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Gabriel Peak (7960')

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Gabriel Peak (7960') — Jun 04, 2009 — Mike Collins
Day hike
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Sometimes you bond with mountains. Such was the case when I first looked upon Gabriel from the ...
     Sometimes you bond with mountains. Such was the case when I first looked upon Gabriel from the summit of Elija Ridge across the Gabriel Creek drainage. From that northern vantage point the 2500 feet of vertical relief created a magnetic attraction which has pulled me ever closer. The peak can only be seen by hikers/climbers who visit the Ragged Ridge peaks, Snowfield, or peaks to the north of SR-20. It is unseen by the car travelers using the North Cascade Highway. It is a jewel not found on any of the popular lists out there for Washington peaks, but worthy of greater recognition due to its central location for unmarred (no roads or trails visable for hundreds of square miles)beauty.
     Gabriel Peak was first climbed by glaciologist Austin Post in late Sept, 1948. He hiked up Granite Creek (prior to road access) and turned in at Cabinet Creek probably following some of the same lines as my climbing partner Tom Sjolseth and I took on this day-climb into paradise. We however drove east on the North Cascade Highway and parked the car near the "Cabinet Creek" sign marking the location where the creek is channeled beneath the road. We hiked to the south of the creek upslope from the brush adjacent to the watercourse. We happened upon an abandoned trail and followed it into the snow by locating occasional blazes on the adjacent trees. Thankfully this section is not in the national park allowing us to gather tasty morels found along the way. At ~4500ft we crossed a thinning snow-bridge over the creek to access the less dense forest and friendlier angles on the northern bank. At ~5500 ft we we able to recross by jumping over a narrow section of the creek.
      There is a long ESE directed ridge radiating from Gabriel that separates the drainages of Panther and Cabinet Creeks. Just where to breach that ridge is the question for this climb. Cornices hanging over the northern flanks effectively blocked the half-dozen or so possible couloirs that access the southern slope. The cornices jutting 15 feet over air were threatening just traversing beneath them. Tunneling into them would be foolhardy. There is a buttress which extends due north from the ESE ridgeline, the continuation of which separates the Gabriel Creek drainage from the Cabinet Creek drainage. We surmounted this buttress and climbed atop its spine to reach the ridge at 7200 ft. On the map it is the border of North Cascade National Park.
     The southern slopes have lower angles and were ~50% snowfree as we advanced to the summit pyramid. The snowfree sections presented an annoying amalgam of scree/talus which made me thankful I had brought leather gloves to protect my hands during the frequent slips. The tedious traverse was effectively salved by our immersion into the splendor of Ragged Ridge. Gabriel offers a box seat for this treasure of NCNP. We summited some 7 hrs from the car and leafed through the one name, Fay Pullen, in the register placed last August.
     Black swifts buzzed the summit block in their incessant search for insects. Their range is up to 50 miles from their nesting sites next to or behind waterfalls. We were privileged to be a part of their world as among birders seeing black swifts is a coveted occurence. The first black swift nest was not discovered until 1901. In the entire west less than 250 nesting sites are known. They have high nesting fidelity returning year after year to the same nest. During the daily protracted absence from the nest (up to seven+ hours) the young enter a torporous state. The respiratory rate is 1/min with a heart rate of 4-8/min to lower metabolic activity and conserve energy. Only one egg per nest has ever been described by field researchers.
     Our exit was via the same lines although we avoided the Class 4 rock of the buttress by accessing a gully prior to the tricky rock of the upclimb. My thanks to Tom for allowing use of his photos and appreciation to John Roper for providing historical information. Elevation gain; 6,000 ft Distance travelled 12 miles Car-to-car; 11 hrs
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North Cascades -- North Cascades Highway

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