver nearing Johnson Bar:
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Old farm equipment on Johnson Bar:
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Hat Point lookout, the highest point on the Oregon Hells Canyon rim:
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Balsamroot in bloom:
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Stone cabin remnants near Bills Creek:
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FB: Silas Bullock built the cabin around 1912. No comment on if he was related to Sandra.

This is where I set up camp the first night:
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FB: Near Dry Basin where the trail follows a small ledge close to the river is a round vertical hole in the rock. This hole was caused by a hard rock being swirled around in a depression in the softer rock strata and wearing a deep hole. There are many of these along the river, some of them still have the hard rock inside them.

Hole in a rock:
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Note: This hole was almost 10 feet deep.

Not wild hemp, but what is it?
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Some impressive trail work on the Oregon side:
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FB: At Bernard Creek is McGaffee Cabin. This cabin was built about 1905 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The cabin is in fairly good condition and is open to the public. Bill Hiltsley and his wife first settled this site in 1901. The land and cabin were sold to Frank McGaffee in 1915. Lenora Barton and Bud Wilson each owned the site for a time before it was sold to the Forest Service. There was once an extensive orchard here, including plum, pear, walnut, apricot, apple, cherry and peach trees.

Old farm equipment at Bernard Creek:
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McGaffee Cabin at Bernard Creek:
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People used to wallpaper the walls with magazines:
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On the wall are posted several magazine articles and historical photos of people living at Bernard Creek, one from the Saturday Evening Post. Photos of all of these were taken and can be found at the Google Photos link at the bottom of the trip report.

Beginning of the Saturday Evening Post article:
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What life was like at the McGaffee Cabin:
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I wouldn’t want to live there now:
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Nice sleeping quarters in the loft if you don’t mind filth and feces:
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Freezeout Saddle up Saddle Creek:
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Remnants of some kind of structure:
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25 mile marker:
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Vert bad stretch of poison ivy (not poison oak):
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Near Granite Creek is a spot on the trail so close to the river that the trail gets covered in water at times of high water. There is a high water route, but it is described as very difficult and hard to follow. Fred Barstad’s description makes it sound like is should only be used as a last resort. I never saw it on either side, it was shown on my GPS, and I was looking for it.

The high water route goes somewhere up there:
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Fortunately the water was not too high:
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Recent reports were that the bridge at Granite Creek had washed out and that it would be a wet crossing. The trail goes on for another three miles after that, eventually passing a hot spring. Upon reaching Granite Creek, it was crossable, but the crossing point and continuation of the trail on the other side could not be determined. That, and the continually degrading trail, the decision was made to make turn back. There is an option to hike upstream three quarters of a mile to Hibbs Ranch. The description of that is some rusted out machinery and the remains of a foundation, as well as an overgrown trail. Maybe next time.

The turnaround point at Granite Creek:
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Some rafters were stopped to scout Granite Rapids and told me about some pictographs. I had seen the little side trail but didn’t know where it went. So I went and checked them out. They were very faded.

One of the pictographs:
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Once above Granite Rapids, I stopped to watch the rafters go through them. One raft got swamped and a person and a dog fell into the rapids. The video is below.

Rafters on their approach to Granite Rapids:
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Video of rafters going through Granite Rapids:


Link to video on YouTube:
https://youtu.be/tYcRqw5L7bA

I’m not completely OK with memorials on public land. What if everybody did it?
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I’m definitely not OK with grazing on public land:
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Just in case you wanted to know what a deer looks like while peeing:
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Missed the 10-mile marker on the way out:
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Flagpole to advertise if there is mail to pick up:
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Because it is half a mile off the trail, and behind a hill, I missed Kirby Creek Lodge on the way out. Kirby Creek Lodge is the only privately owned property located in the Wild & Scenic portion of Hells Canyon. You can stay there for a price.

Kirby Creek Lodge:
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Beautiful butterfly, possible an old world swallowtail:
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Lots more cars at the trailhead on Saturday than Thursday:
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----------------------------------------------------

Final Notes
• During Idaho spring break, the trail is heavily used.
• If the weather is sunny, the trail is close to 100% sun exposure.
• No permits of any kind are required for parking, hiking or backpacking.
• While the trail gets regular maintenance, it is less maintained the farther away from the trailhead travelled.
• Most sources note poison ivy, rather than poison oak, not that it matters. Whichever it was, it was just starting to leaf out. There was more of it the farther away from the trailhead travelled.
• The trailed seemed to get rougher, with more ups and downs towards the end.
• As mentioned above, lots more pics on the links below.

Link to pictures on Google Photos:
Link 1
Link 2

Keep on hiking,

Brad
Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.
- Jean Luc Picard

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retired jerry
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Re: Idaho Snake River Trail: 4/15/21-4/17/21

Post by retired jerry » April 24th, 2021, 10:13 am

great report, thanks. That would make a great trip for me, hmmm.....

Aimless
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Re: Idaho Snake River Trail: 4/15/21-4/17/21

Post by Aimless » April 24th, 2021, 11:35 am

That is the very model of an excellent trip report, and it's especially valuable in that it covers a trail that gets almost no coverage on OH.org. Thanks!

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Bosterson
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Re: Idaho Snake River Trail: 4/15/21-4/17/21

Post by Bosterson » April 24th, 2021, 11:37 am

Cool trip, Brad! Great to see the desert. I've still never been to Hell's Canyon...
#pnw #bestlife #bitingflies #favoriteyellowcap #neverdispleased

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drm
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Re: Idaho Snake River Trail: 4/15/21-4/17/21

Post by drm » April 24th, 2021, 12:18 pm

When I did the trail on the Oregon side between Saddle and Temperance Creeks, it was in pretty good condition, and I think the Temperance Creek Ranch was operating as a private business. I remember speaking to one of the owners since I had unintentionally camped in their pasture. But that was way way back in 2008. :roll:

And I also remember looking across at Pittsburgh Landing then as an alternative. The Oregon side trail is a little harder to get to. You either have to hike over Freezeout Saddle, as I did, or do the difficult drive all the way in to Doug Bar.

cfm
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Re: Idaho Snake River Trail: 4/15/21-4/17/21

Post by cfm » April 25th, 2021, 6:51 am

Thanks for sharing your adventure Brad!

Love all the history. I remember hiking the Rogue River and the wondrous feeling encountering some of the old cabins and homesteads. So neat to hike through the canyon and ponder about what life would like living year round in a remote wild place like that. Trips to the grocery store must be very well planned!

justpeachy
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Re: Idaho Snake River Trail: 4/15/21-4/17/21

Post by justpeachy » April 25th, 2021, 7:18 am

Great report! Always love reading about your trips. Lots of cool history down there. I think it would be fun to do a guided raft trip through Hell's Canyon someday.

Looks like you had sunny weather the the whole time. Was it pretty warm?

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BurnsideBob
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Re: Idaho Snake River Trail: 4/15/21-4/17/21

Post by BurnsideBob » April 27th, 2021, 5:37 am

Another excellent report.

I haven't visited the Snake River Gorge at river level, but have hiked along the top on the 7 Devils side. Many of the ranches have/had summer cabins and improvements up high to support their summer cattle grazing. No Poison Ivy tho :D

Very cool that all the old ranches have their mail boxes out!! Hard to imagine scratching a living from the land and that a few were successful enough to build up their enterprises.

Thanks for sharing.
I keep making protein shakes but they always turn out like margaritas.

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Born2BBrad
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Re: Idaho Snake River Trail: 4/15/21-4/17/21

Post by Born2BBrad » April 27th, 2021, 12:38 pm

justpeachy wrote:
April 25th, 2021, 7:18 am
Looks like you had sunny weather the the whole time. Was it pretty warm?
I forgot to mention the weather. It was almost perfect. Highs between 70-75. Any warmer and it would be uncomfortable, with 100% sun and heat reflecting off rocks. It a month it will be too hot. In two months it will be an inferno.

Overnight lows were chilly. I had to zip up my sleeping bag. One morning there was frost on plants.
Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.
- Jean Luc Picard

keithcomess
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Re: Idaho Snake River Trail: 4/15/21-4/17/21

Post by keithcomess » April 28th, 2021, 1:09 pm

Very nicely done trip report! Thanks for posting it. The area looks interesting.

As for the cabins, I'd avoid entering those due to the potential risk of hantavirus and I certainly wouldn't sleep inside*. I'm not thrilled with the jet boats and cattle grazing on public lands but otherwise it looks like good place to visit.

Keith

*"Rodent contact is an important factor in the transmission of hantaviruses to humans. Many hantaviruses are shed in the urine, feces, or saliva of acutely infected reservoir rodents. It is suspected that much, if not all, transmission to humans occurs via the aerosol route..."

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