Gunsight Peaks – Trip Report

Over the week of July 25th to the 31st, Liz and myself climbed two routes and reached as many summits in the Gunsight Range of the Glacier Peak Wilderness area.  We climbed the South Ridge route of the South Peak, as well as the West Face of the Middle Peak.  Our ascents were completely free and followed the existing routes over varied terrain, including, but not limited to: splitter granite, steep glaciers, loose choss, devils club, and hot pavement.  The trip was a great recon and an epic adventure in its own right.  The Gunsights should be high on the list of anyone looking for golden granite in an absurdly alpine setting.  In addition to our meager climbing achievements, the significance of this trip lies, for us, in the fact that we undertook the approach entirely by use of Public Transportation. 

Liz relaxing on the bus to Chelan.

On the afternoon of July 25th, Liz and I left our home in Leavenworth and traveled by bus to the nearby city Wenatchee on the banks of the Colombia River.  In Wenatchee we switched buses and continued on to the lakeside town of Chelan.  With the ferry not leaving until 8:30 the next morning, we were forced to urban-bivy in town for the night.  (In hindsight, and with a better understanding of the bus schedule and stops, it would be possible to catch the first bus out of Leavenworth and still make it to Chelan and catch the ferry on time.) The next morning we caught the Lady of the Lake, and after the 50-mile, four-hour ferry ride we arrived in the small village of Stehekin, where we chatted it up with some rangers before catching the NPS shuttle to High Bridge.  From High Bridge we continued by foot south on the PCT and a camp at Swamp Creek.  The next day we left the comfort of the trail and climbed several thousand feet through steep and challenging terrain to reach the open alpine and wildflowers above.As the Gunsights came into view, their profile and surrounding glaciers created a striking and intimidating scene, we were completely floored.  We made camp early on the Agnes / Gunsight Pass and ate dinner under the pink skies of evening, Spruce Creek and the south fork of Agnes Creek hanging several thousand feet below our toes.  Overall the east side approach was a casual affair.  Taking the ferry and passing through Stehekin is a treat that adds to the sense of adventure.  The miles on the PCT were mellow and it seems possible to find a relatively brush-free ascent after leaving the trail.  As I mentioned, it would be possible to do away with the bivy in Chelan by a little foresight and planning with the bus schedules.

 
Approaching the Gunsight Range.
South Ridge Route crosses over the “Cannon-hole”
The following day we mustered up the courage to finish the approach and cross the Blue Glacier, in order to access the South Ridge of the South Peak.  The opening dihedral was easy to spot and before we knew it we were tiptoeing over the insanely exposed and extremely delicate-feeling traverse across the Cannon-hole. Although there were several broken sections, the rock was generally safe and the climbing easy.  After summiting we made a relatively straightforward descent back to the east, onto the Blue Glacier, and returned to camp below, celebrating with cookies and chocolate. 
 
 
Camp.
Liz admiring the range’s proud west faces.
On July 29th we again crossed the Blue Glacier, this time gaining the ridge just south of our approach the previous day.  From the ridge we were able to down-climb easily to the Chickamin Glacier below.  Once on the Chickamin we traversed north underneath the range’s steep and proud east faces.  We gained the gully separating the South and Middle Peaks and eventually exited onto the West Face route of the Middle Peak.  Two more long, clean, and exceedingly fun pitches of easy climbing on golden granite reminiscent of the Enchantments lead us to the airy views from the small summit.  By two rappels we descended south, then another two back east to the Blue Glacier where we encountered loose rock, a challenging moat-crossing, and went on to experience some excitingly steep and exposed glacier-travel in sneakers.  Cookies and chocolate greeted us once again at camp.



 
Liz on a small perch below the Middle Peak
We hoped to climb on the reportedly bomber rock of the south face of Dome Peak, but the unfamiliar and difficult approach across the Chickamin Glacier encouraged us to center our efforts on the Gunsight Peaks.  The quality of stone on the Gunsights is generally outstanding for it’s alpine setting.  The gullies separating the Middle and South Peaks, as well as those just south of the South Peak itself are understandably rotten, but manageable, and as I mentioned there are some broken sections along the South Ridge route.  But in general we encountered mostly solid and splitter granite.  Although we didn’t get on them this time, nearby routes on the East Face of the Middle Peak, as well as the West face of the North Peak both appeared to be home of some clean-looking climbing, and we’re already looking forward to returning for an attempt.  Additionally we found exceptional rock and the potential for new moderate routes on the South-West Face of the Middle Peak, as well as on the West Face of the South Peak. 
 
Wildflowers abound.
Lower in elevation, around our camp, Liz and I found some fun and easy-access cragging style climbing along and below both sides of the Agnes / Gunsight Pass.  These were surprisingly clean, accessible, and the stone appeared to be similar along the ridge up to the south end of Agnes Peak. 
The weather was impeccable for our entire stay, with clear skies and warm temperatures that softened the glaciers considerably and allowed for travel with sneakers and small axes.  Mosquitos and flies were somewhat annoying, but not that bad.  The near constant appearance of hummingbirds to feed on them more than made up for any inconveniences.  Every day, in addition to the magnificent sight of the mountains, fires to the east would bloom high into the atmosphere before the mushroom clouds flattened and ran east.
 
Sky and Sunset above the confluence of Agnes and Spruce Creek.
Long days allowed us to sleep in, and complete the approaches and climbs in a relatively relaxed manner.  There was no rush and we spent as much time enjoying the mind-blowing scenery as we did climbing.  By way of the quick approaches from advanced camps, a motivated team could accomplish quite a bit here in just a few short days. 
 
Mighty Stehekin.
We descended from our high camp in one day to High-Bridge.  On the descent we were fortunate to find a much cleaner and gentler (read: easier) way down to the valley.  Back across the south fork of Agnes Creek and onto the PCT, where we saw no one the nine easy miles to High-Bridge Camp. 
 
The following morning we caught the first shuttle back towards Stehekin, where we stopped at the Bakery, gorged, and talked with Karl at The Garden for some time.  We boarded the Lady of the Lake at 2:00 pm and made the 50-mile return trip.  Anticipating another urban-bivy in Chelan, we decided to instead attempt to hitch back to Leavenworth that night.  The ferry deposited us in Chelan at 6 pm where we had no problem catching a ride with a party heading south.  Our ride dropped us in Wenatchee, where we walked a few miles to reach route two, where we again thumbed a ride, and made it home before 8.  This last portion of our trip might not adhere to the strict definition of Public Transportation upheld by some, but for a short time we were happy to share our stories with individuals who were willing to share their cars, a dying breed in todays world. 
 
 
Passing through smoke on the way back to Chelan.
The Gunsight’s are an impressive and remote range.  While our trip to explore them was a bit of a last-minute concept, it was also in part a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, which is responsible for their home and protection.  In our rapidly changing world, these wild, precious, and breathtakingly beautiful natural resources are threatened by actions much more devious than axe or shovel.  Through our use of fossil-fueled transportation we are contributing to the change in atmosphere that is leading to a warming climate and melting glaciers.  As climbers, these places are the most wild, the most inspiring, the most challenging and alluring.  There are many small things we can do to contribute to a healthier future, but they all boil down to one thing: less.  If the mountains can teach us anything, it is through their simplicity.  Consider our actions, our mobility, and our climbs all for the reflections of style and ethics they are, and cultivate the respect that should define them all. 
 
Liz admiring the Agnes Creek Gorge along the PCT.
 
This trip was a modest attempt to respect, cherish, and celebrate these wildernesses for the precious resources they are, in hopes we can protect the life and diversity they’re home to for many future generations.  Any achievements we made are due to the generous help and encouragement from our friend and prolific local climber Blake Herrington.  Blake supplied us with some outstanding beta that helped simplify the approach and make easy work of what could have otherwise been confusing route-finding, we can’t thank him enough. 
 
Thanks for reading. Now get out of your car, and climb.

6 thoughts on “Gunsight Peaks – Trip Report

  1. Max

    Rad stuff guys, fun to read! Did you happen to meet Bob in Stehekin? That guy is the beta master and the nicest dude to boot…props on getting after it!

    Reply
  2. Tim Rogers

    Thanks Max! Didn’t run into Bob, but had a good time talking with Karl at The Garden and was equally entertained by the shit coming out of some of the NPS staff’s mouths. Stehekin is rad!

    Reply
  3. Matt

    Tim-

    Rad trip mate. It is nice to see more folks making an effort to give carless adventure a fighting chance. I was in the Gunsights many moons ago with Darin Berdinka in the summer of “Gunsight Fever”. We did the 3rd accent of the W. Face of the North, the 3rd ascent of the Wertkins route on the main, and the same route on the South Peak that y’all did. Your report takes me back to one of the best trips of my life.
    I have been working on some human powered projects over the past couple years and I am always looking for competent people who embrace “the hard way”. I would love to buy you a beer next time in Bavaria. Drop me an email at malford777@ the google mail service dot com

    Cheers,

    Matt

    Reply
  4. Tim Rogers

    Thanks for the kind words Matt! It might be the hard way but I can’t imagine any other. Sounds like you guys had quite the run of the place, I’m already scheming on how to get back and make a go at the bigger routes, what a spot!

    Reply

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