Sunday, August 26, 2007

Glacier Backpacking Trip - Day 2

A good night's sleep in a enormous glacial valley high atop a mountain makes the previous day's pain a distant memory. We were up pretty early, grabbed some quick breakfast and then started packing up camp. As we packed up camp, I made mention to Jill that the hill we were sleeping up against would be our first challenge of the morning. Always good to get some sleep & food in Jill before giving her news of a pending climb.

Not a huge climb (400 feet or so), but it would let us know how our bodies would respond after yesterday's punishment. We started up the switchbacking pass, just knocking out each straightaway we came to with surprising quickness. Before we knew it, we were cresting our first mountain pass of the day.

Jill is happy to finally have a descent

Jill taking in the views

The back side of our first mountain pass

Blue skies are a welcome sight after several smoke haze filled days

As we made our way around the trail etched in the side of the mountain, the views continued to improve. After a couple of miles, Lake Ellen Wilson would show itself but until then we'd enjoy the views from the trail, including some more wildlife.

This guy was hanging out on the trail, and was quite interested in us.

This guy was just around the corner from the little guy

After about an hour, Lake Ellen Wilson came into view, and what a view it was. The turquoise water against the steep, rugged mountains was certainly a sight to behold. In this enormous glacial valley with more plunging waterfalls than you could count feeding the high alpine lake, the views were exactly what I had hoped to find.

Jill gets the first view of Lake Ellen Wilson

Lake Ellen Wilson, a high alpine treasure

We could finally see the lake, but the deceptive size would mean we had a considerable amount of time just hiking around it. You can see in the pic above, on the far end what we would ultimately end up hiking over, Gunsight Pass. We pushed on, stopping often as every angle presented a new glacier, waterfall or scenic view.

Finally as we approached the northern end of the lake, an enormous waterfall showed up in the distance. The trail was heading directly for it, so we agreed we would push on to the waterfall, then sit and have a quick snack as we gawked at our surroundings.

Jill heads towards the waterfall and Gunsight Pass

A good place for a timer shot

As we dropped to the end of the lake, it was apparent we'd be traveling pretty much directly through this waterfall we'd been gazing at for the last 1/2 hour. It was as beautiful up close as it was from a distance, pouring directly into Lake Ellen Wilson.

Here I am safely crossing through the waterfall

Jill does her waterfall spokes model pose

After some lunch, we had to face up to the next big challenge in our trip, climb up and over Gunsight Pass and the Continental Divide. The push up Gunsight Pass was brutally steep, climbing over 1,000 feet in just over a mile. The trail was switchback after switchback, which at times felt like a losing battle. Knowing this would be our last "real" climb of the day, we pushed a little harder and got up over the pass.

Looking back at Lake Ellen Wilson

Jill pushes up the switchbacks

I couldn't quit taking pictures of this place

Jill takes the final steps on climbing over her first named mountain pass

We posed for a shot at the top of the pass

Once over the top, it was time for lunch. We fired up the JetBoil and had some delicious spaghetti. I am constantly amazed at how good the Mountain House freeze-dried meals are. Maybe its that I'm starving and anything would taste good, but more likely its the added ingredient that we are normally eating them in places that few people ever see.

Jill is happy to get some lunch on the Continental Divide

After lunch, we started the long descent to Gunsight Lake. It was about a mile over the pass, before the trail jutted out enough for us to get our first view of Gunsight Lake. Another majestic high alpine lake, this would be our destination for the night as our campsite would reside just on the northern edge of the lake.

Jill poses with Gunsight Lake in the background

Jill crossing a waterfall on the way to Gunsight Lake

Jill continues the plunge to Gunsight Lake

The descent to Gunsight seemed to take forever. From the first view of the lake, to the time we hit the edge of it had to be an hour. From the time we hit the first edge of it, it was likely another hour till we had reached the opposite end. At the end of the lake, we had to cross a suspension bridge that looked tame, but proved a bit unruly to cross with a big, heavy backpack. After negotiating our last obstacle, we had arrived at our destination for the night, and what a welcome site it was.

We were the first group that hadn't stayed the previous night to arrive, so we had 3rd choice of campsite (out of 7). We setup camp, hung our food, then headed to the glacially fed lake to bask in the sun.

I marched out into the lake, but got about knee deep before retreating a bit. The glacially fed waters were quite chilly despite the warm temps. After some easing, I was able to get myself adjusted and just sat in the lake neck deep soaking in the sun and the incredible views.

What a way to spend a Wednesday...

Day 2 Totals
7.56 miles
1,911 feet elevation gain

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