IntroductionThe Wind River Mountains are one of the finest outdoor destinations in the West, with Gannett Peak standing as its tallest peak. During a Cascade climbing trip in 2008, Dave proposed this idea of using GPS waypoints he had gathered over past trips to make a spring attempt on Gannett Peak. The additional snowpack mileage gave us a projected distance of 48 round trip miles.
Climbers: Ben, Dave, Matt, Levi.
DAY 1: SLC to Photographers PointWith work, family, school and other responsibilities, we had to plan the trip far in advance. Of course, weather is always the variable in such situations, but the forecast called for two stormy days at the beginning of our trip, with better weather during our intended summit day. With anticipation and optimism we took off at 7:00 a.m. from Salt Lake City and made it to the trailhead about noon.
The road to Elkhart Park is only plowed within 4 miles of the official trailhead. To our relief, local trucks had beat the first mile of road into solid, stable ruts. But after that progress, our truck began to high-center, so we left good enough alone, parked the car, and began our hike. Each of us hauled between 80-100 pounds of gear, carrying the majority of it in our sleds.
DAY 2: Photographers Point to Little Seneca LakeWe made about 6 miles our first halfday, and had worked out the nuances of our sleds and pullcords. We had a nice trail to follow from other ski parties, but an overnight snow storm dropped six inches of snow and covered all remaining evidence of their path. We resorted to our GPS waypoints, maps, and compasses to navigate the trickiest part of the trail from Photographers Point to Seneca Lake. On paper the route is obvious, but in the environment of thick forest, undulating hills, and multiple lakes, proper orientation and choosing the most efficient path of travel can be tough. Our progress was slower than we would have liked, but we made it to the north shoreline of Seneca Lake by dusk. We set up Camp 2 just in time for another snow storm.
DAY 3: Little Seneca Lake to Titcomb BasinThe weather forecast called for two days of storms, then clearing weather. We crossed our fingers that Day 3 would bring the sunshine and blue skies we anticipated. We were particularly excited because today we would be entering Titcomb Basin, with its stunning scenery. The fine weather and open terrain made for easy travel and we sailed up to the top of Titcomb Basin by mid-afternoon. I'm definitely using the word "sailed" too liberally because we were all dead by the time we stopped for camp. The last two miles was a test of wills and counting footsteps.
Scenery in Titcomb Basin:
DAY 4: Storm DayAs we cooked dinner we listened to the local NWS forecast over our radio. The forecast called for sunny morning skies, with unsettled weather in the afternoon. "Perfect," we thought, "let's wake up early, catch the morning weather window, and summit Gannett Peak!" Unfortunately, all of our pent up enthusiasm was squashed the next morning when we looked outside the tent. We held out hope until 10:00 a.m. (which we felt was our latest possible hour to make a summit bid), but ended up using the "storm day" we had planned into our schedule. Our continued NWS forecasts gave us the wonderful confirmation that the skies were sunny everywhere but the high Wind River Mountains, and the remainder of our trip didn't look much better. All we needed was one more decent morning, but it appeared our weather window was shutting.
DAY 5: Summit DayWith no more "storm days" built into our schedule, Day 5 was summit day...no matter what. The morning was cloudy, but pleasant, and we felt we could make it if the weather held steady. Yet by the time we hit the top of Bonney Pass, a new wave of ferocious weather was gaining strength. At the top of Bonney Pass we could see Gannet Peak being swallowed in a white-out, and we knew the correct decision was "Go home and live to climb again." The decision was very disappointing after all that hard work, but brutal 70mph winds wouldn't allow us to deliberate long, either continue along the Dinwoody Glacier or descend now, there was no time to spare. Without forehand knowledge of the summit cornice structures and avalanche observations, we just couldn't commit in low visibility and high winds.
We descended back to camp with the storm intensifying. We could waste the day in our tents, then break camp the next morning, but instead decided to get on with it and broke camp in the blizzard. We pressed on to Island Lake where we could use the trees as a shelter from the wind.