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We woke up at 3a to the annoying beep of the alarm. A very gentle beep really, but at 3a just about any noise is annoying. I bump into the wall and fumble for the light switch. Click - nothing. I try the bathroom light, but again, nothing. Seems the electric generator gets turned off sometime in the evening and the Vermilion Resort goes without until sometime in the morning. Drats. More fumbling, this time into our packs, and we drag out our headlamps. Three guys in their underwear donning headlamps could be very amusing - if it weren't three in the morning. We dress, eat breakfast and finish our packing before heading out. The walls are thin here and I feel somewhat bad for our companions in room #3 next door. At least our #4 is the end unit and we're only annoying one group of fellow guest, not two.
Taking two cars, we headed to the Bear Creek Diversion Dam TH, some seven or eight miles away. We left Rick's car at the turn off, and piled into Matthew's Suburu as the last two miles are over rough, 4x4 road. Matthew drives the first quarter mile before growing too nervous and turning the driving over to me. That seems a bit backwards to me - if it were my car I would be more nervous if someone else were driving, but Matthew seems to trust me more than himself. Or maybe he just keeps his eyes closed and prays a good deal. It is torturously slow and there is much granite to drive over and around. Several times we can't make out where the road goes in the dark and I have to get out and walk around before finding the way. By the time we've reached the TH we've concluded it would have been faster to have left the car at the paved road and simply hiked up. Lesson learned. We parked the car, shouldered our packs, started off, and immediately got lost.
We found another car parked nearby, but we couldn't find the trailhead. It felt silly wandering around looking for something that should be obvious. Rick's GPS tells him we are just south of the trail so we headed uphill in search of it, finding it in less than a minute. Score one for the GPS. The Bear Creek Trail is as long and relentless as Jim, Vermilion Resort's owner, has warned us. We hike along in silence, each to his own thoughts as we march up the trail by headlamp. I can hear the roar of the creek to the right, sometimes very close, but can see nothing of it. Looking to the night sky, the stars we had seen during the drive are fading out, but not due to the new day - clouds are coming in from somewhere, and we wonder what we have in store weather-wise. The second hour is mostly a steep grind as the trail gains altitude quickly. Sometime around 6:30a it is light enough to leave off the headlamp, but it is still very cold, several degrees below freezing. We could see that clouds were covering part of the sky, but it seems a local phenomena, not something big moving in.
As the trail bends to the southeast we are at least relieved from the steepest part of the climbing along the trail. We had a short glimpse of Seven Gables through the trees around 7:30a before it was lost to us again. We passed by the trail junctions to Lake Italy and then to Seven Gables Lakes. The crossing of Bear Creek is easy late in the season. We left the main trail heading over Senger Pass when we got to the Sandpiper Lake junction. When we reached Low Beverly Lake we all instinctively pulled out our cameras to take in the views - it was the prettiest spot we'd seen yet today. Here we got another view of Seven Gables, the sun and clouds vying for it's attention to the east. We hiked further up to Sandpiper Lake where we finally met the end of the trail portion of our journey. The hike up took us almost five hours which comes to about 15 miles - further than we had anticipated. I had serious doubts I'd be able to continue on to Gemini, considering we still had 2,500ft of climbing ahead of us.
The climb of Seven Gables from the west can only be honestly described as a grind. Rick led most of the way, up slabs and boulders with some shrubs in the beginning (though hardly the "barely penetrable brush" described by Secor). For those looking for beta - it's steeper but less brushy on the right (south) side of the slope, brushier to the left where the streams are found. Rick found a better line by keeping to the left more once past the initial brush while Matthew and I followed the ridge more directly, thinking it was a quicker way to the summit. It wasn't. The easiest line angles left after the brushy area to the shallow upper basin. Follow this up and then climb to the ridge when about the 12,400-foot level. We took this route on the way down and it was considerably easier (and not just because we were headed downhill). The higher we got the more snow was evident on the ledges and rocks protected from direct sunlight. It had evidently snowed some during the night, just a light dusting of less than a quarter inch, but it collected in places enough to make the class 2 ascent seem more like class 3. There was also some deeper snow drifts remaining from a heavier snowfall a week prior. We had to agree that we were glad we hadn't chosen to climb the class 4 East Face as surely that would have been considerably more dangerous today. I passed by Rick with about 20 minutes to go, eventually landing myself on the summit around 11:20a. The only real class 3 to be found was the last 40 feet or so to get to the summit itself. Rick joined me about ten minutes later and we had a nice rest atop the summit.
Clouds swirled about us, obscuring peaks to the northeast, less so elsewhere. We could see that they weren't the front end of any large system, more of a local phenomena holding little serious threat. We signed into the summit register, consisting of three books, two of them empty, no entry dating earlier than 1996. The book in use had been placed in 1991, evidently waiting its turn for five years before making itself useful. I put on all my clothes and gloves and napped a bit at the summit, warm enough when the sun was out, a bit too chilly when the clouds won out. Matthew was about 30 minutes behind Rick. I had thought perhaps he was a bit fatigued today, but he described having followed the ridge more directly from its start which was more tedious than the routes taken by Rick and myself. None of us had much good to say about the climb. Looking down the East Face, one could see a good deal of snow on all the ledges, confirming our earlier expectation of it being out of condition today.
I half expected Matthew to be interested in continuing to Gemini, but he seemed as little interested as Rick and myself. "But then you'll have to come back up this same trail again later," I offered, wanting to encourage him. He replied with a comment about hating the SPS list sometimes, this being one of them. He was not to be swayed. We turned the discussion to Senger and Hooper, clearly visible to the southwest, and originally planned for tomorrow's outing. Knowing that those two were even more mileage than Seven Gables/Gemini, I was pretty clear that I could entertain no notion of climbing them both. Rick wasn't even interested in climbing one of them and suggested he'd probably head to Silver Peak the following day instead. Our original plan was cracking at several seams. Matthew tried to persuade me that we could do them both, to which I only acknowledged that he might be able to do so, but not I. Matthew decided to save further arguments for a later time, presumably when I was fed, rested, and more pliable to his thinking.
Heading down, we took the easier route described above. As we reached the "barely impenetrable brush" section, the others were following me through the maze of creeks and brush until they thought I'd picked a line through a particularly thick patch of the stuff. They were right of course, but their abandonment after such a fine lead did not sit well with me. After extracting myself from the thicket, I again found a good line for descent, whereupon the others began following me again. "Oh, you don't want to follow me," I called out, "you could get lost in this dense brush. A terrible line. Better you should descend over there," vaguely waving my hand in another direction. Immune to my sarcasm, they simply laughed and continued following. "At least you could give me some kudos for finding our way through this maze, knowing you would be helpless without me. Your flattery doesn't have to be sincere - I'll take what I can get," I offered. While Rick simply chuckled, Matthew picked up the cue, "Oh, I don't know how I'd ever be able to climb any of these peaks without your constant assistance." And so the descent to Sandpiper Lake continued, Matthew praising my leadership skills with feigned sincerity, myself encouraging him all the while.
When we reached the lake and the trail, I turned the lead over to Matthew who immediately took off at his usual trot. For nearly an hour Rick and I kept up with him, jogging as necessary to keep up with his brisk clip. I finally decided I wasn't enjoying the descent as much as I should, so I stopped for a potty break and let the others lose me out of sight ahead. My own pace wasn't terribly slow either, but it was my pace and I was more relaxed just cruising along by myself. Several hours later I caught up with Rick who had also relinquished Matthew's pace for a more managable one. The two of us enjoyed the decent down Bear Creek, stopping to take pictures of the pools and cascades along the creek that we had missed completely in the dark of the early morning when we'd passed by on the ascent. The aspens too were a delight, the colorful leaves dancing and shimmering in the late afternoon light, their fallen brethren carpeting portions of the trail where the trees were thickest. We passed a lone backpacker along the way, the only person we saw all day. He was heading to Seven Gables himself. By the time we returned to the Bear Creek Diversion Dam it was 6p. Matthew had been patiently waiting for us some 30 minutes. 13 1/2 hours sure seemed like an awfully long time for a single peak!
The drive down was much easier than it had been in the dark, though not without a few hairy moments with Matthew saying his silent prayers while I manuevered around a particularly large boulder. No damage to the vehicle, thankfully, but probably the last time we'll want to drive up there. It was dark before we got back to the Vermilion Resort, and barely in time for dinner. It was oriental buffet night, but as Rick and I found out, if you get there at the end of dinner, you pretty much get what's left over. Rats. No chinese chicken salad for us!
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Seven Gables
This page last updated: Sat Apr 7 17:05:06 2007
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