Physically strenuous, yet technically easy, Gannett Peak is well worth the effort. About ten months ago, I committed to this trip and it was a major motivator for all the training and climbing I have done over the past year. Due to the frequency of thunderstorms in the area, I would recommend giving yourself a couple days weather window in order to increase your chances of success. We, however, did not allow ourselves this luxury, but lucked out and had beautiful alpine conditions on our ascent. Brandon Marianne, and I were only able to get five days off of work, and seeing as we had two 15 hour driving days, we had no choice but to do the approach and deproach in one push, and had to pray for good weather on the summit day. Even though it was not the spiciest of climbs, the views in the Wind River Range made this peak one I would repeat. I am already itching to get back into the Winds and climb some other 13ers. Hopefully I can make that happen sometime soon. Gannett, and the Wind River Range in general, come highly recommended.
Approach - July 2, 2016
The approach to Gannett is probably the crux of this trip. I had read that some parties take two days to do the approach making the trip a total of 5 days, and this would make it much easier. It is not difficult terrain to move through, but it is extremely long. The approach is near 30 km on undulating terrain, which would not be that bad, except that we were carrying heavy alpine packs. The scenery, however, makes up for the suffering.
After spending the night trying to sleep upright in the truck at the trailhead, none of us were particularly chipper in the morning. We had just driven 15 hours from Calgary and were pretty disappointed when heavy rain prevented us from setting up a little camp at the trailhead. The truck kept us dry, but it did not keep us warm. Needless to say, we just wanted to get things started as soon as we saw the first light over the horizon.
We hit the trail at 6 am and by this time, the rain had stopped... Thank goodness. Nothing would have been worse than starting our trip with wet heavy gear, especially given the amoun of ground we had to cover that day. Things were drab for the first 8 km or so, but after that we reached Photographer's Point and were treated to a gorgeous view to the north. From there we made our way to Seneca Lake and stopped for lunch after about 16 km.
Up to this point the bugs had been pretty awful. Luckily, we had planned for this and Brandon, Marianne, and myself had all brought head nets. To our surprise, the swarms thinned out as we made our way further into the back country. We were only gaining a few hundred meters of elevation, but it was enough that by the time we reached Island Lake, there were hardly any bugs at all. Some hikers would later tell us that the bugs get to the higher elevations later in the season, so if you are considering this peak and don't like mosquitoes, I would recommend doing it in the early summer.
The weather had been beautiful and sunny all morning on our approach day. It came as a big surprise when, seemingly out of the blue, massive thunderheads welled up. By the time we got to Island Lake, we were being pelted with hailstones and lightning was cracking all around us. Marianne was right when she commented that the hail felt like little paintballs. Luckily, it only lasted 15 minutes before the thunderheads blew over and blue sky came back to greet us once again.
After a few more kilometers of trudging through fresh mud caused by the recent hail, we reached the south end of the Titcomb Basin. By this time, each of us had our own little ailments - sore hips, shoulders, or feet; dehydration; muscle fatigue. I commented that it was just at the end of the lakes where we could set up camp. Unfortunately, the view was foreshortened and he still had about 3.5 km before we would actually get into the upper basin. At 3 pm we finally found a decent tent pad and built our camp. After pumping water and having dinner, we settled into bed at around 8 pm, knowing that our summit day was going to start in just a few hours.
Climb - July 3, 2016
The alarm buzzed at 1:30 am and the first thing we did was stick our heads outside and get a feel for the conditions. It must have been a new moon that night because there was not even a single shred of light. On the other hand, the stars were out like I have never seen them, which indicated we had had a clear cool night. It did not drop below freezing but it was cool enough to give us confidence in the snow. After scarfing down some cold oatmeal, we we on the trail by 2:15. There were five headlights up ahead of us. A group from Spokane had camped higher in the basin and they were already on their way up to Bonney Pass.
We set out after them and right below the beginning of the incline, we ran into two members of the Spokane Group who had turned around halfway up to the pass. This route requires you to gain about 700m of elevation up to Bonney Pass, then lose all the elevation on the other side, only to regain another 1000m to get up Gannett. Of course, the elevation needs to be gained a third time when making your way back to camp. The two fellows from Spokane said they knew they could get up the pass the first time, but were unsure about getting up it on the way back. It is a tough call to throw in the towel after hiking so far to approach a mountain, but all the best mountaineers know when to say no. Brandon and I both mentioned that we had a lot of respect for fellows like that who know and respect their limits. The three other members of the Spokane group had already gained the pass and were descending onto the Dinwoody Glacier.
Unable to see in total darkness, we followed the tracks of the Spokane group up the slope. Little did we know that we were about 150m left of the line we had intended to be on. At some point the Spokane group must have realized this as well because4 the track disappeared. We continued up the same line until we were near the base of the upper cliffs and then had to traverse to the right, across some patches of scree. At one point our crampons had to come off, only to be put back on again. What a waste of time!
Finally we got to the line we had intended, but had to face into the slope (due to the steepness of the slope and hardness of the snow) and lose some elevation first to get around a big rocky outcropping. When we got back onto the proper line, there was a solo climber below us, visible only by his headlamp. We picked our way up to Bonney Pass and reached the top at 5 am. What a grind! That slope is incredibly steep and long.
The sun began to rise as we descended onto the Dinwoody Glacier. We could see the fellows from Spokane roping up on a rock rib down below. We made short work of the descent and elected not to rope up to cross the relatively benign Dinwoody. The snow was firm and there were no obvious signs of crevasses, plus we knew that several solo climbers had gone across the day before in softer snow conditions.
After crossing the glacier, we passed the Spokane climbers as we gained the slopes beneath the south flank of the Gooseneck Pinnacle. We quickly gained the ridge on the east side of the Pinnacle and roped up before getting on the Gooseneck Glacier. The group from Spokane caught up to us as we prepared our rope, but stopped to rest and let us continue on ahead of them. I think they may have been feeling the elevation a bit more than us.
The bergschrund was filled in, which made the crossing very easy (another reason to do it at this time of year), and before long we had boulder hopped up to the snowy summit ridge. After a short but beautiful ridge walk, we arrived at the peak at 8:30 and were afforded fantastic views of the surrounding mountainscape. The Wind River Range is truly spectacular. We were incredibly lucky with conditions, especially since we had given ourselves zero weather window. A clear evening with high clouds developing in the early morning yielded awesome views and kept the snow nice and firm.
Our descent off Gannett was quick and we passed three parties - the group from Spokane resting on the summit ridge, the solo climber as he approach the summit ridge, and another group of two who were hopping boulders on their way to the summit. We had decided just to keep the rope on all the way to the summit and all the way back to Bonney Pass just for efficiency. We did not want to have to coil it up just to pull it out again, and we had climbed together enough at this point to know how to move efficiently together.
Brandon set an awesome mountaineer's pace back up to the top of Bonney Pass - the sort of pace that keeps you moving, but slow enough that I felt like I could go on like that forever. At the top of the pass, we decided to bag Miriam Peak as well since it looked like a walk up. We dropped our gear and headed for the peak.
For the most part, this peak was a walk up, except for the last 12 m or so. There was a sketchy downclimb, then a narrow ridge, followed by some 4th class scrambling to make the summit. A fall in any part of this would have resulted in death. Feeling fatigued, Brandon decided it was not worth it, so I continued to the summit alone. I did not linger there long as there was not much standing space, but I was happy to have nabbed another named summit.
From there we descended back into Titcomb basin and relaxed for a few hours. The wind started to pick up later in the evening and it even destroyed the tent of the party of two that we had seen heading up to the summit earlier that day. We went to bed early - around 6 pm - only to be woken up by a crazy wind and hail storm at 8 pm that had me bracing the tent to make sure it did not fall apart. The wind continued throughout the night but was not as severe.
Deproach - July 4, 2016
We stirred at 5 am and all three of us were convinced the tent was soaking wet and that it was raining outside. I even suggested we go back to bed for a bit to wait it out, but both Brandon and Marianne reminded me that it would just delay the inevitable. I was letting the fatigue get the better of me. I once again made some cold oatmeal and commented that the window of the tent looked dry. Marianne stuck her hand out and felt the fly and sure enough, it was totally dry. For some reason we had all had a communal delusion that we would be packing up a wet camp. We had a good laugh about this, some much needed comic relief before we began the back-breaking 30 km deproach out of the basin.
We were surprisingly quick that morning and had the whole camp packed up by 6. We were on the trail shortly thereafter. We followed the same line out as we had followed in. It is mostly on official trail and is well signed. We kept focusing on making our next landmark (Titcomb-Island-Seneca-Photographer's Point), as it seemed to break up the length and make it more manageable mentally.
After 8 hours of hiking, we reached the parking lot at 2 pm. We loaded up into the truck and started the first leg of the long drive home. The trip was a slog, but it was also gorgeous and unbelievably rewarding. Looking forward to the next sufferfest!