|43.18440°N / 109.65429°W
|Aug 8, 2018
|Hiking, Mountaineering, Scrambling
"Never regret reaching your goal. You will only regret giving up and not trying harder." You are 99.9% complete with that goal... what to do about that missing 0.1%? I relate that to my eventful journey... of being 99.9% done and very nearly summiting Gannett Peak in 2017 but stopping within 500 feet short, and then making the elaborate decision to go back a year later in 2018 to [hopefully] be successful and be 100%.
Gannett Peak, highest point in Wyoming, is also the most remote state highpoint, and widely heralded as the most difficult to reach of all the lower 48 states. My ultimate goal - climb the highest point in all 50 of them. At this point, I have reached 35, with 15 to go. Gannett would be 36.
Gannett Peak's summit, snow covered year-round, has a registered elevation at 13,804 feet, and is surrounded by glaciers on all sides. It can pose a daunting challenge climbing in the high elevation of the Rocky Mountains (where Gannett Peak is tucked away) for a sea-level Boston native like myself.
2017 – First Attempt
Last year, me and 6 others, all fellow state highpointers in the 50 state highpointing group on Facebook, an informal group of people with the same goal as I do, set out for a multi-day attempt in late July. On summit day, which was the 3rd day of the trip, after 2 days of hiking with a 50+ lb pack we arrived at the base of Gannett Peak. After splitting into rope teams of 4 and 3 (I was on the team of 4), and shortly afterwards, teams of 5 and 2 (me being on the team of 5), we had crossed over the glaciers and scrambled up steep rock to make it to the ridge… 500 feet away, we can see it very clearly, and can taste it… we are so close to summiting!
While traversing along the steep exposed ridge which was covered in snow… one of my rope team members’ crampons broke off on the ridge. Crampons – steel spikes that attach to bottom of one’s feet so they are able to traverse along and climb up icy/snowy terrain. It was getting so late in the day that the snow was getting slushy, and a bit dicey to cross. The biggest priority is to get down safely; more important than to actual summit. Given that, we made a group decision to turn back. So, we headed back to base camp, by descending the steep rock scramble and back across the glaciers again, nearly crying while thinking to myself: “cannot believe that just happened, being so close and then not making it”. I would spend the next months-plus questioning and lamenting on the decision...
2018 – Second Attempt
Fast forward a year later, after being dismayed about being so close and not summiting, I decide to head back. I realized I will always question “What if?” to myself unless I get to the top. So, after conversing with others in the 50 state highpointing group on Facebook again, I found someone that was willing to go back this summer in an to attempt to summit… Tony Cobb, a 50 state highpoint completer, who is basically an expert at mountaineering. He even climbed Denali in Alaska solo! We originally met at the 2016 state highpointing convention in Montana, after summiting Granite Peak, Montana’s apex peak, and also a very difficult state highpoint to reach. After messaging back and forth on Facebook Messenger in January/February, Tony and I agreed to climb Gannett together in late July/early August… which gave us 6 months to prepare.
Fast forward to summer of 2018, after months of training, and climbing King’s Peak, the apex of Utah 2 days before the Gannett Peak attempt, we were ready. I decided to mentally put aside what happened last year… this was just as tough as the physical/technical aspect of it, but one of the climbers on last year’s team, Terri, put it best: “Woulda, coulda, shoulda. No use beating the dead horse of the past; it won’t help you. Let’s move forward. That is what will help you.” I decided to go in with that mindset for this Gannett Peak attempt.
After waking up at 7AM at the Chinook Winds Motel in Dubois, Wyoming, with our packs ready to go, we got breakfast, a quick coffee, made a couple last calls back to our family and friends at our hometowns, and then set out for Ramona’s house. Ramona is the head of the Wind River Indian Reservation, who provides shuttle service across the reservation to the Ink Wells trailhead. Tony and I arrived at her house at about 8AM, and found that we weren’t alone. There was another group that was traveling on the shuttle with us to trailhead… 2 guys from California named Pat and John, also accompanied by a guide named Sam from Jackson Hole Mountain Guides. Pat and John were both 50 state high-pointers, and all three had climbed and summited Denali in Alaska. Since Tony had climbed Denali before, I was the only non-Denali completer of the group :-D. Our driver was Taylor… Ramona’s grandson who was a college student, and who drove us across the rough offroad terrain through the Indian reservation to trailhead. Along the way, we saw some cows and admired the scenery of the beauty of the Shoshone wilderness.
We got to trailhead at about 10AM, at 9,565 feet. Before Taylor left us in the truck, we asked him to bring us some beers on our return trip on Friday (4 days from now) for a [hopefully] celebratory drink on summiting! We were a bit torn on the type of beer, but decided on Blue Moon. For about a good 10-15 minutes, I debated on last minute supplies of what to cache versus what to carry in my pack for the journey. The items I ultimately decided to leave behind: a t-shirt, goldfish crackers, couple gatorades, chocolate covered pretzels, backup pair of insoles. I stored them up in a tote bag in a tree near trailhead, saying to myself… “wow, I bet squirrels and birds are gonna be all over that bag between now and when we get back to trailhead on Friday!” Shortly afterwards, Tony and I began our long journey. I’m thinking to myself at this point… “wow, I got 40 miles of hiking and several days to go!”
Our goal - summit the behemoth that is Gannett Peak (and get back safely, of course). What normally gets me through so much hiking? MUSIC! So, after beginning the hike, I put my iPod and headphones on… and I was on my way. But... about 3 minutes into it, my iPod goes completely blank and craps the bed! (probably from moisture accumulated after King’s Peak hike), and is now totally useless.
I’m thinking to myself “what !@#$ing luck! What am I going to do without my normal music?!”
For a few minutes I tried restoring it, but to no avail haha. I then realized this iPod was completely dead weight, and no sense in carrying it an extra 5 days, so I cached that on a tree stump… then realized I was going to have to hike without my usual music. But anyway… onward…
The first 3.5+ miles of the climb were all uphill, in and out of tree-line… towards the top of Scenic Pass. This was a bit tiring off the bat, though we took a couple rest stops on the way, and enjoyed the great scenery that was around us… all absolute wilderness, with not another soul in sight. At 11,450 feet, we reached the top of Scenic Pass, marked by a very large cairn, and got our very first view of Gannett’s snow-covered summit.
I said to Tony and towards Gannett… “I’m back!” At the top of the pass, Tony and I took a short snack and water break, and then saw a helicopter heading towards Gannett. Usually, a helicopter is not a good sign when it’s around the mountain… as it usually means a rescue (someone got hurt/fell off the mountain). But then again, could just be a tour… but regardless, we hoped for the best, and then proceeded down the pass.
The next 4.5+ miles were a gradual downhill. We passed a couple streams to fill water, and hit tree-line again shortly after. About another mile or so in, at about 10,800 feet, we came across Pat, John and Sam, who were already camped out at the beginning of Ink Wells Lake, which is at about mile 6 into the day. Tony and I stopped for about a half hour to chat with them. It was at about 2PM at this time in the day, so still a lot of daylight left. Their plans for the rest of the day were to fish at Ink Wells Lake, and just relax.
Our plan was to continue about another few miles or so, and camp somewhere between Ink Wells lake and the Glacier Trail junction/outfitters camp (where the Ink Wells trail and Glacier trail intersect). After another hour half or so, 2 miles later, we found a great spot near Echo Lake. It was a niche area right off the trail, where hikers had surely camped before, as there was a spot for a fire pit, stumps for place(s) to sit, and a great spot in the tree for caching supplies (protection against bears!) Tony was adamant on fishing while we were out here enjoying the Wind River wilderness, because why not?! It beats eating freeze dried meals and protein bars for dinner :-D After setting up, Tony and I each had a task. My task – fill up water and purify. Tony’s task (much cooler and more trickier) – catch some fish.
Shortly afterwards, Tony comes back with 3 trout!!! One of which was so big, and looked to be ‘old’, as it had black markings over it, signs of old age in fish… we called this the grandfather of the trout clan. So now we were both pumped… we were gonna eat [real] food for dinner! We started a fire in the pit and found a flat rock for which we would cook the fish on. After fileting, seasoning, cooking, we enjoyed some delicious trout (it was honestly really good!) As Tony quoted, “Short of summiting, my trip is made. I went fishing out here! I didn’t get to do this last time.”
So, not all trips go completely smoothly/without mishaps. This was the day of a certain setback on Gannett Peak, which added on unnecessary extra hiking and time. So, here's what happened…
The day began with us breaking camp and caching some extra items/shed some weight which we wouldn’t need between now and when we would return to this same spot. As we were doing this, Pat, John and Sam hiked past us. At about 9AM, Tony and I were ready to roll. After a couple miles of heading down some steep downhill switchbacks, we made it to one of the most notables stops on the approach… the outfitters camp, led by a man named Dustin Stetter, his family and some horses and mules. These people were very hospitable. Upon meeting them, they offered us a cup of coffee, and we chatted for about an hour. Tony was very interested in hiring them for a future hunting trip with his girlfriend. We had also asked them about the helicopter we saw the prior day… Dustin had indicated that there was indeed a rescue mission, as someone had supposedly gotten hurt on the summit attempt. While chatting with the outfitters, a group of 3 hikers, about in their 20s, passed through the outfitters camp (more to come on these guys… they actually play a very prominent role on this day!
Anyway, after leaving the outfitters, briefly afterwards we saw the Ink Wells/Glacier trail junction (very easy to notice). Then, after about a mile or so, we hit the first of 2 treacherous creek crossings of the day… Klondike Creek. I read some beta on this crossing from a trip report this year, which indicated that there is now a log bridge to cross. Without the log bridge, we would have to wade through 100 yards of semi-raging water up to our knees. Anyway… we climbed a short steep part up a hill, and found the bridge. Tony crossed it with ease, but I was admittedly a bit overly cautious. I had a unique way of crossing this to ensure extra stability and balance… used my 2 trekking poles as pincers and moved 1 foot at a time then 1 pole at a time.
After this, Tony, the expert mountaineer had his first piece of advice for me while we snacked and hydrated… “what would really help you is to take week long hikes at a time… this would improve the muscle memory in your feet, and you would be able to cross dicey sections like this with ease.” I thanked him for the input, and we were on our way.
So, the next part is where the ‘mishap’ happened… after about an hour and a half or so of trekking across the trail, we got slightly off trail to rest, had another snack, when I realized something VERY unfortunate when I turned my bag over… MY SLEEPING PAD FELL OFF! I had this attached via a caribiner, and tightened in with the straps on my pack, but one of the straps had detached, and then the sleeping pad somehow wiggled itself off somewhere behind us on trail. At this point, there was a brief discussion between Tony and I… but resulted in 1 conclusion “gonna need a pad!” Especially given that tonight would be the night before attempting to summit Gannett, I’ll have to sleep as good as possible. Then we decided there was only 1 thing to do… trek backwards until I [hopefully] found it. If I didn’t find it, would simply head all the way back to outfitters camp and borrow a pad from them. I took my day pack out, took some food and 1 nalgene of water, and cached the entire rest of my pack. So then, Tony and I parted ways for a bit.
And, here’s where my back trekking begins… in frantic hope to find my sleeping pad! Given that I had such minimal weight on me with the day pack, I was able to hike at an absolute blistering pace. While hiking through the woods, solo, constantly scanning left and right on the ground for my pad, thinking myself whilst worrying “What I don’t find it?!?” I had to cross the log bridge again, then down the steep part of the hill, just flying through the woods of Glacier Trail. I did encounter a separate group of 4 hikers, a family, and asked them if they had seen the sleeping pad. Unfortunately they had not :-(, so I continued on my way. Still searching, no luck… and more unfortunate, I ended up hitting the outfitters camp without finding my sleeping pad… at this point thinking myself “maybe it fell in the river??” The outfitters and family were obviously surprised to see me coming back, and then I quickly explained the story to them… and then pleaded with them to loan me a sleeping pad, which I would then return on my hike back 2 days from now. So, next there is good and bad…
The Good: Dustin’s daughter found an extra sleeping pad that she was able to lend to me.
The Bad: For whatever reason, this pad was heavy! Weighed at least 5-7 lb… so I would have an extra 5-7 lb to my pack between now and when I returned to this spot on my return.
But anyway, I was super grateful and thanked them for the pad, and then proceeded to do all the hiking I just did.
At this point after leaving the outfitters again, then thinking to myself a bunch of things… “what’s Tony up to now?”; “where is my [original] pad?”; “hope I get there ASAP.” Anyway, I crossed the log bridge again, found my original pack about a mile or so after, had a snack again upon finding it again, hydrated, and proceeded. Shortly afterwards, I encountered the 2nd treacherous creek crossing… Gannett Creek. I remembered this from last year… loud raging rapids, where if one were to fall in the water, it would be ugly, to say the least. Anyway… maneuvered through the creek crossing(s) with some navigating across the rocks as steps. I was now about 1-1.5 miles away from the moraine/tarns camp at about 12,000 or so feet, which is where we would be camping tonight. For those of you don’t know… the moraine is basically the rocky section where a glacier will begin. It’s basically as high/far as you can go on attempting to summit Gannett before summit day. It was about 530PM now where I kept thinking to myself “where is Tony?!” Also… Pat, John, Sam?! Anyway, just kept following the trail, until I hit tarns camp and the moraine. I saw a high rocky section off the trail, with a couple people in the distance… “wooo, Tony and the others!”I thought to myself. I waved one of my trekking poles in the air at them, and caught up to them shortly after.
So, with the outfitters’ sleeping pad on my back… trekked up to the rocky section where they were, with Gannett’s summit well in view from here. Before Tony and the others spoke, I proceeded to tell my story… showed them the pad, told them how I never found it, and was bummed out and all, but here’s where it gets [a lot] more interesting, and what would be known as one of the interesting side stories of the trip…
Tony: “remember those 3 hikers we met at the outfitters camp?”
Tony: [starts to laugh] “here’s your pad.”
Me: [astonished look on my face] “how?!”
Tony: [tells me the crazy story]… “remember when we took our break after crossing Klondike creek? They had somehow passed us cause we were off trail, had your pad on them. When you turned back, I caught up to them, and they asked me if this was yours. It fell off right at the steep part before the log bridge.”
Me: [still shocked] “well that’s great news! Now I got 2 pads to sleep on.”
So, now that me and Tony were reunited, I then wanted to talk about where to camp with him. Pat, John and Sam were all set up in a flat part of the rocky region, but I looking around, and realized it was slim-pickens everywhere else... Then Tony said… “I think we’ll have to cowboy camp tonight”. Cowboy camping is basically sleeping under the stars… sure, I have a sleeping pad (2!!) and sleeping bag, but no tent to protect us in case it rains or… whoever else knows?! I remembered the forecast… no rain the entire 5 days, and realized ‘first time for everything’, so I reluctantly agreed. Then again... sleeping under the stars is pretty cool...
It was about 7PM at this point. The sun was starting to go down, and soon, my view of Gannett’s summit would be gone until summit day. After agreeing to cowboy camp, I went to a glacial stream nearby and filled my nalgenes with ice cold, pure-as-can-be water. After that, I put my nalgenes down near my sleeping bag, and assembled my day-pack for next day’s eventful summit day.
Afterwards, I walked down towards the glacial streaming waters rushing from Gannett Glacier, and glared at Gannett’s summit while the sun was going down…
Alone in my thoughts, I said to myself “God, I hope I’m up there tomorrow!”
I then reminisced of being in this same place last year, and the memory of how nearly missing the summit has haunted me since. I knew that if I summited tomorrow I would be so.fn.happy.
I then went back up to my ‘camp’ as nightfall hit, and the view of Gannett had drifted out of sight. Then, as it became completely dark, the stars came out. And wow, what a starry night it was.
And, what happened next would go down as one of my favorite events of the trip, and what I saw as an ‘omen’… While falling asleep under the stars, thinking about summit day, I saw 2 shooting stars! A shooting star normally denotes a good omen to come, so this was comforting.
Overall, it was very peaceful, and a great prelude to what would come the very next day…
At 345AM, our alarms on our cell phones woke us up, and I immediately thought to myself: “this is it…” When I woke up and gazed in the distance towards the peak, I saw 3 headlights in the short distance away from us… Pat, John and Sam (the other group) had already started their summit bid.
I wasted no time, had a CLIF energy bar, a drink of Nuun-infused electrolyte water… double-checked my day pack to make sure I didn’t forget anything essential… all mountaineering gear was accounted for: ice axe, crampons, harness, carabiners, rope, etc. I left 1 of my 2 1 Liter Nalgenes behind, but also took my 0.5 Liter Nalgene, that was designated for electrolytes (Nuun). On the approach we both took trekking poles, but decided to leave 1 behind and take 1 pole with us for summit day, along with our ice axe(s). Then, at about 5AM, with my daypack on, ice axe in right land, trekking pole in left hand with the 50 feet rope coiled around my shoulder, Tony and I began our summit day of Gannett.
Upon leaving camp, trekking through the first half mile in the darkness consisted of a combination of stepping stones across the glacial stream, minor scrambling, snow and boulder hopping. At about 545AM or so, the light from the sunrise started to show and casted the alpenglow on the surrounding mountain peaks, and we were able to see without the assistance of a headlamp. Then, gazing up, we saw nothing but a mix of hardened snow and rock. We saw the 3 headlights of Pat, John and Sam way in the distance, higher up on the mountain, seemingly zig-zagging left and right across steep section(s). The elevation grade started to get steeper and steeper… and I was thinking to myself it’s about to get tougher physically. I also thoug,ht back to days of Crossfit… as I remembered a quote from a Crossfit coach, Ryan: “when it gets tough, tell your body to shut the f@#$ up and go.” That mindset really put me in the zone for what was ahead...
Continuing up across the snow covered bouldered fields, I gazed up to the left and saw Bonney Pass. Bonney Pass is the route that other Gannett Peak climbers will attempt if they are coming in from the West (from Pinedale, Wyoming). However, we came in from the East (Dubois, Wyoming). No sign of anyone coming down the pass… looks to just be me, Tony, Pat, John and Sam as the attempters today.
Continuing up… what really helped us navigate up the hardened snow was following footsteps from the previous climbers. Since this was mid-August, the route was well-distinguished. However, after about a mile or so of climbing the roughly 30-35 degree grade mix of rock and snow, we came to a ‘fork’ in the route. There was a massive towering monolith on the approach up the mountain, but it wasn’t clear from the footprints to go left or right around it, even though Gannett’s summit was to the far right. Initially, our intuition told us to go left of it. After about 20 minutes or so, it became very clear this wasn’t the way the others had proceeded before. What was ahead was oh-so-steep, and seemed like a major rock and ice fall hazard. This ate up about 35-40 minutes of our time, but luckily… this would go down as the only major setback of summit day…
We modified our route, went back to where we were before, and then went up towards the right of the monolith, before some more boulder hopping/scrambling.
We were about 1.5 miles into the summit day, and at roughly 12,000 feet (a little over 1 mile to go til we’re at summit, but a lot more elevation to gain, when we found another interesting landmark.. an abandoned basecamp from a previous climber! This was quite the surprise for us, as we thought this was way too high up and dangerous of a spot for someone to camp for a night, but anyway… Tony and I stopped at this spot for a quick snack and hydrate.
I then proceeded, while looking up at the steep, highly exposed snowfield, with nothing but glacier and boulders below. I remembered that last year we were already roped up at this point, but there was a lot more snow than rock last year than this year. But anyway… with my crampons on, with my trekking pole on the ‘downhill’ side with my ice axe on the ‘uphill’ side, holding it in a self-arrest position, I proceeded to follow the footprints. On this snowfield, I alternated crampon footing technique(s), while ensuring my pole and axe were firmly in snow upon each stop.
I realized the exposure was getting more real the higher I got, and I admit nerves were starting to build up a bit, then told myself once again “shut the f!@#$ up and go!
The path of the footprints zig-zagged up the snowfield of the mountain, and I just continued my routine… crampons, 10 points, then pole+axe, all firmly in the snow, proceed. Eventually, I hit rock again, and next up was a notable landmark… Gooseneck Glacier. I had a quick snack and hydrated while waiting for Tony to catch up.
It was at about 830AM or so… under 1 mile to go, at about 12,500 feet. But, here’s where sh*t gets real…
While waiting for Tony, I refilled my water via snowmelt. This was one aspect I wish I had done differently last year, as I remembered in last year’s ascent I hadn’t fully utilized snowmelt to conserve as much water as possible, and dehydration had started to linger.
The 3 most technically challenging parts of climbing Gannett are next: (1) Gooseneck Glacier, (2) The bergschrund (where the glacier separates from the mountain); (3) Crux of the glacier (by far the most steep and exposed section of the climb).
Once Tony caught up, we then climbed the glacier, which was at about a 45-50 degree grade. I used a combo of French technique and front pointing with my crampons (along with ensuring solid ice axe planting), to climb this. This was much steeper then last year, as there was much less snow on the mountain this time around. I could see the bergschrund coming up… that scary looking crack in the snow, which was the opening to an abyss (and death if one were to somehow fall into it).
Once at the beginning of the bergschrund we had what would be our last ‘long snack/hydration break’. I planted my axe firmly, as well as my pole, sat on the snow, right near the mountain interface, and gazed into the distance… thinking to myself “I’m here again… no turning back now!”
We both stashed our single trekking poles at this spot, and roped up (thinking to myself “we’re finally going to use the rope that we had carried 20+ miles in so far!”).
At the bergschrund, there is a narrow snow bridge one must cross in order to pass (this is what other successful Gannett climbers will do). It is sketchy, though. Tony lead-climbed, and I followed on up.
‘Man… we’re getting close!’
After getting over the snow bridge, we were over the bergschrund! However… immediately after the bergschrund is the oh-so-steep crux of the glacier. A 70+ degree grade, whose exposure/risk of fall was the bergschrund itself (and thus, an abyss). Tony suggested: “use what crampon technique feels best for you. Note that front-pointing takes the most energy.” I always felt most comfortable front-pointing on steep grades with crampons, and remembered using that technique last year, so despite it being rather tiring, I continued with that. While we were crossing up the crux, we saw Pat, John and Sam coming on the way down… they successfully summited! Anyway, while roped up, we made it to the very top of the crux! We were above 13,000 feet (13,804 is summit). All that’s left between us and victory is crossing the ridge. I’m still not at the point where I turned back yet, though I said to Tony…
Me: “Glacier uphill, done. Think we got it?”
Tony: “Hell yes. We got this.”
I was in a mindset of not wanting to ‘jinx’ anything. I felt confident I was going to summit last year when I was at this point, only to have to turn around on a point coming up on the ridge. I also noticed looking up at the ridge towards the summit… not as much as snow as last year… mostly rock. Then, per Tony’s suggestion, we made 2 interesting decisions… (1) take crampons off for the climb up the ridge, and (2) unrope.
I was admittedly a bit nervous with these 2 decisions, but Tony’s an expert… I trust his judgment. Then, it was mostly scrambling, until we got to the point where I had turned around last year with the rope team (at a hanging snowfield)… except this time, it was mostly rock! There was some snow, but not enough to require crampons to cross. The summit is getting closer and closer… I can see it’s staunch rock formation. It was steep, and there was definite exposure, but my knack to feeling comfortable was to ‘stay high’ on the ridge. When there was snow, there was mostly rock to latch onto, while you’re trekking along. And of course, follow the footprints in the snow. But still… very steep grade, high exposure and drop-offs on both sides.
Once again:“shut the !@#$ and go!”
Summit is getting closer… I’m already past the point I turned around at last year. And, even still don’t wanna ‘jinx’ it by saying I’m definitely summiting haha. But, the distance between me and the summit is getting lesser and lesser by each step on the ridge. I feel good now… I’m going to make it! Tony and I made 1 last hydration break on the ridge for a quick drink before our absolute final summit push.
Tony then said: “You lead. This is your summit!”
I proceeded, closer towards the summit rock... As I made my last push, I started to get teary-eyed.
“I’m gonna !@#$ing do this!”
Steps turned from snow to rock, as I was at the rock formation of Gannett's summit, and then ran the short distance to what appeared to be the top. For a split second, I wasn’t sure if I was there… I looked and looked, and realized... nowhere else to ‘go up’, and then I saw the summit register… It was 11:35AM, and at 13,804 feet...
I then screamed WOOOOO!!! as loud as I could... less oxygen than I’m used to, was out of breath, and started to get teary-eyed as Tony came up behind me to summit too. After a couple short tears of joy, we gave each other a ‘bro-hug’, congratulating one another on getting it done, and I thanked him for helping me get up here. I was absolutely ecstatic… words can’t describe how happy I was at that moment.
One thing I must I do at every summit: take a picture! So, that was the first things I did… on the summit, there are a few roughly 5 foot boulders… the tallest of the 3 is what is the official true summit. So, I made sure I stood on top of that, and that’s where I took my picture (below). Then, I took the picture of Tony on the same spot. It’s too bad there was nobody else at the summit to take a picture of the both of us, but this worked…
After getting my picture and a rock, I then signed the summit register - this was my 36th state highpoint completed. 14 to go!
Then, the rest of the time at the summit was simply admiring the stunning views, and soaking up the happiness of glory. The views from the top… panoramic views showed nothing but wilderness… glaciers, forest, rock… not a single soul or sign of civilization in sight. It was beautiful. What made it more beautiful was knowing how hard it is to get to this spot.
At about noon, we said farewell to Gannett's summit and headed back down…
I remember crossing a certain steep, exposed part in the ridge where Tony said: “Don’t fall here. This isn’t a rescue zone. It’s a recovery zone!” In other words, a misstep, and you die. But anyway, we simply down-climbed the ridge, between snow and rock, until we hit the top of the crux (which would then be followed by the bergschrund again, and Gooseneck Glacier). But not before taking another picture… once again, ecstatic that we just summited Gannett!
But anyway… Crampons on again! Rope up again!
Descending the Gooseneck pinnacle is much scarier than ascending it… I remembered this from last year… so.fn.steep and scary. We zig-zagged down the approximately 70-degree slope downward, while the previously hardened snow was now getting slushier with each passing minute into the day. Every step and ice axe planting was important… I made sure every was done with confidence. Anyway, we made it about halfway down the pinnacle, where we got off to a rocky section. The plan from here was Tony, being the expert mountaineer to belay me down the rest of the pinnacle and across the bergschrund. We had about 50 feet of rope to work with, which was [hopefully] enough from the spot we were at the rocks to get safely across the bergschrund. So, we both harnessed into the rope, and then I began descending the rest of the pinnacle. As mentioned earlier, I always felt most comfortable front-pointing with crampons, despite it being tiring, so I continued with that.
I made it to the bergschrund… almost there!... When I heard Tony yell: “I got about 6 feet of rope left.” My feet were right at the beginning of the crack of the bergschrund when he said that… and I’m thinking to myself “OH BOY…” I had about 10 more feet to go til I was across the bergschrund at this point. I then proceeded down a bit further on the snow bridge, when Tony yelled “I’m out of rope! Can you make it?” There wasn’t much further to go, but it was at the scariest part… I was right at the abyss… could literally see the side of the mountain through the crack in the glacier. But, I realized this was all mental. I only had about 5-6 feet left until I was out of the danger zone. So, I told my body “SHUT THE !@#$ UP!” and then descended the snow bridge and off to safety… admiring the views while waiting for Tony to successfully descend.
We then got our trekking poles back from the spot we stashed them, unroped/took our harnesses off, and then proceeded down. The rest of the down-climb was rather uneventful until we got to camp… nothing too scary, just a down-climbing mix of snow and rock while occasional stops to snack and hydrate.
It was about 430-5PM when we reached our cowboy camps. Everything was as we left it, except for 1 thing… I looked at the other trekking pole I left behind at camp, and noticed it had small bite marks all over the handle… a marmot! A marmot is a large rodent that lives at high altitudes, and has grown an unheralded reputation for scavenging off camps from hikers. But, nbd… just a couple bite marks.
We broke camp, packed up, and then proceeded across the Tarns. Our plan was to travel as far as we could until nightfall (Outfitters camp, maybe?) So, we begin trekking across the moraine. We made it about 0.5 miles when we came across a ‘rogue’ camp. This camp was here the day before, was in the same exact condition it was before, with absolutely nobody in sight. We hadn’t seen any other climbers other than Pat, John and Sam on our summit day, so we knew something wasn’t right.
It then occurred to us, and we said to each… “this is the camp of the party that was rescued.” The camp was very elaborately set. They had chairs, plenty of food, a tent with multiple sleeping pads, even phone chargers! We then sat at this camp for a while and ate dinner, conferring what to do. Ultimately, we decided to leave a note, indicating that this camp was likely the camp of a rescued party, and for anyone who had encountered it to be respectful. We then decided to stay at this camp for the night, as we were both exhausted from summiting, and plus since there was already a camp set, we wouldn’t have to build ours and then break it again in the morning.
About an hour or so later, at 7PM, a group of 4 college-age hikers passed us by, who were attempting to summit the next day. Tony and I then gave them plenty of beta on the route, as well as suggestions on where to camp between the spot we were at and what was left ahead. Since there were 4 of them, they couldn’t cowboy camp, as there was very limited space on the very rocky terrain on the moraine. However, across the rushing glacial waters, there was plenty of grassy terrain, however, getting there involved crossing the stream as well as up and down a boulder scramble. However, all 4 were able to successfully make it across. I wondered if this group was successful the next day, but I never found out.
Anyway, it was about 9PM when Tony and I decided to call it a night.
Next day begins, and all good thoughts…
We got the stress out of the way of hoping to summit. We were successful. We are out of danger zones. It is physically easier going forward (downhill than uphill) All we gotta do… grind out the trek back to trailhead We can trek with leisure
We are both very happy. I am thrilled… the burden on my shoulder of not summiting Gannett… no more!
We had breakfast and coffee at 830AM, left the rogue camp the way it was, and then were on our way.
My pack was really heavy at this point, as I still had that heavy 5 lb sleeping pad from the Outfitters Camp that I couldn’t wait to drop off to them.
Hiking back across the tarns camp was pretty straightforward – simply follow the glacier trail through the gradual decline. We hit Gannett Creek again… one of my least favorite parts of the trip. Rushing waters that can be scary, and you gotta ‘step stones’ to get across. Tony breezed through this part, but I was more antsy. But regardless, no issues there. Another 1.5 miles, hit the other major creek crossing – Klondike Creek, where we had to climb up the short steep section, trek across the log bridge, and then descend a steep section (it was around here where I had lost my original sleeping pad). Along the way I came to that infamous spot where I took a picture gazing at Gannett… except this time, raised my pole up in victory!
Around 1030AM, we made it back to the Outfitters Camp. (I was so relieved to be here… finally get to shed this heavy sleeping pad!) We encountered Dustin the outfitter again, and one of the first things he said to us: “you guys missed out on some fried chicken last night!” I’m thinking to myself at that point… “aww man… fried chicken sounds soooooo good right now!” In fact, any kind of ‘real’ food sounded so good… eating nothing but dehydrated meals, protein bars and trail mix for nearly a week gets old realll quick. Regardless, Tony and I hung out and chatted with Dustin and his family over a cup of coffee… I gave him the sleeping pad back as well as $20 as a token of gratitude. After about an hour, we said our farewells to the outfitters, thanked them for their hospitality again, and were on our way.
Another 1.5 miles later, at around 1230PM, we encountered our camp spot from the first night, right near Echo lake, where we had cached our remaining items. It was still hanging from the tree; a bear did not get to it! We stopped here for a bit to eat lunch and hydrate; even though I was starting to endure 2 specific ailments… 1. My feet were starting to blister up from all the miles of hiking; 2. I was starting to get heartburn (from being at such high altitude for an extended period of time). Put moleskin on the blisters, and ate some baking soda to alleviate the heartburn, then we set our packs and resumed hiking.
About another couple miles or so later, we were out of treeline… looking up towards the top of scenic pass, we knew that the uphill climbing was soon coming to an end. After another 3 miles of gradual uphill trekking, while occasionally looking back at Gannett Peak with a smile on my face, I was feeling good. I was still ecstatic about successfully summiting, and thinking to myself… “I !@#$ING DID IT!”
Soon enough we saw the large cairn marking the top of scenic pass at 11,450 feet, realizing that was it… no more uphill climbing on this Gannett Peak expedition! We had about 3.5 miles left of downhill until we were back to trailhead. We were low on water at this point, and looked for a water source, when we realized a great source for it… melting ice from the glacial formation at the top of the pass. This was as pure as it gets, so no need to filter. About 0.25 miles, the sun was starting to set, so we decided to call it a night. We would hike the remaining 3.25 miles down in the early morning.
While preparing camp and dinner, I looked in the distance towards the wooded area beginning of the Shoshone wilderness when I saw a faint white figure pacing across a grassy area.
Me: Tony, check it out!
Tony: What is that?
Me: Must be a coyote.
2 minutes later… the white figure vanished into the trees, and then we heard howls for the next 5 minutes as dusk had set. This was definitely a coyote calling the rest of its pack!
However, spotting the coyote(s) did not deter us, as they were very far from where we were camping.
We finished dinner – my final dehydrated meal was beef stroganoff, which I had cached near Echo Lake on night 1. Then, went into camp and fell asleep around 9PM.
At 530AM, I woke up, and thought to myself: “another few hours I’ll be back in contact with civilization again. I wonder what’s new in the world outside Gannett Peak?”
I stepped outside my tent, glanced out into the Shoshone wilderness, and saw the sun rising. Aside from the summit, this was my favorite view in the whole trip. Also, while watching the sun rise, I started thinking about the remainder of my trip…“Should I climb Borah Peak [Idaho] too?” My feet were hurting from the blisters forming and heartburn was still an issue for me, but was still planning on it.
At about 730AM, we broke camp and then began the final hike down. We didn’t have much of a breakfast… as we would eat while on the way down... a CLIF energy bar, what else is new!
We followed the cairns back towards treeline, and then the marked trail, getting closer to trailhead.
Soon enough, I arrived at the stump where I cached my [now malfunctioning, dead weight] iPod… and it was missing! Someone either must have taken it on the way in to Gannett and wanted to revive it, or found it on the way out, and didn’t want to leave it as an environmental hazard.
Anyway, it was about 9AM at this point as we got closer to the pickup point, and we started hearing chatter… it was Pat, John and Sam! The 3 of them were sitting on a log, having coffee, breakfast and chatting the trip. We hadn’t seen them since summit day towards the very top of Gannett, but the 3 of them had successfully summited as well.
When Tony and I got to trailhead, I dropped my pack to the ground in glory, congratulated Pat, John and Sam on summiting and getting back safely as well.
Then, I remembered my cache from trailhead from day 1… the tote bag that I stuffed in the tree that I was all-but-certain would be ravaged by squirrels and birds… I found the tree, and… in tact! Much to my pleasant surprise, the goldfish, chocolate covered pretzels, and t-shirt were all OK :-D
Then, Tony and I joined Pat, John and Sam for breakfast and coffee as we discussed everything about Gannett... morale was high, we all summitted! Tony then asked me to join him for our next big highpointing venture next year – Mt. Rainier in Washington. One of the last few ‘hard’ state highpoints I had yet to climb. I said yes, so will be climbing that in 2019.
About 30 minutes after we got there, 2 other hikers arrived at the trailhead as well. I don’t remember their names, but they were successful as well.
Then, at around 10 AM… Taylor arrives in the truck! And, he was a man of his word… brought us all plenty of beer to celebrate with – Blue Moon and another local brewery beer from Wyoming. I was elated – made a congratulatory cheer to Pat, John, Sam and the other 2 hikers on all of us being successful and getting back safely, and we all drank a beer while packing up the truck for our shuttle home. 45 minutes later across the rocky terrain, while further talking more about the trip, everyone was super happy. Then, we arrived at Ramona’s house, and our Gannett Expedition was complete!
The last part of day 5 – Tony and I joined Pat, John and Sam at the Cowboy Café in Dubois, WY for a much-craved lunch. Ohhhh man… I was dying for a nice juicy burger and fries!
This was the best way to celebrate… Gannett, DONE ANDDDD DONE!
First off, a big thanks goes out to Tony for being a tremendous leader on this journey. His veteran-level expertise and knowledge was vital to us being successful.
As I said before, not summiting last year had haunted me badly since. I spent that year between summer of 2017 – summer of 2018 questioning “What If?”, and knew that nothing I'd ever do would make me forget or feel better about it unless I came back and summited. I tell this story and hope others will use it as a proverb towards experiences they will endure in life.
If something bothers you, sitting around and not doing anything about it will always haunt you. And, when you DO something about it, and conquer whatever the task is, the reward is simply that much greater, as that is the pursuit of happiness.
I got my 500 Feet of Revenge.
Also, update: we found out the fate of the party that was rescued (rogue camp)... party of 2, father and son, twisted ankle, was unable to walk, but found out both were fortunately OK.