OverviewI have been reading and rereading all of the Gannett Peak trip reports on SummitPost ever since I started climbing and joined the site in 2008. The remoteness, beauty, and difficulty of the highest mountain in my home state holds an intense fascination for me, and it quickly became one of those peaks that I knew I would attempt someday.
My climbing partner Jan and I had been talking about climbing Gannett for over a year but didn't have time to try it in 2009, instead opting for climbing Trout Peak after bad weather kept us off the Grand Teton. We scheduled our attempt for mid-July about six months in advance. There was never any choice about which approach we'd take, as paying ridiculous sums of money to use the Ink Wells Trail was out of the question and the southern approach with its high pass crossing on summit day didn't sound like much fun, so the Glacier Trail was the obvious choice. In the weeks before the climb, I stayed up to date on the SP forum thread regarding the conditions on Gannett, especially about the reports of thick black clouds of mosquitoes!
Climb video on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hguy5IHmhr8
Day 1: Glacier Trail to Star LakeJan was set to pick me at my house at 4:30 a.m. on Thursday, July 15th. As I was standing on the sidewalk with my pack, weighing in at 45 pounds, I had a nagging feeling that I was forgetting something. After a couple minutes of trying to think through my early morning stupor, I realized that my hiking boots were still sitting inside the house, which was an interesting start to the morning. Luckily this was soon rectified, and praying I hadn't forgotten anything else, we were soon on our way from Powell to Dubois, arriving at the Trail Lake trail head and the beginning of the Glacier Trail at about 9:15. We were immediately accosted by the most aggressive mosquitoes I've ever seen and the Deet made its appearance along with Jan's fancy headnet. Cursing myself for not bringing one, I later offered him $20 for it, but he refused! Ironically, at camp the first night, I discovered that I HAD packed one, so I was able suffer a little less miserably from that point on.
We started on the trail at 9:40 and finished an uneventful 3200-foot climb to Arrow Pass by fairly early in the afternoon. This was Jan's first time in the Winds, but I had day-hiked to the pass in 2009 with Bob Sihler when we climbed Arrow and Talus Mountains. Jan had warned me that he tends to get blisters on his heels, as he has never been able to find boots that properly fit his feet. By the time we descended through Burro Flat and made our way past Philips and Double Lakes, the heels were starting to bother him, so we decided to look for a camp site near Star Lake, which is about 12.5 miles in from the trail head.
I reached the lake first, and after dropping my pack I was swarmed by a cloud of mosquitoes; I got out my 98% Deet and began angrily spraying my clothing in an attempt to deter some of them. However, in my rage, I accidentally misfired and somehow got a bit on my tongue. Having read the strict warnings on the bottle about how Deet is NOT intended for places inside your body, I immediately had visions of having some crazy allergic reaction and the trip being over. After coughing and sputtering and rinsing my mouth for about five minutes, I gradually realized that I wasn't going to die, which was a good thing, at least from my perspective. My tongue did feel funny for a few hours, though!
After setting up camp and cooking dinner we very much enjoyed the process of filtering water in a cloud of no less than 300 of the nasty bugs; I have never seen anything like it! Because of no rain and warm weather we slept without the rain fly on the tent every night of the trip, and the mosquitoes would cover the tent above where our heads were and frantically poke through the mesh to try to get at us.
Day 2: Star Lake to Tarn Camp
We spent a leisurely morning at camp, finally getting on the trail about 9:00 a.m. After descending the rugged switchbacks for 1000 feet to the massive and roaring Dinwoody Creek, we dumped our "lakey-tasting" water and exchanged it for the colder creek water, which tasted much better. We then passed by the beautiful meadows that dominate the scenery for the next five or so miles of trail; in spite of a good blister care kit, Jan's heels were bothering him and our pace got slower and slower as we passed through the seemingly endless valley. We were treated to our first view of our objective just after the intersection with the Ink Wells Trail, and it is a stunning sight.
The Klondike Creek crossing was rumored to be hard, and it was a roaring inferno of water higher up, where the three flimsy logs across the stream were under water. I put on the light water shoes I carry for crossings and crossed at the bottom, where it was about thirty yards wide and no more than knee deep. After throwing the shoes back across to Jan, he crossed and redid his heel bandages while I refilled our water. The whole process was very time-consuming and it was close to an hour before we were ready to move on. I was worried that Gannett Creek was going to give us a similar delay, but the dozen or so minor waterways that you cross before the big one all were easily jumped or had good logs, and the main flow of Gannett Creek was easily crossed on logs as well.
After this crossing we pushed on above the treeline to the end of the trail, gaining the last tiring 800 vertical feet to camp in the rocks at about 10,800 feet by about 6:30 p.m.; it was probably the hardest 10-mile day I've ever done. From camp we had our first look at the Gooseneck route, which looked steep and more than a little daunting.
We saw a small group camped farther up by Tarn Lake, and a little after 7:00 p.m. we watched two obviously very tired climbers making their way towards us across the difficult boulder field. They were a father and son team from North Carolina, and they had endured a successful but very hot and long 12-hour summit day. They reported that the snow bridge across the bergschrund below the Gooseneck Couloir was still intact, but the son (Tom) had put a foot through the right side of it on the descent, which definitely got their attention! After thanking them for the info, they headed off to their camp and we made plans to get up at 4:00 and start climbing at first light.
Day 3: Summit DayThe night before the climb was miserable; neither of us could shut our brains off, and I was stuck in that frustratingly familiar place of knowing that I really needed sleep, but the anticipation, excitement, and nervousness about what the next day would bring just wouldn't allow it. I did get out of the tent for a bit around midnight and was treated to the most amazing night sky I've ever seen, as the sky was covered probably in fifty times more stars than you can see from even sparsely populated places. The Milky Way was positively breathtaking! I finally dozed for a couple of hours before we got up.
At 4:15 we could see numerous headlamps at the base of the Dinwoody Glacier, and there was another party moving across the valley. We were all ready to head out of camp right at 5:00 when a cloud moved over the area and started sprinkling on us. We decided (and hoped) it wouldn't be serious and headed out across the boulder field, reaching the base of the glacier just before 6:00. We put on our crampons and started up; I had never worn crampons before, so this was a totally new experience for me. I had used an axe and self-arrested before on some smaller snow slopes, so I wasn't too worried about adding crampons, and it proved to be very fun! The weather had stabilized, and we had a nice cloud cover for most of the morning, which helped keep the snow from turning into mush and the sun from baking us.
The group of four guys camped by the lake was just behind us; they were the group we had seen across the valley that had started before we did, but they had taken the advice of a NOLS leader and gone around to the south side of the boulders to reach the glacier, which unfortunately wasted half an hour. The four in this group of east coast climbers included SP member Gmoney (going for his 48th state highpoint), T-mail, Mutha, and Bob, and they were a fun and entertaining bunch of guys! They had all failed on Gannett in 2008 when soft snow prevented them from making any progress past the Gooseneck Pinnacle, and they were back for another round.
The tracks of the large group of fourteen climbers ahead of us were easy to follow; I stayed a little ahead of the other climbers through the traverse across to the Gooseneck Glacier and up the slope to the snow bridge, which was not very wide. I scampered quickly across and my ice axe punctured through the bridge on my right side, which was exciting. Jan was a few minutes behind me, and I yelled back at him that I was across and asked him if he wanted me to wait for him. He told me to continue, so I ascended the fun but steep couloir above the bergschrund, pausing at the top to look back and marvel at the steepness of what I'd just come up.
I was feeling really good and moving faster than I'd anticipated, and I finished the last snow part before pausing to remove my crampons for the one easy rock climbing move and the scrambling section before the final snow climb to the summit ridge. I could see the large group, strung out in a long line on the ridge above, begin to reach the summit, and I could hear lots of joyous whooping and celebrating on top. After putting on the crampons again, I started up the last steep section of snow to the spectacular summit ridge, where the exposure on either side definitely gets your attention; a slip here would most likely be fatal!
I looked far behind and below me and saw Jan making his way through the rock section, and after he waved and I gave him a thumbs up, I continued to the rocky summit outcrop. I sat down to take off the crampons again while the large group (all from Laramie) passed by on their way down. The leader of the first rope team asked: "Are you the dude who soloed the snow bridge on the berg unroped? That was sketch!!!" I laughed and said that everybody after me had done the same, but I was sure we'd all rope up on the descent. I waited until all fourteen climbers had passed before scrambling up to the top of the rocky summit, which I reached at 8:50, just less than three hours from the bottom of the Dinwoody Glacier.
Reaching the summit was a very crazy experience; the intense feelings of elation, accomplishment, and awe at the breathtaking views in all directions all combined with the huge relief and amazement I felt at having overcome such a huge physical and mental challenge to create a massive wave of emotion that is impossible to describe. If there was ever a single moment in my life that I most clearly understood the reasons why I climb, that was it!
I had the summit to myself for thirty minutes before Jan joined me, and we were joined ten minutes later by Gmoney's party.
After many pictures and congratulations, we started off the top around 10:00. Jan and I roped up for the first time, and we carefully downclimbed behind the two rope teams from Gmoney's group. The Gooseneck Couloir was the trickiest spot, as the steepness makes it is tough to see where the snow bridge is while descending, but Mutha kindly waited for us right below the crossing to ensure that we got over in the right spot.
Jan and I unroped after crossing the bridge, and we continued the descent into camp without event. We were back at the tent about 1:00, having spent eight hours on the mountain.
We elected to rest, hydrate, and eat the extra food we'd brought in case our summit attempt was delayed rather than packing up and hiking out. I spent some great hours on my back on a rock in the sun listening to Dream Theater on my MP3 player. A small storm blew through and dropped a few marble-sized hail pieces on me, but it was a great afternoon! Gmoney's group packed up and headed out in the middle of the afternoon and we chatted again for a bit before they took off for a planned camp at the Wilson Meadows. I slept like a rock after enjoying a spectacular moonset.
Day 4: Tarn Camp to Philips LakeThe fourth day started with an announcement from Jan: "I've come up with a solution for my blister problem!" He decided that, since his boots were old anyway, he would cut the heels out of them above the sole so that his blisters wouldn't rub on anything during the trip out. He proceeded to take out his multi-purpose tool and began sawing away on the leather; he eventually ended up with giant holes in each shoe about 1.5 inches square. He said that they felt like sandals, and his hiking pace doubled on the way out!
We were packed and almost ready to leave camp when a solo highpointer named Mike arrived at our camp and asked about the conditions on the mountain. He had just soloed Granite Peak a few days earlier and had hiked all of the way past the Gannett Creek crossing the day before. I gave him my picture with the route overlay on it and he took off across the boulders; he arrived at the trail head on Monday just minutes after we did, having completed the entire 50-mile trip in just 2.5 days!
We ran into the North Carolina team at Gannett Creek, as they had taken all of Saturday to rest and recover after their climb, and we caught up to GMoney's group at the Klondike crossing. We played leapfrog with them on the trail all morning, exchanging frequent conversation about a myriad of things and much mirth regarding Jan's new stylings in shoe fashion, which we all agreed was a genius move. Around 11:30, we passed SP member Holsti97 and four other highpointers who were on their way in for a Monday summit attempt. We ended up breaking for lunch at the same spot on Dinwoody Creek where we filled our water the second day, taking an hour to eat and chat with our four new comrades. After saying goodbye to them for the last time, Jan and I headed up the rugged 1000-foot climb to Star Lake before setting up camp near Phillips Lake just below Burro Flat. Our friends the bloodsuckers were back in force, making everything from filtering water to using the bathroom a challenging and frustrating experience!
Day 5: Philips Lake to the trail head
I got up an hour earlier than Jan and headed out from camp to Arrow Pass in order to climb Peak 11696, which sits on the east side of the pass and is visible in the distance for much of the trek along Dinwoody Creek. The summit view into the heart of the Winds was very beautiful, and I descended and met Jan at the pass with perfect timing. The trip down the Glacier Trail was uneventful; we arrived at the car at about 11:45, having spent 98 hours total on the trip. After eating lunch in Dubois, we arrived back in Powell around 5:30.