Fri, Jun 5, 2015
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It was a brilliant decision in hindsight, with several advantages that I might not have realized starting at a more usual time. For one, the day was past the hottest time and it was starting to cool down soon after I set off. I hiked up the Swift Creek Trail, turning off to the Granite Lake Trail after the first mile, crossing Swift Creek on a fine bridge and heading up through forest and meadow in brilliant green colors of spring. Gibson Peak came into view sometime before 5p and I could see by the amount of snow still on the northern aspects that I'd get a chance to use the axe and crampons I carried. I followed the trail to Granite Lake and through a campsite located there before starting off cross-country. A use trail led part-way around the west side of Granite Lake but soon devolved into mild bushwhacking and some rock scrambling to get me around the brush-free slopes closer to Gibson (the descent route I used was much better, with no serious bushwhacking at all). Once clear of the major brush, I began an ascending traverse up steep slopes through boulders and mildly-vegetated slopes, scrambling above Granite Lake to opening views. As I climbed higher the ground became wetter with rivulets of water braiding down from the melting snows above. It was hard to find dry ground anywhere after awhile. I was lucky to be sporting a newer pair of boots that did not absorb water as quickly as my older ones would have, and for the most part my feet stayed fairly dry.
It was after 6p when I reached the snowline, where uphill travel was no longer possible over talus and boulders. Here I put on gaiter and crampons and got out my axe as the angle of the Northeast Face continued to increase. I also discovered a new benefit of my late start - the sun had already ducked behind the North Ridge, leaving the snow section completely in shadow and obviating the need for sunscreen or eye protection. The snow was decently firm too, taking good step kicks on the steepest sections with almost no postholing at all. My route up followed as high as I could get while still on snow, with a last short couloir that brought me to the crest only a few minutes from the top. It was nearly 7p when I stood at the summit, looking over a landscape steeped in shadow of the waning afternoon. It was a glorious sight to behold, only the slightest of breezes and a most comfortable temperature. I took a few minutes to photograph more than 50 pages of a register that dated only to 2004. Clearly this was a popular summit. After soaking in more of the views and identifying some of the major summits that I recognized, I headed back down the same way, reversing my route through the snow and wet sections of the Northeast Face. I stayed higher above the west side of Granite Lake, hugging the base of the east side of Gibson's North Ridge as it bends to the northeast and descends towards the trail. This got me above and around the brush on the west side of the lake and back to the trail around 8p. I made it back to the Swift Creek bridge by 9p, at which time I dug out my headlamp for the last mile back to the TH.
After showering and driving to the next day's TH where I was to meet Matthew, it was after 11p - well past my bedtime. The hike had taken only six hours but the 4,000ft of gain made it feel like a full day. There would be no trouble getting to sleep tonight...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Gibson Peak
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