Hike North Idaho

Gunsight Peak

May 8, 2015

Elevation: 7,352’
Rank: 12
Coordinates: 48.583N 116.695W
Trailhead: Fault Lake No. 59
Trailhead elevation: 3,200’
Estimated time: 3 - 4 hours to Fault Lake, 2½-3 to Gunsight Peak

The Fault Lake Trail is not steep but it is long. This is the starting point for eastside approaches. And reaching the summit of Gunsight is an effort in perseverance. The massive North Face of Gunsight is a sight to behold – a vertical granite wall that drops toward the basin. The South Ridge is a tricky scramble

The east and west slopes are the easiest routes. The west is decidedly shorter from Hunt Lake which can be seen directly below the summit.

Northeast Slopes
Class 1-2
From Fault Lake Trailhead 16.0 mi RT – 4,152’ gain
From Fault Lake 4.0 mi RT – 1,372’ gain

Do not underestimate Gunsight. From the lake it remains a cross country scramble with no discernible trail. There is no quick and easy way to negotiate the journey. If you go all the way to Fault Lake you are actually 2 miles south of Gunsight. This is not the most direct route but it is the simplest. Your immediate goal is to reach the top of the first ridge. You can exit the trail a mile before the lake and ascend ledges to reach the top. If you do so, proceed east until you see a connecting ridge and follow this north.

If you go all the way to Fault Lake, you can ascend a distinctive couloir that remains filled with snow early in the season. The other alternative is to stay to the right and make your way up the ledges and find the connecting ridge and head north. You will immediately see a sub peak. This is not Gunsight. You must bypass this peak but that takes a fair amount of work over large boulders and through a fair amount of brush. Stay high along the connecting ridge without ascending too soon. Make your way past the sub peak and you will again have a decision to make.

It is possible to ascend the boulder field up the steep grassy slopes and make your way around to the west side of the crest to reach the summit that way. The more traditional route is to continue north over another small ridge under the east face of Gunsight until you see a small lake tucked in the bowl. This is a bit more elevation to navigate but the route-finding is easier once you are in the lake basin. Look directly north and the way will become clear. The gentle Northwest slopes are nothing more than a walkup. The higher of the two summits is to the left (south).

Gunsight Creek

It is possible to reach the summit of Gunsight in a more direct way (not necessarily faster). The largest of several creeks that exit the mountain is a more direct route to the summit. It is only passable in the late summer and fall when the creek is not flowing as fast. The creek is easy to recognize as it has a wide slab that is clear of brush as you pass by it on the trail.

Leave the trail here and ascend as far as possible up the creek (northeast). This creek eventually chokes out and you are forced into a fair amount of bushwhacking. The right side of the creek offers the best ground and a few game trails but staying closer to the creek is the goal. Eventually you will come into more open ground and Gunsight comes into sight. It still looks like a long ways off. You will be forced to negotiate another ridge to your left but having the summit in sight makes the going a bit easier. It is slightly less difficult going if you can stay on the slabs though this isn’t always possible as you will be forced back into huckleberry and lower laying alder.

More to the left of the next ridge until you come to the top. From here it’s a matter of hiking up grass until you reach another boulder field about 200’ below the summit. Move to the right of this filed if you want to see spectacular views of the North Face of Gunsight and toward Chimney Rock, Roothaan and Silver Dollar. Lion’s Head can also be seen in the distance. As you reach the summit, Priest Lake will be in the distance to the west and immediately below Hunt Lake will suddenly appear.

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