Gunsight Pass, Floral Park, and Sperry Glacier

This past weekend, I went on a two-night trek through the park’s east-side, accompanied by Joe, Keith, and Joey. This was my first hike with Joey, who doesn’t work for the lodge like the other two. His acquaintance is more than welcome for a haul through the backcountry, for he sort of lives out there. He’s constantly backpacking, shooting videos for his youtube channel – which is called “My Own Frontier.”

Until this trip, I had not hiked much with Keith. Concise with his words, he keeps to himself and stays quiet. He manages our camp store and writes a bunch – both fiction and non-fiction. Check out his blog at keithrebec.com, where you can find his published works. It’s worth the visit; he’s the real deal.

I’ve hit the trail with Joe plenty already this summer; we have the same days off. He’s still racing up mountainsides, leaving whomever in the dust when he wants.

This was my first time camping in the backcountry of the park, and our first step was to get up at 6:00 am and head to the ranger station for permits. They only allow so many people to stay in each campsite per night, and the spots fill quickly. We went back to the lodge afterwards and finished packing.

With our gear, we met at the shuttle stop. This was when Joey delivered his proposition: that he would carry as much beer as we bought, as long as he could drink half of them. It didn’t take long for me to take up his offer, as my pack was stuffed with food, a tent, cold/wet gear, a book, more booze, and so on. Keith and I each bought a six-pack of IPA, and Joey stuffed them into the top of his bag, which now weighed something like seventy pounds.

Our imbecile of a shuttle driver missed our stop at the Gunsight trailhead, leaving us off at the next one, where we waited to get driven back up. In the process of hopping on and off the crowded buses and vans, two beers popped in Joey’s backpack, saturating his tent in the process. The cans weren’t completely emptied, so him and Keith finished them off. Joe and I didn’t like watching them enjoy a cold beer, so we each had one of our own. So there we were, all standing roadside enjoying an alcoholic beverage before we even began our hike, headed into the heart of bear country with a beer-soaked tent.

Finally, the excursion started at around 1:00. After five or so minutes of walking, we came across a bear standing behind some shrubbery on the trail’s edge, his head steered in our direction. I could see its richly colored brown – almost red – fur, and immediately concluded that it was a grizzly. Little did I know, that black bears could also be brown, as this one standing in front of us was. It still doesn’t make sense to me, but people commonly refer to these as “brown” bears instead of “black” bears. Anyway, my intuition had me staring at the more aggressive, less timid grizzly species, so I wasn’t quick to grab my camera, but rather onto my bear spray as I effectively maneuvered my positioning until considerable human flesh was between myself and that beast. I was keen on outrunning every last one of them, but the “brown” bear itself wanted no part of us and spun around, darting from the path into hiding behind the thickness of the woods. None of us were able to get good photos, but we were all thrilled by the action arriving so quickly. It was the only bear we would see for the entire trip.

The hike went on for some time in the woods, and we started to break free from the trees as we walked along side a small marshland and then made our way up the side of a valley. Joey was now, and throughout the trek’s duration, filming us, along with the scenery, for a production for his Youtube channel. I myself am averse to someone filming me, but Joey is pretty easygoing, and all I ever had to do was converse with Joe or Keith, simply wave, or act like I didn’t know it was there to make it all seem candid. It was interesting to hear from Joey about his growing online following, his tireless work-ethic, and his plans as to which direction he wants to take his gig in the future. This mad-man actually wants to stay backpacking for 300 days next year! I tip my hat to him and wish him the best of luck.

Two glaciers – Jackson and Mitchell – graced our view from the east as we climbed the valley towards Gunsight Lake. The cliff’s sedimentary lines were spiraling away from them. Every fifty yards or so, you would remember to turn around and view the peaks you were leaving behind.

As we were walking, I kept staring at the sedimentary lines on the cliffs and wondering how they were steered in such non-intuitive directions. I was snapping photos when, suddenly, I looked ahead and saw something so unique and unlike anything I could imagine. Gunsight Lake, it turns out, is aptly named for the pass it’s shadowed by. Looking across the water from the eastern shore, you see a half-circle formation of cliff with waterfalls diagonally flowing from the edges towards a common apex at the bottom, somewhat resembling the crosshairs you see when your aiming to shoot. It looked more like an eerie CGI creation of the entrance to an underworld in some fantasy epic. We enjoyed the view from the shore and made way towards the pass, which we had to get over in order to camp at Lake Ellen Wilson.

The pass was windy and cold; the views, however, were nothing short of dazzling. We even got to hike right by a mother mountain goat and her baby. Carved out of the red cliff side, the demanding incline zigzagged and was intermittently grazed over by waterfalls, which soaked my feet with freezing snow and glacier melt. Walking over the top of the Gunsight itself, the illusion you just saw unfolds, as the waterfalls that previously sketched its crosshairs laterally line up across the valley.

We enjoyed a beer inside of a hut at the top and headed down towards our campsite, where we quickly set up shop. Joey and Keith decided to dip their tent in the lake to try and rid the hoppy smell. This didn’t accomplish much, as you can probably imagine. Later, while talking over hot meals and passing the flask around, I realized just how alone we were out there – away from it all. All that mattered was my meal, tent, and falling asleep, which came easy. I was dialed into my primal instinct for survival, accompanied by no distracting, pointless objectives. I enjoyed the reprieve, and I think it’s necessary to immerse yourself into nature – or life – here and there to make you stop and reflect on what it’s all about. Although Joey is somewhat bat-shit, he seems to have it all figured out with his video production fueling his passion for the wild. He’s just doing the damn thing.

We woke up the next morning and chilled out for its duration. I read and ate as much as I could. At half past noon Joey slipped me a caffeine pill and we were off, hiking straight up, before rounding our way out of the valley onto Sperry Chalet, where we would eat a snack and set up for the night. We then scrambled up Lincoln Peak, where we enjoyed views over the southern end of the park.

On our way down to our campsite, we had to decide whether or not we would climb up to see Sperry Glacier, which was four miles away and over the top of a pass. The clouds were darkening overhead, and a light sprinkle started, along with roaring thunder in the distance. But we knew we didn’t want to wait until the next morning, when we would rather just coast through the downhill for our hike’s finish. We didn’t leave our campsite until 6:00 that evening, but without our heavy packs slowing us down, we pretty much ran up the those four miles of incline, making it to the top in just under 80 minutes.

The last leg of trail to the pass is a steep staircase chiseled from sheer cliff. This only adds to your anticipation for the staggering views from Floral Park, which is a rolling rocky terrain that’s high in the sky, scattered with glistening creeks of snowmelt. The trail through the area is marked every fifty-or-so yards by piles of stacked stone. Sitting atop this desolate landscape, the glacier itself is a massive crackling sheet of white and aqua blue. Keith, enthused by the heavenly views of the park, ran over to stand atop of it for a photo.

It was getting dark and cold quick, so we ran back down to our campsite near the chalet, where we enjoyed a few beverages and dinner. The next morning we woke up to a bull mountain goat standing near our tent. This was the first male I had come across, and his size and strength was much more intimidating than the others I’ve seen. He was pretty skittish around us, however, as I’m sure that previous campers have harassed him while he’s tried to steal a salty, sweat-soaked shoe.

Our trek ended smoothly that day. I’m going to summit Heaven’s Peak this coming weekend. Again, it will be a three-day adventure into the middle of nowhere. Keith and Joey will be there, along with two others. Stay tuned!

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