Peak(s):  Whale Pk  -  13,078 feet
Date Posted:  08/07/2016
Date Climbed:   08/07/2016
Author:  Trotter
 Tour De Gibson Lake (Whale Peak Loop)  

I am doing my first 13er trip report because I think Whale peak definitely needs some info on it. Most previous trip reports are from the jefferson lake side. Plus nobody has done a loop on it from Gibson Lake side, and everyone I met that day was pretty unsure on the route to climb Whale peak. And I discovered a trail going to the summit, that nobody else had mentioned.

Distance 7.3 miles
Elevation gain 2,800 feet
Class 2 with optional class 3

First of all this particular trip report by sunny1 was very useful, especially on the driving directions

Stealing their directions to trailhead here,

Getting to the Trailhead:
From Denver, take 285 South to Grant.
Continue 3 more miles south on 285, then turn right on Co Rd 60, Hall Valley Rd.
This is a 2 WD road until just after Mile 5.2 from the intersection of 285 and Hall Valley Rd.
At that point, the Hall Valley Campground turn off will be on your left (Rd 120B).
Continue straight with care on Rd 120C 0.2 mi to the stream crossing.
There are rocks to navigate in the road.
Just before the stream crossing, there are a few places to park, if you have 2WD, this is the place to park.
A 2WD with high clearance and good tires or 4WD (preferable) can make it to the Gibson Lake TH, 1 mi further after the stream crossing, or 6.4 mi from where you turn onto the Hall Valley Rd. I think the road has gotten worse since 2012. I would seriously recommend a stock SUV or truck minimum to make it up the road past the stream. One suburu made it a bit up the road, but the only vehicles that made it all the way were SUVs and trucks, and I think it was very needed. The road isn't quite Rockdale TH bad, but its close. The only good news is its not that steep, so people walking the 4WD road will have to add about two miles roundtrip to the hike, but not too much elevation I think

Starting from the parking lot, I measured 2.5 miles to Gibson Lake. The trail leaves the parking lot, and immediately intersects several social trails. The correct trail crosses a stream on a bridge that is starting to tilt.
Bridge in first 50 yards of trail

The trail alternates between class 1 dirt and loose class 2 rocks.
Class 1 trail

Class 2 trail

It follows a creek almost all the way to Gibson Lake. You have to cross the stream several times during the hike, but I did it without getting my feet wet. Once you break treeline, the lake is close and the wildflowers are absolutely beautiful. Saw several people either fishing or hiking up to the lake for fishing, so I'm guessing its pretty popular.

Wildflowers are out

View of whale, from just below lake

At Gibson Lake, you have two options. One is to head to the right side of the lake (north) and hit the gully. There is a creek in the gully, but it was fairly low water level and the talus there actually made good hiking. The other option is to head left of the lake (south) and head up the grass slopes. More on that later.

So following the only directions I had read, I headed up the gully, alternating between the talus and the grass. This is an extremely steep slope, and would be not fun if it were wet or icy. On the last 100 yards or so, a very faint trail was visible going to the summit. I reached the summit in just under two hours.

Route up gully

Look back at gibson lake from gully

Summit in view on left

Once at the summit, I met Gary, another 14er guy, and we discussed how much it would suck to descend that extremely steep slope. I know from personal experience how many times I slip on steep grass and usually find a sharp rock hidden in the grass with my butt. We eyeballed the southern ridge, and as it looked pretty interesting but achievable, we went for it.

South Ridge from summit

We started down the ridge, staying on the crest. Just as it looked like some class 3 downclimbing, we went on the west side of the ridge and found a trail! Its faint in some spots, but has a few small cairns and lead right down the ridgeline crest, usually staying on the west side of the ridgeline. It was very strange as I hadn't heard of a trail up there in any of the trip reports. The trail actually continues to the saddle between whale and point 12,733.

Looking down south ridge, trail visible

From there, it meanders down to the valley, but becoming very faint. It ends up at an old mine pile of tailings, just 50 yards from the lake on the south side.
Looking down to Lake from saddle on south ridge

So if you wanted to take the slightly longer, but more gradual trail up to Whale peak, when you see Gibson lake, head for the only mine tailings on the south side, then head up for the double pimple on the saddle. The trail becomes much more apparent as you gain altitude. Once you gain the ridge, you could stay on the trail, or do some easy class 3 moves on the ridge crest. The rock was very solid.

Location of trail on south ridge

Faint trail heading up south ridge

South ridge towards summit, class 3 options

So once at the lake, I descended back down the trail, which being so rough, takes about the same time as climbing up it did. I got back to the trailhead just under 4 hours from the start.


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

 Comments or Questions

Gibson Lake
08/08/2016 09:52
My maternal grandfather was a Gibson. So when I discovered that lake on the map, I naturally wanted to go there and Whale Peak just happened to be there too and also on the CD. I liked the lake and climbing peaks on the CD. Boom, a plan was born and the lake was visited. While on the summit, I got a visit from a CO NG jet as an added bonus! Great little peak, seldom visited, near the famous Red Cone Jeep Trail!


Whale is a fun peak!
08/08/2016 10:15
I did your exact loop in the opposite direction a few years back. Your report brings back a lot of really good memories. Thanks for posting this.


08/08/2016 10:57
Was a nice day and fun hike to Gibson and Whale. Originally thought there wouldn't be many people out, but I guess after 7:30am there are many casual hikers and fly fisherman that make the trek to Gibson Lake only. After giving the fishing one more try after the summit of Whale peak (10:20am Summit and talking to Trotter), 2 or 3 more groups showed up at the lake (8 people 3 dogs etc.) at Noonish. Met a few more groups with several dogs on the way out.
Agree with above comments on 4x4 road. Would eat up a passenger car, but my high clearance Pathfinder (stock) was fine.
Garmin Adventure overview below with pictures if interested:

2016-AUG-Whale Peak


08/08/2016 17:46
forgot to mention, whoever goes up whale needs to bring a new sheet of paper and a pen/pencil for the summit register. It has one full sheet of names, and a rusty nail...


Directions helpful
09/25/2016 08:30
We climbed Whale yesterday. 2 to 4 inches of snow on the ridge with wind and cold. Your directions were helpful. The trail above the mine tailings was even more faint with the snow but it made for quicker route finding which was important given the weather.


10/05/2016 22:16
I was hoping it would help someone


a favorite
12/18/2016 20:29
Nice report. This trail is one of my favorites, but I haven't been there for probably ten years now. Have been to the TH 3 times, Gibson Lake twice and Whale's summit once. In 2004 my wife and I hiked on up to the r (north) side of the lake. Short, but very steep and strenuous up to the Continental Divide and then I hustled on over to the summit. Beautiful place. I remember the flies were pretty bad coming back down with my family in the summer of 2006?. That motivated us to descend quickly. Want to go back there again.

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