Gannett Peak,WY

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We don't make it up Gannett Peak, but fall in love with the Wind River range.

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

Bob and I have been slowly collecting western state highpoints together. So far we have done these:

I've done other states as well, as you can see in my peak list, but the next on our list together was Gannett Peak in Wyoming. Gannett is just over 13,800' and reputed to be the hardest highpoint after Denali in Alaska. Technically Gannett is not a difficult peak, but it's still a challenging climb and the summit is more than 22 miles from the nearest trailhead. As you read on, you will see that this is a significant figure.

Bob and I left Boise at 2pm driving east. We had both driven most of this route many times, so we took a scenic route going from Pocatello through Soda Springs, Wayan, and Etna. We finally called it a night in a Forest Service campground just past Alpine. Meanwhile, Lucky was in Jackson. The campsite was pretty nice, and we had packed Bob's family tent, so we had tons of room. However, I discovered here that my Thermarest was leaking. Bummer. Make that *Uncomfortable Bummer*.

The next morning at 7:30 we all met in Pinedale at the cafe you can see in the Wind River web cam. I had never met Lucky, so this was an important meeting. All I knew was from Bob- that Lucky was a good guy, really strong, and about our age (meaning early to mid-50s). Lucky looked fit, but seemed to be showing his age. After some discussion, he fessed up to being 65. But we were all game, so the game was on. As it would turn out, Lucky is one tough dude.

After a solid breakfast, we drove the paved road to the trailhead at Elkhart Park, elevation 9360'. It was 70°.

We knew it was a long, tough hike so we went through gear to eliminate everything possible and go with the minimum between the three of us: one tube of toothpaste, one bottle of sunscreen, one bottle of bug juice, etc. NOAA was predicting thunderstorms on Saturday, so we chose to try the route in just three days- so to stay with our lightweight theme, we pared down the food to 3 1/2 days.

Finally, we were off at 9am. Destination: Upper Titcomb Basin.

 

The first five miles rises gradually through a forest along Pole Creek, then opens up into some high meadows. We were all excited when we got our first close-up look at the Wind Rivers. Bob is on the left, Lucky on the right.

We had had the normal early hike shakeout, changing clothes etc., plus fixing a couple of quarter-size blisters on Lucky's heels. Too bad the weather wasn't cooperating.

Approaching Photographer's Point

The first destination of the day, at five miles and about 10,300', was Photographer's Point. This spot is the turnaround for a popular day hike- popular because it's the first full view of the terrain we were about to embark upon. We made it here in good time, about 2.5 hours. We had some lunch and were joined by a gentleman who years ago had worked at Mt. St. Helens and knew my uncle. Small world.

The arrow on the right shows Fremont Peak, the southern end of the ridge that defines the eastern wall, the beginning, of Titcomb Basin. If it appears to be a long way off, that is because it is. And we were shooting for the upper end of Titcomb Basin, well past that. But at the time, we didn't really know what we were looking at.

The line on the left is pointing at a little snow-capped bump: Gannett Peak. Even further.

Bob at Photographer's Point

We had heard (mostly: read on the internet at places like the Gannett Peak page of SummitPost) that there were a lot of ups-and-downs on the trail. After a relatively smooth trail to Photographer's, that up-and-down stuff proved to be very true. The trail grew rocky and much more challenging as we moved into the heart of the range. And also more spectacular.

Approaching Hobbes Lake

After a few more miles up up-and-down on rocky, rooted, and muddy trails, we made it to Hobbes Lake, where we ran into a group of boy scouts. We chatted a bit and pumped some water.

Shortly after Hobbes, we could hear a roaring creek. We had been warned about the creek crossings- it was melt-off season, and the crossings were supposed to by hairy. This creek is actually the outlet of Seneca Lake, about 2 miles further up the trail.

What the picture does not show is to the right of Bob. The two logs-- sticks, really-- were in the water and slightly slick, and not really supported at the far end. As they got thinner and thinner, they were slightly submerged. Then, from this wet, flexy platform you had to take a big step to reach the rock on the far side. Fun.

Ridge approach

The trail after Hobbes Lake wanders a bit, then does several steep, rocky climbs. As we were about to gain the final ridge before Seneca lake, I took a last glance to confirm that Lucky was with us and then cruised to the top. Bob was already there, yakking with another scout group. I sat and joined the conversation about climbing, all of us admiring the standard route of Fremont Peak on the left. For perspective in this huge vista, one of the first group of scouts is sitting on the trail, faintly circled in red.

After a few minutes, I wondered where Lucky was. I walked back to where I had last seen him,.... and no Lucky. I quickly ran back to notify Bob and we both started frantically searching for him. He hadn't gone too far- he had lost the main trail when a secondary trail went straight at the last switchback. It wasn't a big deal, but the day was moving along and it was now after 3pm. Remember from earlier that Fremont Peak is at the beginning of Titcomb Basin.

Summit of Silver

The terrain is gorgeous, and we were really enjoying it. But we weren't moving really fast. Note the long shadow. This bit of trail is at the northern end of Little Seneca Lake. That's Lucky in the foreground, and Bob close to the cliff face a little further back.

We had just bypassed an interesting bit of trail- it went submerged along the base of a cliff. There was an obvious secondary trail that climbed up the cliff, so that's what we did. It was actually pretty hard, even Class III, and gained a fair amount. More additional effort, more delay....

Route to the Boulders

After the second of the two Little Seneca Lakes, the trail got really rocky and steep. It was late, and we were tired, especially Lucky. He was a little slower than Bob and I, but in both distance and speed he had passed all those boy scouts.

Although we had hoped to make it farther, we needed to call it a day. We backtracked to the bottom of the hill to this grassy spot, protected from the wind by these rocks, and with a little stream nearby with lovely, cold water. It was actually more scenic than the picture shows, because the second Little Seneca Lake is right behind the boulders.

The slight breeze was keeping the bugs down, and the cooling effect allowed us to comfortably wear long sleeves. Still, it was about 70° at 6pm.

Descent from Silver Peak

After a powwow over dinner, we made several decisions. Lucky elected to stay in camp the next day while Bob and I made an attempt on Gannett. Bob and I planned for a 4am departure, knowing that the peak was still a long way off. But we didn't know what to expect in terms of trail conditions, additional creek crossings, etc. But in an attempt to move fast, we chose to go as light as we could. That meant Bob would take just a summit pack, and I would carry the group gear in my backpack. We had ropes, harnesses, ice axes and crampons, and a little bit of extra gear to effect a glacier rescue if needed. A light lunch and some water. Pretty minimal.

By this time the wind had died down, so the mosquitoes were coming out. We hopped in the tent, but with our minimalist theme we were using a Megamid that does not have a floor. The skeeters were getting in, but fortunately we had all brought (matching) headnets, a real blessing. It was surprisingly warm; even though I was using a 35° sleeping bag, I didn't zip it up.

We all slept soundly for a few hours. But at about midnight that bliss ended. A few fitful hours later Bob and I groggily got up, made some coffee, and hit the trail at 4am, headlamps defining our world. We made it a little past Island Lake when we finally turned off the headlamps.

[I later learned after going to altitude on Pico de Orizaba and Denali that this interrupted sleep is a sign of altitude stress. Ed.]

 

After Island Lake, a short climb brings you to the junction of Titcomb Basin and Indian Basin at the toe of Fremont's southwest ridge. The creek coming out of Indian Basin was impressive, sounding like--then looking like-- a real river. But as we got closer, we found that by connecting the dots, lots of dots, we got across without removing our boots. So thereby perishes the myth of the creek crossings- we never had to wade even one of them. (sorry about the blurry photo- there wasn't yet quite enough light).

But notice the snow.

Outlet of Indian Basin

 

We were excited to be in Titcomb Basin at 6am, and it looked like we could get to the end of the basin by about 6:30, so although we were feeling tired (did I mention that we had been above 10,000' since 11am yesterday?) we were also enthusiastic.

Again, notice the snow. Also note that my sleeves are rolled up and my shirt is sweaty. It was too warm and the snow was already somewhat mushy.

Boulder gendarme

It took us more than an hour to finally get to the last of the Titcomb Lakes, where we saw a tent in the spot at which we should have been camping (and departing at 4am). The line shows the top of Bonney Pass.

From the top of Bonney Pass (12,800'), you drop about 1200' down the other side to the Dinwoody glacier to 11,600', cross it, and then head up the Gooseneck glacier to 13,804'. On the return, you have to again climb Bonney Pass. So from the tent here and back, there is about 5400' of climbing.

 

Boulder Basin

We hiked up the valley past the tent to the last bit of dry ground and had a snack break. By that time it was almost 8am, and a consult of the map showed the foot of Bonney Pass to be still more than a mile away. We had been walking hard for 4 hours already, so that's how we knew we were done. There simply wasn't enough time in the day. With regrets, we abandoned our climb of Gannett.

We had been wound pretty tight, knowing we were facing an epic, a painful epic. We discussed going up Bonney Pass, but each step farther up the valley was that much farther from our tent (already 4 hour away, and perhaps longer as the snow behind us softened further).

Snow in Titcomb Basin

We then changed our objective to Fremont Peak, and started hiking back down the valley and then up toward the ridge to get a better view of the route. As the sun came up, the views of Titcomb Basin were stunning.

 

Bob in Titcomb Basin
Fremont, at 13,700' was still going to be a hard climb. As we surveyed the route, we saw that the approach from this side of the ridge looked difficult (the real route is on the other side). Realizing that we had lost our mental drive when we decided to quit Gannett, we also dropped the idea of Fremont. Route up Fremont Peak

 

As soon as we gave up the idea of any summits, all the tension vanished and the day became almost magical for us. We wandered about Titcomb Basin, marveling at the scenery. We stopped for photos or simply sat. Of course we now had to bundle up a bit, but that was fine.

This is Mistake Lake, with Upper Titcomb Lake in the background. The intervening ridge had a thick layer of mountain heather. We wandered down along this ridge, laying down occasionally in the heather and staring at the mountains.

 

Boulder from near the trailhead

When we got back down into Titcomb Basin, we ran into the party that had been camped at the upper end of the basin. They had made it over Bonney Pass that morning and then at about 6am one of them caught a crampon, fell, and broke his wrist. I offered some first aid, but was told that he was a doctor and didn't need further help. Case closed.

We walked with them for a while and heard that the far side of Bonney was largely melted out (!) but that the glacier crevasses were closed as well as the bergschrund. As we got close to Lower Titcomb Lake, we left them to their pace and continued ahead.

Lower Titcomb Lake
Below Titcomb, there are some awesome-looking campsites and nice sunny areas. We made the most of one of them. Island Lakenap
When we got back to Island Lake, we got to see what we missed earlier in the day as we hiked by in the dark. After multiple creek crossings and mud bogs, the trail climbs the snowy saddle on the left. This was one of several steep climbs to do on our return, each making us feel tired and sluggish. Island Lake pass

When we got back to camp, it was about 1pm. We had been walking for 9 hours. We sat in the warm grass and had lunch, then took naps. When we awoke, we discovered that at some point in the day, a marmot had made off with our coffee, which was in a bag the homemade oatmeal bars that Bob's wife, Carol, had made. With no coffee, this trip was really going downhill ;-)

Looking at the watch and considering how tired we had been when we got here on Thursday, we decided to walk part way back to shorten our last day. So at 4pm, we broke camp and headed back. On the return, we avoided the climb around Little Seneca lake and did the submerged trail.

Below Seneca, we found a grassy meadow in which to make camp. Again, there were a few mosquitoes, but not bad at all. We had dinner and hit the sack at 8pm, and we all immediately fell asleep. Tired boys- Bob and I had walked almost 18 miles of rugged terrain.

That night it got quite cold- my 35° bag was not warm enough and I had to also sleep in my down parka. I thought it might just be me, but everyone had their sleeping bag cinched up tight around their faces.

Wading around the liff at Little Seneca Lake

We got up at 5am (after nine hours on the ground, wouldn't you?) and started hiking with the idea of breakfast in town. With coffee. Yum.

As we hiked out, Bob and I both noticed we felt appreciably perkier than yesterday. Going uphill felt "normal." Maybe it was the sleep, maybe it was more time to acclimate. Also, stepping in a patch of snow, I found it was frozen like a rock. But we were out of food, so we had played our hand.

On the way out, we had planned on hiking at a steady pace without breaks, and this was reinforced when the infamous Wind River mosquitoes decided not to let us off so easy. We never stopped for more than about a minute, or risked attack. Bob had problems inhaling them. If you stood still, they swarmed like mad, and you could have them up your nose or taking a pint.

We got back to the cars at 10am. By then, Bob and I had already formulated our return.

Bob, Lucky, and John at the parking lot
Epilogue: Driving home we scanned the horizon. Not a cloud in sight. But cooler. Today would have been the perfect summit day, with cold temperatures to freeze the snow, low winds, and not a cloud on the horizon. NOAA, you failed us on this one. But as Bob pointed out, we had had perfect summits on four previous highpoint attempts, and it's good for you to take a bit of an occasional spanking.

Mr. Natural Home | 2008 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski