Friday, September 09, 2016

Trip Report: Gannett Peak (13,809), Wind River Range, Wyoming

Gannett Peak, Wind River Range, Wyoming

  • September 2-5, 2016
  • Team: James Helfrich, James Allen, and myself
  • Summit: 
  • Gannett Peak
  • Route: Via Titcomb Basin and Bonney Pass
  • YDS: Class 3
  • Total Elevation Gain: 11,238
  • Total Miles: 44.32
I think it was about a year ago on an outing when the idea of climbing Gannett Peak took hold of the three of us. I didn't know much about the mountain. Just 3 things: It was higher than the Grand Teton, one had to hike around 21 miles into the middle of know where to get to it, and it had something called a burgschrund that you hoped would be passible.

A week before the trip, I obsessed over gear and the menu. Each night for 4 days I organized, weighed, and packed gear. Unpacked gear. Then repacked it again more efficiently. Fiddled with menu items to pack in the most carbs possible at an acceptable weight without ignoring the fact that I would actually have to eat the stuff...would I be able to stomach the taste despite the fact that I knew altitude and exertion would work in tandem to suppress appetite. 

I was also anxious about the trip in and the actual climb. We knew that winter was emerging in the Wind Rivers and that we would need to be prepared for cold temps and possible snowfall. Weather could have a major impact on the success of the trip.

Day 1
James H and I left Rexburg around 3:45 A.M. Friday morning. Drove to Idaho Falls and loaded our packs and bags into James A's Outback. On the road again, we headed to Pinedale, Wyoming. Stopped for a heavy breakfast and then made our way to Elkhart Park and the Pole Creek trail head. The parking lot was packed. Lots of people were venturing into the Winds that day. We met several groups with our same objective: Summit Gannett.

Hoisted heavy packs loaded with the necessary gear to mitigate the problems of unknown weather and terrain and began the long walk into the mountains. The first 5 miles or so meandered through forest and meadow. I was pleasantly surprised by the well defined trail. Not sure why I didn't expect this. I guess I underestimated the popularity of the area. Anyway, the trail was easy to follow to an overlook called Photographers Point. A grand view of mountains flowed out before us. This was my first introduction to the Wind Rivers.

Photographers Point
From here the trail dropped into a maze of mountains. it wound along stunning lakes. Over and around granite hills. Through meadows. Again, the trail was well defined and easy to follow. There were a few junctions that I thought could have been made more clear by forest service signage. At these crossroads we used GPS to mark our progress. The hiking was easy going. The amount of energy expended was well rewarded by majestic views. A visual feast.

Titcomb Basin ahead
We arrived in Titcomb Basin in the late afternoon and set up camp. Found some flat grassy areas to pitch our tents. The thick grass was soft and I felt we could not have found a more luxurious spot. I spent the rest of the day making photos of the area.

Once the light faded, we crawled into warm down bags with air mattresses on the soft grass. Life does not get much better. During the night, we were treated to thunder, lightening, and rain.

Day 2
In the morning the clouds hung low over the peaks. There were two other groups in the basin, but those who began the previous day with the intention of climbing Gannett never showed up. We surmised we were only crazy ones in the area. 

Morning camp
Clouds over Bonney Pass

Bonney Pass appears below the cloud level
Approaching Bonney Pass
Our immediate goal was Bonney Pass. This pass, or as James H declares, "divide," became a major hurdle in the overall journey. Rising only 2,300 plus feet above the basin floor it seemed as if we could knock it out in a few hours. However, as we approached the end of the basin we encountered more and more boulders. The pass itself is one big steep mess of boulders. Boulder hopping sometimes turned to boulder crawling. Forward progress was slowed considerably. 

Looking back down the Titcomb Basin while climbing Bonney Pass

As we crested the 12,800 plus col, we were greeted by some of the most memorable sights of the journey. The vast Dinwoody Glacier dominated the valley before us. It was if we had left the world behind and entered a space with a presence of grandeur that demands respect. Craggy peaks punctuated the skyline separating the drainages from which the the glacier flowed.

Approaching snowstorm

Cresting Bonney Pass
The Sphinx, Mount Woodrow, and Gannett Peak
Just couldn't resist putting in several more images of this stretch of mountains.

The vast scale of the features before us was astonishing. We descended into another world.

Descending into the Dinwooody

Approaching snowstorm
Gannett Peak looms top right
Once on the glacier, we were like kids in a candy store; We explored various streams cutting the surfaces, small crevasses, and strange surface features. Crouching down, we drank straight from the glacial streams revealing in the primal. The experience was so intriguing that we were in no hurry to leave the Dinwoody behind. This section the of the trip was a major highlight for all 3 of us.

The Dinwoody Galcier and Gannett Peak

Dinwoody Glacier

Dinwoody Glacier

Exploring the Dinwoody

Dinwoody Glacier
Exploring the Dinwoody 
Rushing Stream on the Dinwoody
Exploring the Dinwoody
The Dinwoody

The Dinwoody

Looking north

Looking north

The Dinwoody

The Dinwoody

The Dinwoody

Exploring the Dinwoody

Leaving the terminal moraine, we proceeded down the valley to the drainage that would lead us up the slopes of Gannett. Among the rocks and boulders of the moraine, we looked for a place to pitch tents. This was no easy task. I spotted two flat areas that some prior party must have worked to create. one had a small rock wall on the windward side for protection. Delighted with our find, James H and I reinforced the wall and built another on the second flat area. Nothing quite like doing heavy squats with large rocks after crossing Bonney Pass!

After setting up camp, I was free again for the evening to make images. We were very happy with our decision to spend 4 day on this adventure. For some the physical challenge of summiting a mountain like Gannett in 2 or 3 days is paramount. Not for me. I want to have time to look, think, and enjoy. During these few hours of "down time" I could relax in a chair James A packed in, lay on my bag, or most important, explore with a camera. 

Camp II on the moraine of the Dinwoody Glacier

Nothing like chair in the wilderness
I think this in Mount Koven
Glacial moraine and Mount Koven 
Looking east from camp II

Looking north

Looking east

Looking east

Looking north from camp II

Looking north from camp II
Looking east from camp II
A selfie for the day
The light faded into evening and we retreated to our tents to get some sleep before the big summit day.  During the night, gusting wind pelted our tents with graupel. Sleep was fleeting as we conjured thoughts as to what the morning would bring. 

Day 3

We awoke with patches of snow on the ground and dark foreboding clouds above. The wind continued to roar and pellet-like-snow stung our faces. Even more ominous was the deafening claps of thunder. Morale was ebbing with every explosion from the sky.

We retreated under a large rock to discuss our possibilities. I thought time was on our side. After all we still had 2 days ahead of us. We could afford to wait out the storm. However, the big questions were still beyond us; how long would the storm last? and What would the consequences be in terms of our 21 mile walkout? I was willing to gamble that we still had time and that the world on the other side of Bonney Pass was not getting hit as hard as we were. After all, it was at least 1,000 feet lower in elevation.

During this time the occurrences of thunder decreased the pelting graupel subsided. I suggested that we at least climb to the terminal moraine of the Gooseneck Glacier and see how the weather held. This would put us in good position to summit or retreat if the weather went south. The consensus of the vote set us out to make the Gooseneck.

Up the drainage to the Gooseneck
The weather was still good at the glacier and we proceeded up the increasing slope. We also decided to rope up for added security. When we encountered significant crevasses, we knew we made the right decision to bring a rope.

Crevasse on the Gooseneck Glacier
Gooseneck Glacier and the east face of Gannett
This was now just a steep snow slog upward and brought memories of Rainier to mind. This was all about to change when we encountered the Burgschrund. This glacial feature is found at the top of a glacier where it meets the ice and snow above. As the temperatures rise during warmer months, the glacier separates from the ice above and a significant crevasse can form, often creating an impassable obstacle for the mountaineer. Now we were at the Burgschrund on Gannett Peak. 

James H approached the gaping crevasse and found a bridge of solid ice spanning the open space. None of us wanted to walk across it and decided there would be no shame in straddling it and scooting across it on our rears. I took a photo of James approaching the Burgschrund and then put the camera away. At this point, I knew that no more images would be taken until all three of us would be secure on the mountain. Now was a critical time to concentrate on getting the team past this part of the mountain.

Waiting on the slope below the burgschrund
James H approaching the ice bridge
Once across the ice bridge, James attempted to ascend the steep slope above. His crampons struggled to bite into the icy surface. I had pretty good purchase, so I slid across the bridge and scrambled past James. My goal was to find a secure spot from which I could hip belay him. Hugging the rocks on the right I found an adequate spot to belay from.  This strategy worked well and a series of belays took us to the rocks above this hard ice wall. I think we all agreed this ice wall was the crux of the climb. To get an idea of the steepness of the ice slope I am inserting an image made from above looking across and down to this area above the Burgschrund.

James A finding a secure spot on the rocks while ascending the ice wall.
Once at the top it was easy class 3 climbing to reach the summit. There were just a few spots of considerable exposure along the north/south ridge, yet nothing beyond class 3.

looking north across the Gooseneck Glacier
Looking south from the summit ridge
Looking west over the summit ridge
On top of Gannett Peak
The summit was a bit anticlimactic because we were anxious to get off as soon as we arrived. Took the obligatory photos and skedaddled down. descending was bitter sweet. We were anxious to drop elevation, but we knew we had to go down that ice wall and meet the burgschrund one more time.

Descending towards the Gooseneck Pinnacle at the ice wall
The Gooseneck Pinnacle
Now, just to complicate matters, a blizzard of horizontal graupel hit us at the top of the wall. I have no more photos until we are well below the glacier. We just wanted to get off the mountain at this point. Wind, snow and hanging on the wall with the front points of crampons is not my cup of tea.
Here is one last photo taken from well below below the mountain.

Gannett Peak is shrouded in clouds
A lone pinnacle emerges
The weather was deteriorating quickly. Snow was accumulating. The option of quickly packing and hiking out right then was discussed.  The possibility of descending Bonney Pass in the dark with fresh wet snow covering the steep boulder mine field did not appeal to any of us. The most critical factor for me was the fact that I was mentally and physically spent and did not want to tackle Bonney pass and the 21 miles straight off Gannett. We decided to hike out in the morning. Spent a restless night listening to windblown snow hit the tent. Discussed the possibility of just leaving around 4:00 A.M. to insure daylight on the way down Bonney Pass. He suggested 5:00. I dozed off a few times. Saw James A's headlamp come on a few times during the night. His tent was a three season tarp tent and the changing wind direction kept him "shoveling" snow through the night. The snow was drifting higher on the vestibule door on my side of the tent. I think I dozed off again around 3:00 A.M.

Day 4

We woke up around 5:00 A.M and quickly broke camp. A good 4 to 5 inches of snow blanketed the ground, drifting higher in places. We traveled as quickly as possible over the boulder strewn moraine and up the Dinwoody Glacier. The streams were frozen and/or hidden under the blanket of snow. Avoiding the deeper drifted banks, we traveled across ice ridges and angled toward Bonney Pass. Making good time we ascended the slippery slopes. Golden sunlight illuminated the mountain we left behind.

Gannett on the far left from the lower slopes of Bonney Pass
The top of Bonney Pass looking into Titcomb Basin

Titcomb Basin from Bonney Pass
Uppper Titcomb Basin

Coming down the steep side of the pass was slow going and tedious. When we finally arrived at the upper lake of Titcomb, the boulder hopping gave way to a mostly recognizable trail. The farther we went, the snow was subsiding and the trail was more and more clear. We arrived at the spot where we stashed food on the first night and made a big lunch and let our bags and tents dry out a bit. Lounging on the sun-warmed large granite slabs felt good. 

Resting and gearing up for the trek out
The rest of the way was often a muddy slog on the trail. We paused just enough times to keep the pace brisk. About 13 hours after leaving our camp at the base of Gannett, we had about 3 miles to go. We were tired of the muck, and rock dodging and decided to kick the pace up to 3 miles an hour. By the time we reached the trail head, I was completely spent. A young couple in the parking lot asked us where we had come from. We we replied from Gannett, They promptly offered congratulatory beers. I was about a quarter-inch away from downing a six pack.

The ride to Pinedale seemed to take forever. Thought of real food danced in our heads. We found a Mexican restaurant and quickly ordered. The waitress brought chips, bean dip, and salsa. James H ordered an appetizer to share. I was famished and the only limiting factor to my food intake was two hands and one mouth. James A set across from us a laughed at our food frenzy.  About 15 minutes later, I began to feel whole again. After polishing off a super large chocolate milkshake, we got back in the car and headed for home. Content with our accomplishment and full bellies.


The Allens said...

Larry, you are truly a mountaineer. This was such a great moment in my climbing career and I am glad I got to share it with you and James H. You also saved our bacon on the bergshrund. Thanks to your rope and belaying skills, we made it through. There were a few moments we were not sure how we could move forward.

A couple of points I wanted to make that you were to modest to put in:

1. We stashed some food at Camp 1 at the lower Titcomb Lake thinking we would make it back on day 3. Because of the conditions and our lack of energy we couldn't make it back. This meant that on day four, hiking the many miles and thousands of feet of ascending and descending over Bonnie Pass, was done without food. I felt like every step was a challenge. When we finally got to our food cache at Lower Titcomb, we ate at least 2 meals worth of food. We felt like we should have been done with the hike at this point......but still had 16 miles to go.

2. On our way out, there were several people that asked us what mountain we climbed as they must have noticed our helmets and ice axes. When we told them we summited Gannett, the most common reaction was "wow, are you kidding? You summited on Sunday with the thunder storms? Everyone else we have passed didn't make it!" We felt like rock stars.

Thanks again for such a great trip and for doing this trip report. That picture ascending Bonnie on Day 4 with the orange color in the! You need to print that one big.

James A

Anonymous said...

Read this blog/adventure and thought to myself "Damn that was an adventure"! Congrats guys that was epic.