Mount Gibbs, Koip Peak
By: Bob and Anne Wright
We found the register on Koip wrapped in a Russian doll puzzle of plastic bags. After peeling away four or five we signed in and sat in the sun, eating our lunch, reading earlier entries. An SPS's mountain symbol with the number (105) inside caught my eye. It was from the previous month. "Climbed Koip from Tuolumne meadows - reached the summit at noon - plan to get Gibbs on the way out."
Bob and I started our four day backpack on Thursday September 15, from Dana meadows. After picking up a back-country permit at the ranger's kiosk and learning that there had been no bear sightings in the Mono Pass area, we drove back up the rode to the Dana Meadows parking area and were on the trail, fully loaded, at 9:30. A road dissipates after a few dozen feet into a good trail that circles under the Dana / Gibbs ridge on the left. It had snowed at the higher elevations two days prior, and the air was crisp with the first hint of fall. We continued left at the Spillway Lake junction to Mono Pass - 4.75 miles. The climb was gentle and inspired us take notes for a winter backcountry ski. We reached Summit Lake in time for an early lunch and enjoyed exploring the Clark mining area where there are three well preserved pioneer cabins. We had originally thought this would be our first camp, but decided to continue on to get a head start on Koip. From Summit Lake we walked westward cross country until we picked up the Parker Pass trailhead, which branches off from the Mono Pass trail which drops down into Bloody Canyon and the Sardine Lakes.
The Parker Pass trail climbs into a bare Alpine environment with interesting formations of red and gold "country rock" shaped and sculpted by glaciers ten million years ago. At the second of a chain of small turquoise lakes, we set up camp behind the shelter of a rock outcropping. Twelve hundred ft. above us to the south rose a formidable ice field and the barren Koip ridge.
We were fortunate to have hit a window in a pattern of thunder showers. Good thing because the long zigzagging switch backs of the trail were already covered with snow. Koip pass, one of the Sierra's highest is seldom open before August.
The going was slow and our packs were heavy, but there was a reward - great food. We enjoyed a sumptuous meal that included a real orange for dessert and watch our neighbors -- two water ouzels -- that I flushed from under a ledge at the lake shore when I went for water. They must have been unhappy with our intrusion but they serenaded us, none the less, with their song.
In the morning we were rested and eager to attempt the pass, though Bob thought the steep terrain and snow might turn us back - we were without ice axes. It was a miracle; someone (Bigfoot) had come down the trail very recently and his footprints melted into firm steps. The trail turned out to be clear and very safe and we were at the saddle in an hour. From the saddle we headed to the bergschrund so that we could look inside. This took us a little off the usual route which is better further across the pass -- some Sierra scree, but a good climb. Koip, at 12,962 ft., looks out over Mono Lake to the East, the Kuna Crest to the West, Alger Lakes to the South, and the granite peaks of Yosemite where we came from. This was a five hour day, we stayed at the same camp and celebrated our anniversary.
On Saturday morning we broke camp and retraced our route back to the Summit Lake campsite that we had scouted on the way in. We set up camp and started out for Gibbs with a day pack. From the Mono Pass sign we immediately began climbing and traversing north toward where the mountain scree meets grass and trees. Higher up we were committed to scree. Bob persevered at the same angle, but I was sick of slipping and sliding so took a horizontal line to the north saddle where I found a firmer use-trail. The summit is an easy 12,773 ft. but it still turned out to be another five hours up and back. We finished off the beans and rice and fresh vegetables -- no pounds lost on this trip -- and settled back to watch the glowing ring of sunset back light the surrounding peaks. Everything else was darkening clouds. We were back at our car Sunday morning at 10:00 am in plenty of time to buy an "L.A. Times" and end our leisure trip with lunch at Berger's in Mammoth Lakes. It was raining.
One caution: I found a dead deer mouse at the Summit Lake camp. The Lee Vining ranger said, "Those little guys are everywhere." Yes, but dead ones? "Well, they are testing the deer mice in Bloody Canyon for hantevirus". We will keep you posted; one mouse an epidemic does not make.
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