Whale Peak (13,078′) | Colorado | 08/30/20

Whale Peak (13,078′) | CO Rank: 586/637

Front Range | Pike National Forest | Grant, CO

08/30/20 | 6.87 miles | 2,899′ gain | Class 2


WHALE! Who names a mountain in Colorado “Whale” anyway? At any rate, I like climbing peaks with animal names so Whale Peak was a natural next choice. (Other peaks I’ve climbed are named after wolves, bears, and buffaloes; names that fit a little better with Colorado’s native fauna.)

Allie and I decided to climb Whale via the Gibson Lake Trail. The road in was rough but Subaru-able with some care. There were a number of cars already at the trailhead when we arrived at 8am. (Most people were also summiting Whale and not just hiking to Gibson Lake like we first assumed.) The Gibson Lake Trail starts in a lush forest and immediately crosses the North Fork of the South Platte River before heading south and then west to parallel Lake Fork.

North Fork of the South Platte River

The trail was a steady incline all the way to treeline but it flattened slightly as we entered the upper basin.

First view of Whale Peak (left of center) and Bullion Benchmark (right: 12,948′)
Looking back down valley
Lake Fork
Tailings from an old mine and a field of late season flowers

We found ourselves at the small but pretty Gibson Lake after about 2.5 miles. The trail ends here. We aimed roughly for a willow-filled gully northwest of the lake, keeping to the hillside above the willows on grass and dirt.

Gibson Lake
Above the willow-filled gully (left) on grass and dirt

Everything above Gibson Lake was steep and occasionally loose, but navigation was straightforward. Once we’d gotten above the willows, we crossed the gully and started up Whale’s northeastern slopes.

Arctic gentian

The last 500′ was very steep and slow-going on a mix of grass, dirt, and talus.

Almost to the top…
We made it! (Photo: Allie)

It was super windy on top so we quickly got our pictures and found a sheltered spot out of the wind for our snack. It was beginning to feel (and look) like fall.


Our descent back down to Gibson Lake was painfully slow. I tweaked my knee somehow (thankfully not seriously) and I could only descend on one leg instead of switching back and forth like normal, so I had to stop more often to rest.

Heading down the loosest section
Probably wondering why I do this (Photo: Allie)

By the time we made it to the lake, the winds had picked up in the basin. We stopped near the water’s edge for a quick break and were subsequently soaked by lake water picked up by a gust of wind. Oh well, it was time to get moving anyways.

Late season flowers

Walking down the trail was a lot easier on my knee than the steep slopes and we made decent time back to the car. Whale was a fun little peak and I’m glad we snuck it into an often crappy 2020. And I learned an important lesson, don’t sit near a body of water when it’s windy.


22 thoughts on “Whale Peak (13,078′) | Colorado | 08/30/20

  1. Pingback: Lifestyle/ Nature: Whale Peak (13,078′) | Colorado | 08/30/20 — Colorado Chelsea – The Urban Fishing Pole: Cigar Blogger, Lifestyle

  2. Anonymous

    Hey Chelsea, I really love reading your posts and enjoying the attached photos. I hope you keep up the great work, even if you don’t always get comments or feedback. I’m certain there are others like me who make lists of these hikes for future opportunities to get out there. On this last, I wonder, did you see any trout in the small streams or lakes you passed by?


  3. Whale does sound like an unusual name for a Colorado mountain peak. Maybe it was named by someone that thought it looked like a whale or was a “whale of a mountain”. It looked like a good hike. I hope your knee has recovered, so that you can continue your hiking adventures.


    1. That’s a good thought! I haven’t seen any history of how it was named, but it’s labeled “Whale” on maps dating back to the early-mid 1900s. My knee was fine within a few days, I have no idea what happened but I was glad it wasn’t anything serious!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I was surprised there wasn’t a trail from the lake given that route up to the lake seemed to be popular. I suppose that here a lot of our hills are on shooting estates so the popular hills can be littered with trails. I could feel that knee of yours on the descent – I’ve had the same. These days the knees won’t let me do that sort of hill. I prefer 3 points of contact just going down stairs in the house lol.


    1. Most of the 13ers in Colorado don’t have trails at all, or at least not the whole time. Sometimes we follow old mining roads or goat trails, sometimes enough people have walked the same way to create a faint trail. It just depends. On the other hand, the popular 14ers have numerous social trails, horrible trail braiding and erosion. Thankfully we have wonderful non-profits and volunteers that help to maintain, re-route, and build sustainable trails on our 14ers. So far though the 13ers (700+ of them) are still relatively unpopular so there isn’t much trail work to be found.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah…we have a similar situation. Our tallest over 3000′ – called Munros – mostly have paths. Anything below can be variable depending on the hills popularity. On some you can be reduced to wading through thigh deep heather or battling through what we like to describe as vertical bog. You really don’t want to know.


    1. Super beautiful with a very strange name. There are 700+ 13ers in Colorado and a handful have very unusual or even funny names. Spread Eagle, Dicker’s Peck, Booby Prize…to name a few silly ones. I wish there was a compilation of how each was named but I’ve yet to find that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s good! My husband wears an ankle brace and we use trekking poles because he managed to twist his ankle on a flat hike once. That was not fun.


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