Leader: Per Frost
Co-Leader: Steve Corcoran
Participants: Mike Davis and Mike Bailey
Time: July 22-28
Gannett Peak is at 13,804 ft. the highest peak in Wyoming – 34 ft. higher than Grand Teton. It is located on the Continental Divide in the Fitzpatrick Wilderness in the interior of the Northern Wind River Range. It is ranked 5th on the State Highpoint list (after Denali, Whitney, Elbert and Rainier) and generally considered one the hardest to reach.
Our trek followed what is considered the standard approach to Gannett Peak starting at the Trail Lake Ranch TH on the Northeastern side of Wind River, south of Dubois, and following the Glacier Trail over Arrow Pass to Tarn’s camp (at ~10,800 ft.) – approximately 22 miles with a total gain of 5,000 ft. The summit roundtrip – starting from Tarn’s Camp – adds another ~8 miles.
Day 1 – July 22nd
With packs weighing in at 45-55lbs we started our trek early afternoon and hiked approximately 3 miles to the junction with the Bomber Falls trail. Hot and sunny conditions started to change as we approached the junction and it quickly became a rush to find a good campsite and erect one of our two tents before a thunderstorm broke. The 4 of us hovered in the tent for about an hour as the storm rolled forth and back between the mountain ranges but then it was over and we could establish our camp properly. We enjoyed a beautiful evening in the Bomber Basin near Torrey Creek. Afternoon thunderstorms are common in this area but this was the most severe weather we encountered during the entire trek and other than a few sprinkles here and there it stayed dry for the remainder of our trip.
Our day started with an ascent through 28 switchbacks in rocky terrain. We continued our trek over Arrow Pass (10,895 ft.) with spectacular vistas before descending towards Double Lake which is considered the halfway point towards Tarn’s Camp. We started meeting the first people hiking out after their summit attempt. We sought as much intelligence about the conditions as we possibly could and after a couple of conversations we decided to cache the pickets. It turned out to be a good decision as we really didn’t need them. We camped at Star Lake – a bit over the halfway point – and once again we had the area completely to ourselves.
From Star Lake we descended towards Dinwoody Creek and after passing Big Meadows we started heading up again towards Tarn’s Camp. We had several challenging crossings but only had one where we had to wade through with boots and socks off. A hard 10 hour day as we finally reached Tarn’s Camp around 5PM. The final approach before the actual summit climb commences is through a huge half-mile long boulder field. We found a couple of suitable camp-sites about 100 yards apart just before the boulder-filed and decided to set up camp there. For us this was a good decision as we avoided 2 traverses of the boulder field with heavy packs. The “penalty”, however, was that we had to navigate the boulder field in the dark in the early morning of our summit attempt.
A much needed rest day. We followed a couple of solo-climbers as they made their way to the summit and back and spent time studying the route from the distance. We then went through the boulder field to explore the route through it further – not an easy traverse – and then reviewed our options for the ascent. We had 2 options: Either to navigate around a buttress and catch the Dinwoody Glacier early (this is the most common route) or continue more or less straight up from the boulder field along the upper part of Dinwoody Creek and then catch the glacier higher up. Steve and I were relatively convinced that the route up along the creek would be just fine and we continued upwards and reached the glacier with little difficulty. We decided that this would be our route for the summit attempt.
All in all this was a very useful day. We got some rest, verified our route and traversed the boulder field a couple of times – getting a good feel for how to navigate through it.
Summit Day. We got up at 3AM and Steve, Mike Bailey and I hit the trail just before 4AM. Steve led us expertly through the boulder field in the dark and we continued upwards reaching the Dinwoody Glacier by dawn which was exactly what we had hoped/planned to do. We cached our poles and got the mountaineering equipment in action – including the first of many changes of footwear – putting the crampons on. The route changes frequently from glacier/snow field to rock scramble and we had a total of 8 footwear changes on the way up. And, of course, another 8 changes on the descent. Time consuming stuff!
Weather was perfect. It had been a bit windy down in the valley in the early morning but it actually was a lot calmer higher up and not a cloud in the sky. There was another party of 2 climbers on our route and we chatted with them occasionally as we kept meeting up at the points for footwear changes.
Our first segment on the Dinwoody Glacier included a ~45 degree slope. Snow conditions were good and the trail had good steps kicked in. We decided not to rope up. Steve being the strongest on the day had the honorable assignment of carrying the rope and it ended up staying in the pack all day. A bit later we transitioned to the Gooseneck Glacier, crossed the bergschrund on a snow-bridge which looked absolutely fine to us and embarked on another ~45 degree ascent.
We reached the ridgeline a bit after 8AM and continued along the ridgeline which has some non-trivial exposure, towards the summit, which we reached without incidents a bit after 9AM. It took us just a bit over 5 hours.
After 45 minutes on the summit we started our descent. On the way back we met climbers from a group that had followed the Western approach from the Titcomb Basin. Some of them had started at 2AM and as far as we could determine it would be at least Noon before they summited. A very long day for those guys!
We debated roping up for the 45 degree slopes on the descent but footing and steps were still good and we felt comfortable and secure with axe and crampons. Our descent passed without incidents and we were back in camp about 2:15PM.
By 6:15AM we were ready to begin our hike out and we proceeded down the valley in the beautiful morning light – content with the previous day’s accomplishment.
Our route deviated slightly compared to the trek in and we ended up wading through 2 crossings. After the first crossing we met a party hiking in to assist an injured climber at Tarn’s Camp. He had injured his leg severely in the boulder field the day before (not broken but he was unable to walk). His climbing partner had hiked out to the Ink Well Jct. (a trail which starts on the Shoshone Reservation) where there is a camp for horses to see if he could get a horse to carry him out. However, the party we met was basically hiking in to tell him that the horses would not be coming and he should request a helicopter. We don’t know the end to this story but we assume a helicopter-rescue would have taken place at some point.
We camped at Double Lake where Mike and Mike were courageous enough to go for a swim in the lake before dinner. Sunset was terrific but a bit hazy due to some forest fires burning to the north. We had occasionally sensed smoke during our trip but overall it was not troublesome. And it was too far away to pose any danger.
Our final day started early as we were on the trail by 5:30AM taking advantage of the morning coolness to make our final ascent up over Arrow Pass. After the pass it was downhill the rest of the way and we made good time reaching the Trail Lake Ranch TH just before Noon.
For more photos please see https://perfrost.shutterfly.com/pictures/5166