In my attempts to find the largest, most interesting hikes I could do before ACL surgery in September 2017, I started browsing Caltopo and drawing loop trails, hoping they’d be as long as could I could safely undertake in one weekend. The most promising was The Devil’s Ridge Loop. It turns out this is a pretty well known hike and one of the Ultrapedestrian Wilderness Challenges but at the time it was just a loop on a map.
I “cheated in” Friday night in case the going was slow but got a late start because I gave a hitch to a guy holding a sign saying PCT. I wasn’t able to get him all the way to Hart’s Pass but dropped him in Mazama which worked well because I’d put off buying food for the trip so I could get to the ranger station in time to get a permit. As it turns out, only the 13 miles of the route along Ross Lake require a permit. The rest is Forest Service land. Also, parking is free at the East Bank Trailhead. What’s not to like?
It was evening when I started and I’d been assigned a spot at the May Creek horse camp 7 miles in – the last site available within 10 miles of the trailhead. I wanted to start clockwise in case I felt ambitious and wanted to extend the loop’s eastern section (spoiler alert: when the time came, I didn’t). The start wasn’t auspicious as I missed one of the few turns in the dark and crossed a stream on a sketchy log so I could come in the back of some people’s campsite to ask them for directions.
The sun was up but hadn’t crested the hills when I rolled out of camp the next morning. The East Bank Trail, which had been removed from Ross Lake, now ran down to tickle it’s eastern shore. Smoke was blowing in from Forest Fires in Canada (the border is about 20 miles away) which made things seem more mysterious.
Turning east at the Devil’s Ridge Trail, I climbed quickly through the forest and found myself out of breath and short on water. I knew the ridge would probably be dry but bet that there would be a rivulet somewhere on the way up. It surprisingly late in the climb before I found one and was filled with gratitude. The hike up to the ridge also solved a longstanding curiosity of mine: why people were strapping what looked like explosive belts to trees.
Reaching the ridge was both an excuse for a snack though it’s real purpose was to rest. Gazing across at the ridges and peaks, the haze was smudged what should have been a glorious and brilliant view like a faded picture. Walking the ridgeline was still fantastic and I’d love to see it in it’s true splendor some time.
Where the haze was thinner, the clouds could play pleasantly with the light.
Working my way down the ridge, I ran across several PNT hikers and stopped for conversation. It was so much fun connecting with these people undertaking a similar venture to the one I’d done last year. They all looked like through hikers: tanned, dirty, walking fast, usually carrying SmartWater bottles. I gave some bread to a couple who were resupplying the next day and had run out of everything but peanut butter. Through hiker habits never change.
Eventually, Jackita Ridge came into view and between slower than expected but very pleasant progress and on the recommendation of passing hikers (and because I was feeling pretty beat), I snacked at that turn off before beginning to descend a slope which alternated between medium gravel and pine trees.
I’d considered calling it quits early around 6pm but after finding water for the first time since mid-morning and sitting around with the intent of putting up my shelter, I instead put on my pack and kept walking. Perhaps the single greatest pleasure I have in carrying a relatively light pack is that I can pick it up with a single hand an swing it onto my back in a fluid, casual motion. Even when tired. No clean and jerk motion. No hoisting the bag onto a knee or stump. When your mind is in a good place, you just pick up and keep walking.
The Jackita Ridge Trail near the the Devil’s Ridge Trail is a series of up-and-overs and I made it into the next valley before calling it quits. A young couple with a huge tent with vestibule for their large dog and tarp for rain collection provided a convenient excuse for some trail talk over dinner (theirs anyways as I’d already eaten) and to watch the sky turn colors. Then I decamped to camp in the valley just below positioned to make the last climb while I was full of energy the next morning.
I heard rocks slide during the night and was a little worried about the stability of the trail when I got up in the morning. However the trail was clear and mostly well packed with a few sections of looser gravel. The Canadian smoke had been replaced by a fog layer which started just under the rest of the ridge I was heading for. A deer was ahead of me on the switchbacks and on seeing a human decided to make it’s own route. The slow process knocked loose many rocks and solved the mystery of last night’s rock falls.
From that ridge, it was miles of downhill. Downhill across hillsides with moisture darkened granite. Downhill through meadows clean and wet. Downhill through trees and flowers damp with fog. Downhill through hikerwash (plants dump water into socks). Steep downhill with tight, jagged turns. Soft, mellow downhill with shallow turns. Down hill, down hill, down hill.
And then finally, it was flat for a final stretch along the river returning to the trailhead where my car sat waiting to take me back to home to a hot shower and an early bed. And lest things be too perfect, there was this a collapsed cabin.