Nee-Me-Poo & Imnaha Trails, Hells Canyon 4-23 to 4-24-19

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Nee-Me-Poo & Imnaha Trails, Hells Canyon 4-23 to 4-24-19

Post by bobcat » April 30th, 2019, 3:02 pm

I took a quick excursion out to Snake River country, hiking a couple of trails and enjoying the spring ambience in the Lower Imnaha valley. From Imnaha itself, it was 6 ½ miles north on the narrow but paved Lower Imnaha Road passing bucolic rural homesteads with basalt rimrock and grassy benches above. Then it was another 16 ½ miles on the hardened mud and rock of the notorious Dug Bar Road until I got to the first trailhead.

Dug Bar Road

This drive merits a few photos of its own. The road was, in fact, quite negotiable but wound up and down with some almost vertical drop offs. It would be slippery after a heavy rain or snow melt and dusty in the summer, but there was no traffic on it at all, so I just ambled along at about 15 mph enjoying the views.

Lower Imnaha River from the Dug Bar Road.jpg
Deep canyon, Dug Bar Road.jpg
On the Dug Bar Road.jpg
Next to the river, Dug Bar Road.jpg
View to Cow Creek Bridge, Dug Bar Road.jpg

Nee-Me-Poo Trail

This was my first stop since I was determined to hike to Dug Bar and not drive all the way. It’s a National Historic Trail that ends at a section of the Nez Perce National Historic Park. In May 1877, Chief Joseph (Hinmatóowyalahtq’it) of the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce (Nimíipuu), was given an ultimatum by Army General Oliver O. Howard. The band had not ratified an 1863 treaty that put other groups of Nez Perce onto reservations and the Wallowa band remained in their ancestral home, the broad grassy expanses of the Wallowa valley which held the graves of their ancestors, but was now much coveted by white settlers for farmland. Chief Joseph was given 30 days to leave for an Idaho reservation or consider himself at war with the U.S. government. Whole villages had to be packed up, and thousands of cattle and horses were driven into Hells Canyon, where they crossed the swift-flowing spring current of the Snake River at Dug Bar. Hundreds of livestock were lost, but all the people crossed safely. The band were continuing to the Lapwai Reservation, but after some young members killed four settlers in retaliation for the murder of a Nez Perce elder, Joseph decided to take his group of 750 Wallowa Nez Perce and Palouse to Canada to meet with Chief Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapa Lakota. A running battle of over 1,000 miles through the Bitterroot Range and Montana Territory ensued, culminating with the defeat of Joseph’s band at the Battle of Bear Paw on October 5th, 1877, just 40 miles south of the Canadian border.

The trail up over Lone Pine Saddle and down to Dug Bar traverses bunchgrass hillsides and, like other Hells Canyon trails, might be lost but for the local bovines, who freely integrate it with their own braiding pathways. There are posts and small cairns that mark the way for hikers. Near Lone Pine Saddle, I spotted four bighorn rams and then several small groups of deer. Arrowleaf balsamroot, bright pink Snake River phlox, and yellow bladderpod were blooming on the slopes.

Badge, Nee Mee Poo Trailhead.jpg
Fence post below Lone Pine Saddle, Nee Mee Poo Trail.jpg
Rams on Cactus Mountain, Nee Mee Poo Trail.jpg
Western bladderpod (Physaria occidentalis var. cusickii), Nee Mee Poo Trail.jpg
View down to the Imnaha, Nee Mee Poo Trail.jpg
At Lone Pine Saddle, Nee Mee Poo Trail.jpg

The traverse from the saddle takes you above the Dug Bar Road and in and out of Big Canyon. I entered the northern part of the Hells Canyon Wilderness at the next saddle, and then descended to the Dug Bar Road. It was a short walk along the road to the Dug Bar Ranch, all shuttered up with no one at home. Then I walked down to the memorial cairn at the site of the 1877 crossing, the river then perhaps not quite as swollen as it was on my visit. It was a peaceful scene, with the hackberry trees just leafing out and a few horses grazing on the hillside above. A mail boat with two people aboard did make a pit stop, I think to refuel as there were no tourists and no one to take a mail delivery.

Trail bench below Lone Pine Saddle, Nee Mee Poo Trail.jpg
Fence at wilderness boundary, Nee Mee Poo Trail.jpg
Snake River phlox (Phlox colubrina), Nee Mee Poo Trail.jpg
Approaching Dug Bar, Nee Mee Poo Trail.jpg
Douglas' brodiaea (Triteleia grandiflora), Nee Mee Poo Trail.jpg
Looking up to Summit Ridge, Dug Bar, Nee Mee Poo Trail.jpg
Upstream from Dug Bar, Nee Mee Poo Trail.jpg
Mail boat, Dug Bar, Nee Mee Poo Trail.jpg
Crossing at Dug Bar, Nee Mee Poo Trail.jpg

That evening, I decided to camp out at the trailhead. No one was traveling the Dug Bar Road, and the views stretched south along the Imnaha valley and its series of intersecting ridges.

Campsite, Dug Bar Road.jpg

Imnaha River Trail

This hike, which begins at the Cow Creek Bridge over the Imnaha River about 2 ¾ miles below the Nee-Me-Poo Trailhead, follows an extremely well-constructed trail, actually a rock-walled causeway of sorts, for four miles to Eureka Bar on the Snake. The Imnaha was roaring at full spate only a foot or two below the trail in places and sometimes kicking up four-foot-high pressure waves. The trail undulates but generally keeps low, often along the base of cliffs. Poison ivy is present along the length of the route, and in places blackberries crowd the trail. Much of the canyon is narrow and shaded for much of the day. The rock is 260 million-year-old diorite, about 17 times older than the Columbia River Basalts!

Snake Canyon desert-parsley (Lomatium serpentinum), Lower Imnaha River.jpg
Diorite overhang on the trail, Lower Imnaha River.jpg
In the depths of the canyon, Lower Imnaha River.jpg
Poison ivy, Lower Imnaha River.jpg
Bumblebee on alumroot, Lower Imnaha River.jpg
Currant-leaf alumroot (Heuchera grossulariifolia), Lower Imnaha River.jpg

An otter skulked across the path early in the hike, but I saw no other wildlife. Lower down the canyon, there was evidence of mining activity, and I passed the entrance to the Mountain Chief Mine which now acts as a refuge for colonies of bats. Then the brown waters of the Imnaha joined the grayer flow of the Snake, keeping separated until hitting the Imnaha Rapids at Eureka Bar. There were three more prospects above the Snake, the foundation of the Eureka hotel, and the remains of the 13 story smelter. The Imnaha River Trail turns up Eureka Creek and heads up to Cemetery Ridge. This was also a peaceful spot. Soon, the canyon walls are going to reverberate with the roar of jet boats and the exclamations of excited visitors.

Whitewater, Lower Imnaha River.jpg
First glimpse of the Snake, Lower Imnaha River.jpg
Cliff route, Lower Imnaha River.jpg
Mountain Chief Mine, Lower Imnaha River.jpg
Confluence with the Snake, Lower Imnaha River.jpg

The story of Eureka is another of those brief but instructive Western yarns. In 1902, copper prospectors spread the story that the seams also contained gold. Soon, about 2,000 gold-fevered men were camped at Eureka Bar, and the hotel/saloon and building for a stamp mill were constructed, financed by East Coast investors. The Lewiston Southern Mining Company ran a steamer, the Imnaha, up the Snake, using cables attached to iron rings on the riverside cliffs to haul the boat up rapids. The stamp mill was loaded on the Imnaha in November 1903. The steamer began to haul herself over the whitewater at Mountain Sheep Rapid, but snagged her paddle wheel on the cable, stayed afloat long enough for all aboard to jump to safety, and then broke up and went to the bottom. With no stamp mill and no discernable presence of gold, everyone left. When the first officially designated mailman arrived, he found a ghost town.

Campsite, Eureka Bar.jpg
View from an adit, Eureka Bar.jpg
Stamp mill, Eureka Bar.jpg
Looking from the hotel to the Snake, Eureka Bar.jpg
Western fence lizard, Eureka Bar.jpg
Trail continuation up Eureka Creek, Eureka Bar.jpg

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Don Nelsen
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Re: Nee-Me-Poo & Imnaha Trails, Hells Canyon 4-23 to 4-24-19

Post by Don Nelsen » April 30th, 2019, 5:47 pm

Thanks for this great TR, history and photos! dn
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Re: Nee-Me-Poo & Imnaha Trails, Hells Canyon 4-23 to 4-24-19

Post by pablo » May 1st, 2019, 8:32 am

Wonderful trip report, my wife was just asking about Imnaha for some reason so I sent the link to your report which she enjoyed reading. You really need to bind your reports up and join the ranks of trail guide authors.

BTW, I just need to know, is any of this material going to be on the next test?

The future's uncertain and the end is always near.

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Re: Nee-Me-Poo & Imnaha Trails, Hells Canyon 4-23 to 4-24-19

Post by teachpdx » May 2nd, 2019, 8:51 am

I've been looking at doing this section of the Imnaha trail for awhile, and this report pretty much seals the deal for me.

I've just always been a little concerned about the road there. If I go this time of year, is the road doable in a passenger car if I take it easy?
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Re: Nee-Me-Poo & Imnaha Trails, Hells Canyon 4-23 to 4-24-19

Post by Aimless » May 2nd, 2019, 10:31 am

I think bobcat highlighted the main concern at the top of the TR: "It would be slippery after a heavy rain". I seem to recall hearing about one fatality, maybe 10 or 12 years ago, due to the driver mistakenly following a side track and the car sliding down a steep slope. It was attributed to driving too fast for the road conditions after a rain.

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Re: Nee-Me-Poo & Imnaha Trails, Hells Canyon 4-23 to 4-24-19

Post by Titogoeshiking3 » May 2nd, 2019, 1:23 pm

Wonderful trip report and photography.
Thanks for sharing!

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Re: Nee-Me-Poo & Imnaha Trails, Hells Canyon 4-23 to 4-24-19

Post by bobcat » May 2nd, 2019, 2:19 pm

pablo wrote:
May 1st, 2019, 8:32 am
I just need to know, is any of this material going to be on the next test?
Ha ha. No, but you gave me an idea (possibly) for the TKO newsletter . . .
teachpdx wrote:
May 2nd, 2019, 8:51 am
If I go this time of year, is the road doable in a passenger car if I take it easy?
Clearance is not an issue. Good tires would be recommended and make sure your spare is a real tire and fully inflated before you go (Spares tend to lose air over time). Take it slow and enjoy the scenery. Don't go if it's been raining a lot. It would, indeed, be easy to slide off the edge in places. Going in and out, I met only one other vehicle actually driving the road, and they were locals who ranch at Cow Creek.

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