First attempt on Gannett Peak (1999)
I attempted Gannett Peak in 1999, but didn't make it anywhere near the summit. Looking back now, a few reasons stand out:
- We were not properly acclimatized
- Our packs were too heavy (too much food)
- We got a late start on Day 1 and that threw our whole plan off
- It was ridiculously hot that week
- Too many lakes. (Because of all the factors listed above, each time we came to a lake, we decided to relax for a while, rest, and enjoy the scenery. We spent A LOT of time relaxing.)
Second attempt: Day 1
A few weeks ago, I found out I would be changing jobs and worked out a week off in between. I wasn't able to find a climbing partner on short notice, but I figured with my previous experience with this trip, it would be worth my while to try it solo. I drove from Seattle to Dubois over two days and arrived in Dubois on Saturday night.
I got to the trailhead just before sunset and set up my tent in the parking lot. My original plan for the hike was to leave the tent behind and go with a footprint/fly combo to save weight. After dealing with the mosquitoes for a night at the trailhead, I knew they would only get worse up in the lakes and meadows, so I packed the whole tent, all my gear, and hit the trail at exactly 8:00am Sunday morning.
By 10:00am I was at the bottom of the switchbacks, and by 11:45, I was at the top. The night at the trailhead (7600') obviously helped a little with the acclimatization. After a lunch break at the top of the switchbacks, I started hiking again at 12:30 and reached Arrow Pass at 2:00. I knew the hard part for the day was over. With a full pack and 3300' of elevation gain straight off the bat, the first part of this hike is a grunt.
It took 1:15 to get from the pass to Phillips Lake. I saw a bull moose when I got into the trees! I stopped here to refill my water and continued hiking. Since my last time here, there was a fire, so the surroundings looked quite a bit different that I remembered.
Nearing Philips Lake
My plan was to camp at Phillips or Double Lake the first night, but when I reached Double Lake a little after 4:00, I decided to keep going to Star Lake. It made for a really full day, but I was happy to have covered the miles and made Day 2 that much shorter.
Day 2 started at 7:00am with the downhill hike past Honeymoon Lake. From there, it was onward and upward through meadow after meadow. I got a little lost when I entered Big Meadow. Apparently I followed the horse path to the water and didn't notice where the main trail had gone. The main trail basically skirts the meadow, so I just headed away from the water until I found it.
Nearing Philips Lake
It was a pretty solid day of hiking. I reached Gannett Creek at 2:30 and crossed on a log with no problem. There was a little route-finding to get back to the trail on the other side, but not a big deal. I was thinking I was making good time and would be at high camp early. Just as I was heading up towards tree line, the hail started. Then the lightning. I descended about 100 feet and hunkered down under some trees that kept me relatively dry. This lasted about an hour before I felt safe enough going up.
Got to high camp and set up my tent near the trail's end. It's worth noting that the creek will clog up your water filter after about 1 liter, but if you hike just past the trail's end, there's a reliable creek coming down the mountainside on the right (as you face Gannett) that is clear water. Much better to fill up here.
Day 3 - Summit Day
I woke up at 3:00am with the goal of getting started by 4:00. However, when I looked up at the sky at 3:00, it was thick with clouds, and I could feel a light rain/mist on my face. Given yesterday's thunderstorm, I didn't want to head up in weather like that, so I decided to wait a bit. By 3:30, after I had fully convinced myself that today would not be the day, I looked out the tent again, and there was not a cloud in the sky! Just endless stars. So I quickly got my gear together and got started.
Nearly every trip report I've read talks in detail about the bergschrund, condition of the snow snow bridge, etc. but for me, the real crux of this climb (aside from the long hike in), is navigating the boulder field just beyond the tarns camp. It goes on forever, and if you're getting an alpine start, it means picking your way through it in the dark. It seemed to take forever! Once I reached the bottom of the glacier, I felt very confident that I would make it to the summit, even though I still had many hours ahead of me.
I used crampons for all of about 30 minutes on this climb. Once the sun came up, the snow softened to where I didn't need them. I made my way up the standard route, around Gooseneck Pinnacle. I reached the bergschrund at 8:00am. The snow bridge was intact, so I climbed up it. The 100+ feet above the bergschrund are pretty steep, so I pushed through it pretty quickly. That's easier said than done when you live at sea level and need to haul ass at 12,000 feet. Aside from some heavy breathing, though, it was pretty straightforward.
The higher I got, the slower I went, but I reached the summit around 9:30. A group was just packing up and heading down, so I had the place to myself for almost an hour.
Nearing Philips Lake
Finally, I realized I needed to head down before the snow got any slushier. As soon as the sun comes up, this whole route gets baked, so it was really soft from about 8:00 onward. That made for a slower descent than I had anticipated. Plus, when I got to the boulder field again, it actually took longer to navigate in the light than it had in the dark. Probably because I was pretty tired at this point.
I finally made it back to my tent around 2:30. A good long nap was in order.
Days 4 & 5
Day 4 began with a thunderstorm, and I packed up my tent under falling hail. Fortunately, it was short-lived, and the weather turned sunny for the way out. Having the anticipation of the climb behind me, the hike out was a lot more relaxing. I wouldn't say leisurely, but I did spend a lot more time enjoying the wildflowers and scenery. I made it back to Star Lake for my last night. Although it was about 6:00pm before I reached camp (those damn switchbacks up from Honeymoon Lake!), there was still enough daylight to take a swim before dinner.
The hike out from Star Lake the next day was enjoyable again, although it was getting pretty lonely after 5 days. I talked to a few people on summit day, but other than that, there wasn't a day when I saw more than 2-4 people the whole day.
Oh, and of course a trip report in the Winds wouldn't be complete without a brief discussion of mosquitoes. I'd have to rank them second only to the Boundary Waters in Minnesota (Alaska comes in 3rd). If you're going to do this trip, bring a head net.