The drive into the Gospels is quite pleasant. From Grangeville the paved road climbs onto the plateau south of town and meanders for thirty-some miles across dense forest of grand fir, western larch, spruce and other species in a mixed conifer forest. There are numerous wet meadows where it is common to see moose or elk in the morning. I make this drive a lot, but have never tired of it.
The road climbs steeply after the 444 turnoff to the Gospel Hump Wilderness. Just eight miles in from the pavement the saddle above Upper Gospel Lake is reached. This is one of the most beautiful mountain lakes anywhere and supposedly it has good fishing. Several years ago my brother saw a wolverine on its banks. I continued on and parked at a wide spot in the road a couple hundred yards later and start the two peak hike.
There is not much vertical to gain today because the road climbs so high. I’m already in the subalpine parklands when I get out of the car. There are still patches of snow around in the stunted, open subalpine fir and whitebark pine over ground dominated by mountain heather and a wide variety of mountain wildflowers just coming into bloom. Numerous snow melt brooks babble through the scene. The terrain is gently sloped to the north, but soon forms an east running ridge that will take me to Pyramid Peak.
Pyramid Peak from the summit of Gospel Peak
Pyramid Peak, also known as Pyramid Point on many maps is the highest elevation in the west portion of the Gospel Hump Wilderness. To reach it one simply has to traverse across the ridge separating the Gospel Lakes from the upper Burnt Creek drainage. This generally is a gentle ridge, but there are areas of knife edged granite to make for precarious hiking. The west flank of the mountain itself forms steep slopes to the south and a more sheer mix of difficult rocks and cliffs to the north, but the ridge is an easy hike if one stays on it. The top is open with just a few stunted trees and open turf to the southeast. The north aspect falls off into a rock face that forms a 90 degree angle with an east facing grass slope that’s nearly vertical. Beyond this the north running ridge is formed by a broad open parkland.
I spent much time on this peak looking at the various habitats for interesting plants, but find nothing but the normal high mountain flora for this area. Much of the whitebark pine is dead having succumbed to disease, mostly white pine blister rust and succession. This gives the mountain a decadent, dead look, but also in the morning light, the white skeleton forest is quite beautiful. The cold wind froze me in the morning, but approaching mid-day its getting hot as I head back toward the car.
A little before reaching the car, I turn south around the head of Burnt Creek toward Gospel Peak. Its only a few feet shorter than Pyramid Peak and the road passes not far below its relatively gentle west and south sides, but the northeast and east faces form rugged slopes and cliffs that drop off precipitously into the Burnt Creek basin. The ridge to the mountain is of gentle slope and broad and is a fast hike through the subalpine forest. Just out of sight through the open trees I hear a thunderous rush of hooves as I spook what is probably a heard of elk, but it could also be mountain goats, which frequent the area.
Gospel Peak from near the summit of Pyramid Peak
Its too easy to walk up the gentle rise to the top of the peak so I stop at the base of the summit and break for lunch before dropping down into the basin to the east. There is a grassy run across the base of bedrock cliffs that I cut across and find a chute going up. This looks interesting, but soon the opening pinches off and I have to go back down. Cutting laterally across the east side, I have to hold onto branches of small whitebark pine growing out of rock in a few places to make progress. Another chute looks less promising that the previous, but I head up it. Its steep and has several rocks to lift myself over and there are several small trees to block the way and send coarse branches down my neck. But soon I pull up to a flat spot just below the summit knob. From here its just a walk up to the top.
The summit area is small and covered with boulders jutting out of fescue and woodrush to the north and beargrass to the south. The view is tremendous in all directions especially across the Burnt Basin to the east and northeast to Pyramid Peak. There are several small lakes scattered in this subalpine basin. To the west the world drops precipitously into the Slate Creek drainage several thousand feet below and the big canyon of the Salmon River beyond. The summit is marked with a small cross someone has placed in memory of a loved one. That’s sweet, but I just hope not too many people get the idea.
Its not far down to the road on the west side through the subalpine fir and whitebark pine. I hike down and parallel the road through the open forest back north to the parking place. It hasn’t been a long day, perhaps six or seven hours and I have really taken my time on both mountains. One of the nice things about the Gospels is one can drive right into the subalpine, close to the summits, to maximize the time there. But there are plenty of distant, challenging places to find in these mountains as well. Those will come on later trips.