Dorinna was away for the weekend, so Nate and I met up with Kevins for a two-day backpacking trip. I had wanted to do a trip off of 285- somewhere in the Fairplay/Buena Vista area. We took forever to decide but eventually concluded on Gibson Lake. The turnoff was not far after Guanella Pass road, before Kenosha Pass. The road was good for about 5 miles and then turned into a 4WD road for the last few. The road wasn’t bad and most of it was drivable with somebody else’s Subaru Outback.
The hike itself was a slow and steady affair. It didn’t get especially interesting until it started to break through the tree line. We got some nice views at what looked like stands of Bristlecone Pine. At that point we went into campsite search mode. The lake itself didn’t have much, but a shelf above the lake had a few spots. We found a flat area and pitched our tents. Other than being out in the open it was a great site, with wonderful views across the mountain basin. There were plenty of day hikers on the trail, but as the afternoon went on it became apparent that we would have this beautiful mountain valley to ourselves for the night. Unfortunately, there were fires not far to the west, so the air was hazy with smoke. At a few times in the middle of the night I woke up smelling smoke. I thought I might end the trip with my clothes smelling like campfire, but thankfully that didn’t happen.
One thing unexpected about the site was the altitude. We ended up camping at 11,880’, which is pretty darn high . I was surprised to note that I didn’t seem to feel the altitude, at least not until Kevins pulled two IPAs from his pack.
When we started to cook dinner there were a fair number of mosquitoes about, but the wind started and the mosquitoes quickly disappeared. The wind did not. It grew in intensity and ended up howling all night long. It sounded like rain in the tent as the tent fly was constantly flapping and making noise. The tent swayed and the noise was sufficient to keep me awake for a long time and wake me up several times in the middle of the night. At one point before the dawn, the wind pushed hard enough to collapse the tent on top of us. There was a sharp moment of panic there, but the gust subsided and the tent sprang back up. Getting hit in the head with a tent pole provided an unwanted surge of predawn adrenalin. Even Nate woke up.
By the next morning, the wind finally diminished and we had a semi-casual morning. We swapped stories about collapsing tents; Kevins’s had fallen over a few times. The lid was missing from my cook pot, and we found it 100+ yards away after a long search. I wouldn’t have wanted to get hit with that as it hurtled through the wind in the middle of the night.
After breakfast we started up the steep slope behind us. We climbed up to a ridge on the side of Whale mountain. We discovered a second, much smaller, Gibson Lake, much higher up in the basin. We had great views of the surrounding mountains and lakes. Nate really enjoys being high up like this; I could see he was experiencing the same feelings of accomplishment that he did last summer when climbing Blue Lakes Pass. Our maximum altitude on this trip was 12,680’.
As we packed up the camp, Nate suddenly spotted a dead “rat”. Upon closer examination, I think it was a Montane Vole. But it was certainly dead, and it was right in the middle of our cooking area. Somehow nobody had spotted it, or smelt it, until now.
The hike out was uneventful and the ride home was clogged with traffic along 285. A successful backpacking trip in the books.
Kevins also has a blog, and was the inspiration for my WIRR (Weekly Image Rich Ruh) series of posts. He’s been doing Kevins’ Photo Of the Week (KPOW) for much longer.
Photo credit: Kevins McNinch