Mount Gabb, Mount Hilgard, Mount Julius Ceasar
By: Larry Tidball
A last minute work emergency kept the scheduled Leader Scot Jamison, from making the trip, so Steve Thaw agreed to assist me on this one. We had a full permit and a big waiting list, but with last minute cancellations and no shows we had just enough room. Five of us started out from the Pine Creek Trailhead Friday morning with two more planning to hike in on their own after working a half day & driving up. Steve, Martha Flores, Pat Christie, Eric Siering & I backpacked up the trail to Honeymoon Lake. We had lunch before continuing on to a campsite at about 11,100' in Granite Park. Hilgard & Gabb are probably easiest done in a day from a camp near Italy Lake, but who wants to carry their backpack back & forth with all of that extra gain. Besides most of us wanted to take a nap on Friday afternoon. Barbara Cohen & Barbee Hoffmann reached our camp at about ll:00PM, assisted by the full moon and surveyors tape marking the trail at the turnoff to camp.
Saturday we were all up & on the trail for Italy Pass at 6:30AM. At the pass the 2 Barbara's decided that this was to be an easy day for them & they signed out to do Julius Caesar before heading back to camp. The rest of us headed on down the trail to the outlet of Lake Italy. From here we climbed Hilgard via the SE Face/Gully. Continue high up the gully almost to the headwall before turning left up a class 2 chute to reach the summit. We reached the summit at 11:30 and after a short break we headed on down the East Face (loose class 2) to start our Traverse to Mt. Gabb. We stayed high (about 11,800') on easy class 2 until we reached the valley heading NNE from the center of Lake Italy. Here Martha decided to wait for us at the Lake, while the rest of us climbed a fun class 3 route through the cliffs above 12,400' on the SW face of the spur ridge 1/2 mile SSW of the summit of Gabb. Above the cliffs we entered the broad class 1 valley leading to the saddle SW of the summit. From the saddle the ridge is class 3. On the top by 3pm, we had a chance to enjoy the 1934 era register placed by the California Alpine Club. (Does anyone know anything about this group?) The view from the summit of Gabb is superb. The air was clear and without the usual San Joaquin Valley haze. Great views of nearby Bear Creek Spire. An early register entry claims a view from Whitney to Mt. Dana. I won't guarantee it but you sure could see a long way.
Coming off of the peak, we headed on down towards Toe Lake, passing the SE cliff-bands via an obvious ramp system. At the lake we replenished our depleted water supplies and headed around the South side of Lake Italy. A trail not visible from a distance goes through the steep loose boulders about 100' up from the water. We had considered climbing directly up from Toe Lake to the saddle West of Julius Caesar, and on over it's summit on our way back to camp, but reconsidered with the time(5:OOPM) and the horrible looking loose slope heading up to the saddle. We arrived at Italy Pass at 6:00 and the last three of us were back in camp by 7:15PM. Steve and Pat were following a little behind because Pat's foot was giving her a little trouble. They momentarily lost the indistinct trail in the upper part of Granite Park and arrived back in camp about 8:00PM( just after dark.). Then commenced the Happy Hour we had all been waiting for.(Actually we didn't wait for Steve & Pat, we dug right into the spread that the two Barbara's had prepared.)
The next morning only Erik & I headed off to climb Mt. Julius Caesar. The trail through Granite Park deserves some comment at this point. At about 11.300' the trail leaves a small lake & climbs up a hill on East before dropping back down to the next small lake. By staying on the East shore of the lakes & creek you can avoid the extra ups & downs. Rejoining the trail. you make a big switch-back before crossing the creek at 11,580'+. Beyond this point the trail is not much more than a use trail until you cross Italy Pass. In this area the main trail seems to head up a hill on your right. This is a mistake as you end up having to drop down the other side before climbing the last big hill to the pass. Instead follow the faint use trail that gently climbs up the drainage to arrive at the outlet of the highest lake in the main Granite Park drainage. From here easy slopes & slabs lead to the pass.
Erik & I left camp at 7.00 & we were on the Pass by 8:00 following the route described above. From Italy Pass a use trail heads up the West side of the ridge to Julius Caesar. We were back in camp by 11:00, and out to the cars at 3:00PM.
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