Switchbacks are for hikers. After hours of grueling mountaineering straight toward the summit, we finally reached the lower-Gunn area. Hiking with a full pack reminded us of our years in prison. We never really were incarcerated, but we’re sure that being tied to a ball-and-chain must feel like our trek. After dropping our packs, our energy renewed. I convinced Micah to climb Schmitz Peak (5860). Schmitz is approachable from most sides. We hiked up the Eastern ridge–the ridge that travels to 5760, the peak strewn with broken plan parts. The summit register was soaking wet, and the original paper was an amorphous paper blob. I found a note left by my father and brother however, so we dried off the paper and the cannister. After it dried, we left a note and a sign denoting the point’s true name: Schmitz Peak.
On the way down, we found a better campsite. Lakes clearly spot the landscape earlier in the season, but when we were there, water was scarce. The other campsite not only boasted flatter, softer ground, however, but a small pond lay mere steps away. True the water looked intimidating, but we had much faith in our water filter. I’m still alive, and I haven’t heard any news about Micah’s death.
By this time Micah began to feel the long day wear on him, but I still bursted with energy. I scrambled up 5400, the peak between Schmitz and Gunn. I approached from the South, and it seems that this was the easiest direction. Nonetheless, the very summit proved slightly troublesome–steep rock composed the top. From the summit, I viewed climbers struggling up Gunn. Unfortunately, I never spoke with them. They spent the night, but I have no idea where. I searched all over.
By this time the weather had cooled off and both of us began to hunger, or maybe starve. So we heated up Chili and sipped our coronas. In hindsight, hefting up 4 lbs of chili and beer probably was not the best idea, it made a memorable dinner. The weather showed no signs of trouble, so we ignored the forecast and spent the night under the stars. We both awoke dewy but at the same time glad we hadn’t troubled with the tent.
The dew did not trouble us in the morning, however. We awoke at 4:00 AM in aspiration of summitting Gunn before dawn. The moon, although less than half full and waining, provided excellent light. By moonlight and headlamp-light we circumnavigated 5400 to the West, descended into shadows on the Northern side, and then reemerged into the moonlight at the base of Gunn. We quickly scrambled up the mountain and made it in time. I have no recollection of ever seeing a dawn before, and from the highest peak for miles around I cannot believe that I will ever forget the experience.
Few people climb the mountain. The summit register dates far back. In fact, it may be the original register. I had climbed the mountain more than two months past, and my name lay on the previous page. However, the register only has a few more pages left. One interesting log was the “Heinz Groupe.” They seem to summit once a year, and others commented on their presence or on the fact that they missed the “Heinz Groupe.” Hopefully I can discover who these people are.
On the way down, I left a note at the rope. Hopefully the climbers email me, as I would like to ask them some questions about their climb. Hopefully the are not bitter about being woken at 4:00 in the morning. They may have slept around Gunn.
Micah and I headed back to camp, but I wandered around. First I summitted 5760. The very top is most approachable from the northern side, although the ascent is also possible from the Southeast. Debris from the plane crash exists directly below the summit rock. The crash must have been terrifying and tragic; had the plan been fifty feet higher it would have skirted around the mountain. The pilot may even have avoided the mountain if he had been slightly left or right. Certainly there were no survivors, as some plane parts scattered down the mountain hundreds of feet. They are visible from the trail, glinting in the sun.
Shortly after returning to camp, I spotted some people and ran down to ask if they were the climbers. Disappointed with their response, I raced back up to camp, packed up, and we headed down to Gunn Lake. Our ‘beach’ turned out to be cracked, dry dirt and the more insects populated the region, but overall both of us were glad we shifted camp. The lake deepened very quickly and quite substantially; it even contained fish!
Micah had injured his ankle, and I knew that we would not summit Merchant, so I had to summit Gunshy. I climbed up a dry streambed along the forested western ridge of the mountain. The ascent proved fairly easy, although during most of the year I believe one would want to ascent far to the East. Next time I would try scrambling up just to the West of the point closest to Gunshy along the ridge, and then I would climb the ridge to the West. The middle of the mountain is spotted with cliffs, and although an ascent may be possible at parts, a descent would be tricky.
Regardless, my way worked at the time. After a while, I realized I had a mere ten minute to go. Then, all of a sudden, I saw four mountain goats. Two young Goats elegantly leaped up the mountain toward the summit. Another goat lay with its child. In awe and fear, I shot several pictures. Then the parent rose and left its child–it had clearly noticed my presence. I turned around and quickly walked away. Then I hear rockfall substantially closer to me. I broke into a run until I felt safe. Seeing no way up the mountain other than through the mountain goats, I decided I should turn back, especially because I was along. The mountain goats chased me down the mountain.
Back at the campsite I went for a swim and then blindly cut my hair with a pocket knife. The trip could not have been better, but I was wiped. Micah and I wolfed down a dinner and then fell asleep by 8:30. We did not awake until long after dawn.
The route down proved rather eventless. We stopped in one of the endless huckleberry fields that cover the alpine region and picked a few liters. I continued the blueberry/huckleberry debate (I swear that some were blueberries) but Micah proved himself a die-hard huckleberry maniac. He wouldn’t budge an inch.
Farther down the trail Micah decided to decent down a steep chute that clearly wasn’t the trail. But after a few falls we traversed back and found ourselves on the trail. After another long day, we enjoyed our ginger ale stashed in the creek and drove down the mountain, leaving behind one of the greatest weekends in my life.