Wind Rivers Rewind




We return to finally climb Gannett, and summit Fremont Peak as well.

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

Gannett Peak is the high point of Wyoming, known to be the second toughest of all 50 state highpoints, just behind Denali.

Bob and I have been slowly accumulating state highpoints. After missing Gannett's summit on our adventure into the Winds in 2008, we tried several times in 2009 to put together a trip back. Each time we had an open window of time, something got in the way, either personal or weather. Bob has some unusual personal constraints, so his windows are far and few between. Over the last two years he has sweated bullets over this peak. I can‘t really explain how important this was to him, so I won’t try. Let’s just say he spent two years planning and scheming on this one (one benefit of his obsession: the best instant coffee ever).

So when the early spring of 2010 started off dry with low snow, we targeted late June to try again. This is an early date for attempting Gannett, which is usually climbed in August. Then in April and May we had an unusual spring, with cool temperatures and lots of snow. We were locked into the dates and had to deal.

So that is where this trip starts: lots of snow and no choice of dates. Somehow, my friend Brian thought that sounded appealing. Brian flew in on Sunday. After some last minute grocery shopping, he and I went through our packs, gear, and the equipment list. Thanks to Bob’s thoughtful examination over the last two years, our equipment was pared down to the absolute minimum. So was our food. We had weighed things out with a gram scale (yes, we’re that old, but also that accurate). For five day, not including water, our total pack weights would average about 38 pounds.

Day 1

So the next morning, we picked up Bob at 4am and set off for Wyoming. About 5 miles out of town, noting in the dark that Bob’s pack was even smaller than expected, Brian asked Bob what kind of snowshoes he had.
The reply: None.
Ooops. So we drove back into town and grabbed a third pair. Amongst a lot of talk over the five days of this trip, this was by far the most important comment of the trip.

We stopped in Idaho Falls at the North HiWay Café for some final calories, then rolled on to hit Pinedale for Subway sandwiches (half to eat and half to carry to camp the first night). We left the Elkhart Park trailhead (9450) at a little after 3. Dry, sunny weather encouraged us to get going right away.

About three miles in, we talked to a solo woman dayhiker with two dogs. She asked if we had good waterproof shoes. Shades of things to come?

Hiking toward Photographer's Point

We hit first snow well before Photographer’s Point, which sits at 10k. When we finally arrived at Photographer's Point, it was 5PM. Note the afternoon storm, a pattern that followed every day.

We decided to try to get to Barbara Lake, about 1.5 miles further in.

View from Photographer's Point

That took about one hour of deep, sloppy snowshoeing. But we found a dry patch almost big enough for the tent.

And the other part of our daily weather pattern- it had cleared up after the afternoon storm, giving us sun to warm in as we set up camp.

Barbara Lake camp

Day 2

The next morning, we got up under bluebird skies and headed for Indian Creek junction. But first, we had to cross Seneca Creek. In '08, we had barely made it across some skinny logs. This year the logs were positioned differently and there was a lot more water. That's a "No Go" on the log crossing.

Fortunately, we knew others had found a way to cross the rocks a bit upstream. We were even luckier, finding a snow bridge. After the crossing, we took off the snow shoes for a while until we hit snow again.

We poked along trying to stay on the trail. Fortunately, some ski tracks were occasionally visible (this was true for most of our trip- when we got home we discovered on the web that they had a fantastic time on skis, but now it was too thin and muddy, and the lakes too melted).

Bottom of the ridge

After the Seneca Lake overlook, we again took off our snowshoes for a bit. Here's Bob negotiating a wet section of trail.

But before we reached the end of the lake we were back on the snowshoes.


Bottom of the ridge

The snow was a help at Little Seneca. We left the trail for a shortcut that crossed the outlet on a snow bridge (the picture is a morning shot on our return, thus the sunshine), then shortcutted along the south shore. This bypassed the dreaded wade of the north side cliffs. In these conditions, the cliff wade might have been impossible because there was ice against the cliff, but it was not thick enough to support us. Not sure how one would deal with that except to do the climb up and over, which we hated in '08.

Getting back across the creek after our shortcut was interesting, but only Brian actually fell in. From there, we did a little more snowshoe-less hiking, but we were too hurried to enjoy it- there were storm clouds moving in and we didn’t want to get caught on the pass if there was lightning.


We had to again put on snowshoes before we topped out the pass, then as we neared the second pass, overlooking Island Lake, the storm moved in with some purpose, snowing and graupling in the wind.


When we finally got to Island Lake, we were a tired bunch of hikers, but we had stopped short of our actual goal. We split three ways to try to find a suitable spot to set up the tent. Brian found something with enough room, fairly, flat, and only a modest amount of unmovable rock on which we would have to sleep. So we set up camp at 3pm in time to enjoy watching the sun come out again. Gotta love that weather pattern.


After dinner, I hiked up over the pass to look into Indian Basin and scope out our route across this big creek. The creek was kicking, but I spotted a snow bridge that would save us from having to do the rock hop. My new camera has a great zoom, so I took this photo to “show and tell” back at camp.

Titcomb Basin

NOAA had predicted a hard freeze for that night and Sunny the following day. Although that prediction sounded like a perfect summit day, the plan for tomorrow was for Bob to rest up from our approach while Brian and I went for Fremont. In these conditions, this approach is not to be taken lightly. It was a ton of work and quite exhausting. And Bob has had constraints that prevented him from doing much training at any altitude. Two days above 10k takes some acclimatizing, so he wisely opted to gain strength before our planned “big day”of Gannett on Thursday.

The night was quite cold. When we got up around 2am to check the timing of the moonlight for our attempt on Gannett, I put on my puffy. Then when I returned to my 35-degree bag, I left the puffy on. As the night continued to cool off, I wore all my clothes, including my puffy, and was still shivering a bit. Perhaps it was 25°? Maybe even 20°?

Day 3

But on the good side, when we left camp the next morning we were able to walk on the snow without snowshoes. Excellent. In addition, it was completely clear with blue sky to the horizon.

Oh-- and Bob-- it's 'Fremont.'

This route shot with the clouds was taken during the previous evening's recon.

When we got to the snowbridge, we walked right across. The rock hop looked doable, but why bother?

Then we headed up into the approach on new terrain. There appeared to be several gullies to climb, but after consulting the map we realized they were suckers that would require us to descend the other side. So we just followed the creek up past several lakes. As we started some steeper sidehilling, we donned our crampons until the shoulder of Fremont at 12200. At this point, we dropped the snowshoes and removed the crampons.

Route on Fremont Peak
The next 1000’ we scrambled up easy rock with occasional small snow patches. Rocks on Fremont

When the rock finally gave way to snow, we again put on crampons and hopped out into a 40° snow gully. The snow was perfect styrofoam. After a short bit the angle relented slightly and we cruised up to the summit ridge.

Snow on Fremont

Once on top, a short traverse brought us to what we decided was the high point- the ridge is almost flat on top and there was too much snow to even bother looking for a register. On the other hand, there was no wind. You could have struck a match. And what a view! For those paying attention, that's Gannett just to the right of my head (honoring the summit in a KT scarf).

We hung out on top for about 15 minutes, then reversed the whole thing. Except on the way down, we stayed on the snow for an extra couple hundred feet. Just when we had decided to leave the snow and go back to rock, we look over into the choke of the couloir to see blue alpine ice peeking out.

Fremont splattski

By the time we got back to the 12200’ saddle, the snow was softening up. The angle of the snow in the basin was just barely steep enough to butt glissade, but we made the most of it, then went to snowshoes. A high line traverse with constant descending angle brought us back to our previous route until we found an upper snow bridge that allowed us to get back to camp with almost no more ascending. Bonus!

Indian Basin view of Fremont

When we got back to camp, Bob spoiled us with soap and water, clean towel, drinks, and lunch. We felt like conquering heroes. Then, with less than 12 hours to go before we went after Gannett, it was nap time.

Bob had missed a great time on a really fun climb, but for him the rest was more important. As was making fun of us napping.

That afternoon, the clouds rolled in, the wind blew, and it seemed like it might get nasty. It did not, but that late afternoon pattern would affect our plan for the following day. We were all tired, so getting in the tent at around 8pm was just fine.

Day 4

NOAA had predicted a warmer night for tonight, and we got it. Plus, for us the night was very short (less freeze time), so when I arose at midnight the snow would not support me. Dang- more snowshoeing!

So we had our coffee, choked down some food, and were off right at 1am in bright moonlight for the long trudge up Titcomb Basin. Our snow bridge across Indian Creek was still there, so we made good time on the first section to the first lake. Then we were able to follow the previously mentioned ski tracks, although they occasionally led us into areas where we were punching through the crust. After a bit, we learned to identify, to some extent, the areas with harder crust. Identifying the snow conditions required a headlamp, so the beauty of the moonlight was somewhat diminished by our lights.

Supply your own caption for the emotions caught in the picture at right:

1 amPhoto by Brian

As we neared the bottom of Bonney Pass, the moon finally set, leaving us in the dark as we donned our crampons for the 1800’ ascent of the final gully. We had hoped for really good snow here, but were disappointed when we found more holes in the crust. In addition, we had to cross a number of avy deposits. This avy snow was really weird. The avy had left chunks, which I expected to be rock hard. Some were. But in between, fresh snow had blown in. These spots were total leg traps. So our climb up Bonney was a bit of a struggle at times. Nonetheless, we hit the top at 5:30. Here you can see Bob's headlamp as he approaches the top.

Bob on Bonney Pass

We were just in time to watch Gannett light up in the early morning alpenglow. Fantastic!

Our next task was to descend to the Dinwoody Glacier, cross it, and drop some gear on the far side. The snow on the north side of Bonney was again perfect styrofoam, so we cruised. Bob loves to go fast downhill, and he left Brian and I in his dust. But after an 8 or 900’ drop, Bob was waiting so we could use our group intelligence to analyze the glacier crossing. We knew there were crevasses- our friend Frank had reported falling in one on this very crossing. Although Frank had been roped, we were climbing without, so we would need extra vigilance and caution.

Gannett route

We swung low around the compression zone, then climbed up onto one of the giant moats. These moats are apparently created by wind. Who would think you’d get so much wind in the Wind Rivers?

On top of the moat, we found lots and lots of footprints. Apparently someone had been practicing snowclimbing on the steep inside wall. We used this spot to drop extra weight for the main climb up Gannett, in particular our snowshoes.

Above the second moat, we spotted more footsteps. Cool: a ladder! Curiously, they weren't wearing crampons. Just a bit later, we caught up with the culprits, a NOLS group of about a dozen "youngsters" (bearing in mind that the youngest in our group was over 50). Lower ridge
The NOLS group split, with some doing the Gooseneck couloir and some roped up to do a more direct approach. We passed the Gooseneck group and set trail for them. Here Brian tamps a footstep really good to make sure it's on a firm base. Posthole
The little pinnacle below and left of Brian is the Gooseneck. We were on the summit ridge, but below the steep section. Gooseneck
And here Brian leads the steep section. Although it was only 8:30, the snow was slushy on top of a firm base. I found it a bit scary, because the snow was too soft for a good self-arrest and a slip here would put you over a major cliff. That same exposure extended all the way to the summit rocks, in view to the right. Start of the summit ridge
We would have liked to escape the exposure by walking on the ridge crest, but we couldn't tell from below exactly where any cornices were. In this heat, we played the slippery exposure against the possibility of cornice collapse and walked with a tingling sensation on the backs of our necks. Bob on the ridge

At 9am, we were on the summit. It was windy and thus a bit cold. The views were amazing: Gros Ventre, Bighorns, Tetons, and the entire Wind River range.

Happy 21st anniversary, Sweetie.

But the snow wasn't getting any firmer, so we quickly turned around to minimize the hazards of any further softening.

Summit of Gannett
When we got off the steep part, we found the NOLS group resting. Brian entertained them in his usual manner. He sang Happy Birthday to one student, cajoled and encouraged the others. He told them to "Just say No to drugs." Bob replied "Until you get old." And I capped off the shenanigans by pointing out that these days Bob's drug of choice seemed to be lots of Ibuprofen. NOLS group

We got off the ridge pretty quickly, Bob especially so as he butt-glissaded over the bergschrund.

Then it was time to re-ascend Bonney Pass. We snowshoed across the glacier (Bob counted: 1450 steps). Then booted up to the pass (Bob counted: 1050 steps). When we hit the top of Bonney, it was 12:30 so we had been working hard for 11 1/2 hours. With little rest and a steady, hard pace, Bob later accused me of being a slave driver. But he knew I was pushing for safety.

Happy Bob

And I was pushing because I was thinking of our exit strategy. It had taken us 4 1/2 hours to cross Titcomb Basin on firm snow, almost to the horizon in this photograph. Now we were looking across that same expanse and despite the afternoon storm moving in, the temperature was much higher. We were in for a slugfest. To put this view in perspective, you can see one of us as the lowest of the dots on the snowfield near the bottom right side of the photo.

In the heat of the day, the snowbridge we had used that morning to cross Indian Creek was no longer safe. We were so tired that we did the rock hop without removing our snowshoes.

We finally got back to camp at 4:45, a round trip of just under 16 hours. OK- who's excited to rack the gear, pump water, and cook?

Returning down Titcomb Basin

Day 5

On a trip like this one, it's not over until it's over. We woke on Friday with vague plans to get out in a single day. But without killing ourselves. We were tired.

So we broke camp and started snowshoeing in breakable glop at about 8:15am.

We were astonished at the change in conditions over the last three days. This is looking back at Jackson Peak from about the same place as the previous snowstorm shot. Where did all those rocks come from? Heading home
Just how fast was the melt off? Check the Snow Depth stats from the Hobbs Park weather station. We went in on the 21st and out on the 25th. Hobbs data

Thankfully, we were still able to use the Little Seneca Lake shortcut. But this was probably its last day.

By 11 we had made the meadows above Seneca Lake. Although it was still pretty snowy, we ditched the snowshoes, hoping that they would stay on our packs for the remainder of the trip.

Meltout of Seneca Lake
We were a little tired, but we were determined to enjoy the walk out.

We struggled in sometimes thigh-deep glop, but when we topped the Seneca Lake overlook and saw these flowers, we grew more confident.

Like with the Indian Creek snowbridge yesterday, our snowbridge over Seneca Creek had melted out. But we again found rocks to hop upstream from the normal crossing.

The climb above Barbara Lake was solid white, so we used the map to find a drier route.

When we got to Photographer's Point, it was 3pm. We had been walking for almost 7 hours, yet still had 5 miles to go. Nonetheless, we were a very happy group. Photographer's Point

The trail back to the car was a mess. There was still snow around, some on the trail and some in the woods. It was all melting fast, and much of it was running down the trail. So it was a mudfest.

We ran into two dayhikers at one of the meadows and chatted. They commented that our packs looked awfully small for a five-day outing. As we finished off the long, downhill grind in our soggy footwear, we discussed how well this trip had gone. We had perfectly threaded the needle for weather, accomplished all our goals on a tight timetable, used virtually every piece of gear (except the mosquito headnets and 100% DEET- go figure!), and returned with only 3/4 day of food, our planned emergency ration. And finally, one last big deal: when after a 9-hour walk we hit the car at 5pm, the beer was still reasonably cold.

We spent the night at the Rivera Lodge in Pinedale, less than a block from the Wind River Brewpub. Both highly recommended.

Thanks to great planning, expert execution, a tight group, and amazing country, this may be the most satisfying outing I have ever been on.

Mr. Natural Home | 2010 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski