| Gannett Peak - The Trilogy: Intro & Episode I: A Brutal Beginning
Gannett Peak – The Trilogy
dhatfield and susanjoypaul
Introduction: The Goal, the Getaway, the Gear, the Grunt & the Glacier!
Episode I: A Brutal Beginning
Destination: Gannett Peak (13,804')
Trailhead: Trail Lakes Ranch (9,160')
Route: Glacier Trail to Gooseneck Ridge
Vertical Gain: 10,750'
Distance (roundtrip): 50 miles
The Goal: Gannett Peak, at 13,804' the Wyoming State Highpoint
The Getaway: There are several decent motels in Dubois, Wyoming, all within walking distance to restaurants, bars, a hardware store, grocery store and various shops. The northeast approach to Gannett Peak, at Trails Lake Ranch trailhead is just 13 miles away. I pre-booked the Trails End Inn for the night before the hike, as well as the night we planned on coming out, and highly recommend that choice for anyone else using this approach. It was very comforting knowing that, after eight days in the Wyoming wilderness, I would be coming out to just a short drive to a hot shower and cool sheets, and a short walk from there to cold beer, food, and maybe even a postcard or two. The couple that runs the Trails End was happy to allow us to stash our duffels of clean clothes and personal items in their care until our return, so we wouldn't have to leave them in the car, at the trailhead.
To get there from Colorado Springs, take I-25 for 162 miles, then merge onto I-80 West via Exit 8B, towards Laramie. Follow that for 143.7 miles – you may want to stop in Laramie for lunch and to gas up, or wait till you hit Rawlins (Rawlins seemed to have more choices). Get onto I-80 BL W/US-287 N/US-30 BL W via Exit 215 toward WY-789/Rawlins, for 1.1 miles. Turn right onto N Higley Blvd/US-287 Bypass, and follow US-287 Bypass for 1.6 miles. Turn right onto US-287/WY-789, for 42.4 miles. Turn left to stay on US-287/WY-789, and continue for 72.2 miles. Turn right onto US-287/WY-789, and continue on for 40.1 miles. Turn left onto US-26/US-287 and continue for 43.1 miles. Turn left onto West Ramshorn Street in Dubois, WY, 82513. One-way mileage is just over 500 miles. With a one-hour stop for lunch and gas, expect the drive to take about nine hours. Cell coverage is spotty at best for much of this drive.
The Gear: In the weeks leading up to our trip, we had researched various and – in many cases - conflicting reports on snow conditions, weather, and available water sources from a number of web sites, forums, and the ranger at Dubois. So we packed everything – prepared for just about every condition possible - and decided that we would make adjustments in Dubois. Once there, we were told that everyone who took the Glacier Trail so far this year had turned back due to deep snow or impassable stream crossings. The last words of advice we heard on the way to the trailhead came from the innkeeper, whose Gannett-bound guests prior to our arrival had all returned defeated. "Have fun," he hollered at us across the parking lot, "you only get to die once!" On that happy note, we headed up to the trailhead at Lake Trail Ranch, hoping to find some more encouraging news at the register, or from anyone we might encounter coming off the trail. Unfortunately, only one actual summit entry had been closed out in the register log, and only one word was written to describe the conditions: "Brutal!" Things were looking up.
Standing there in the dusty lot, in 96 degree heat, looking up at our dry-as-bone surroundings, I remarked to Doug, "This doesn't make sense." I'm bright that way. I unstrapped my snowshoes from my pack and started pulling out other gear as well. "I don't care how many people told us there was snow at 9,600 – it's just not possible." Doug agreed, but we were still somewhat apprehensive about gear adjustments. After all, we were setting off on a 50-mile hike with very heavy packs, under a tight schedule, and there would be no turning back once we hit the trail. And as eager as we were to shed weight, we couldn't let that desire cloud our judgment in regard to safe and necessary gear selection. We needed to make a decision – the right decision - and commit to it. I made a final trip to the outhouse (which was to be the last time I would have the pleasure of relieving myself without getting my ass chewed – literally – more on those friendly mosquitoes later), hoping I was making the right call, but thoroughly frustrated that I had no way to be sure. Lo and behold – down the trail came two folks walking their horses out. Guides? Horse traders? I didn't know and didn't care – they sure weren't tourists, or day-hikers, and they were sure-footed enough on the trail to give the impression that they'd made the journey many times before. I approached the woman, chatted with her a bit, and asked her about the conditions ahead. There was a lot of snow, she told me, but a freak heat wave had hit the area just before we arrived, and the snow was melting faster than the streams could carry it out. I asked her about the stream crossings and received more good news: they had been an issue but the forest service had just been in there, and had repaired the bridges all the way up to Inkwells Junction. "There's still some snow up there, but it will be gone by the time you get that high. We got the horses through, and if horses can get through, hikers can get through."
The final contents of our packs follow: In addition to the "ten essentials" and the standard camping/cooking gear (for a pretty complete listing, refer to my post on this thread: http://14ers.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=12546 ), we also packed in two bear-proof vaults, containing over ten pounds of food each, or enough to last eight days plus a little extra. Because of the remoteness of the peak, we each brought a stove and water filter, for redundancy. We packed in 32 ounces of fuel, but only used half of it, and we could have easily gone with a 3-season tent, rather than the heavier 4-season tent we had opted to pack, due to unknown conditions at high camp. For the snow climb, we packed crampons, helmets and ice axes, as well as a 30 meter, eight mil dry rope, two snow pickets, harnesses, webbing, and crevasse rescue gear.
We packed in insect repellent, but not nearly enough. With the high temps and abundance of standing water along this trail, we should have planned on about 1 ounce, per person, per day. If I did this trip again I would also bring a mosquito head net. They were much, much worse than either of us had anticipated, and accounted for many hours of pure misery on the hike.
My final pack weight, including 4 liters of water, stood at 55 pounds. Doug's tipped the scales at 75 pounds.
The Grunt (With (drum roll)… …exciting stream crossings! Because hauling over a third of your body-weight 25 miles into the wilderness – and back – in tropical, mosquito-infested conditions just wasn't masochistic enough! ) All distances estimated. We broke the hike in, into three sections to make it more humane. If you are not packing in all your own gear, you can do this in two sections (days).
Section 1: Lake Trail Ranch (7,600') to Double Lake (9,960'), 10 miles. From the trailhead, be sure to go right and get on the *new* Glacier Trail, to avoid fording Torrey Creek, which can be quite dangerous. The *old* Glacier Trail is more direct and ties back into the new one eventually, but was not a safe or viable option, due to the extreme runoff, in our opinions. Follow Forest Trail #801, the Glacier Trail ("Bomber Trail"), and at about half a mile, just past the turnoff toward Whiskey Mountain, cross East Torrey Creek on a bridge. The Forest Service spent some time this year repairing the bridges from this point all the way to Inkwells Junction, so enjoy them while they last. Continue south on a good trail that follows East Torrey Creek all the way to the upper end of Bomber Basin. Just past the turnoff to Bomber Falls, your trail will veer left (southeast). Climb 28 switchbacks up the West Side of Arrow Mountain. Past the top of the switchbacks the trail goes to the right, and you will soon come upon a small creek – and good water source. Follow the Glacier Trail south as it exits the trees near 10,000 feet, crosses an expansive meadow, and rises to Arrow Pass at 10,895 feet, which is marked by a stake in the ground. Here the trail descends, crosses "Burro Flats," cuts through an area of deadfall, and passes along Phillips Lake, at about the 9 mile mark and 2 miles from the pass, at 10,160'. Follow the trail around the left (east) side of Phillips Lake for another mile, down to Double Lake.
Section 2: Double Lake (9,960') to Big Meadows (9,600'), 5.5 miles. Negotiate the crossings on the other side of Double Lake and continue one mile along a good trail to the right (west) side of Star Lake at 10,270'. Do not aim for the left side, that's a game trail that meanders along a steep, bug-filled wood that will take you out of your way and add a mile of unnecessary suffering to your hike. Not that I've actually been over there or anything. Now for more switchback fun! Head downhill toward Honeymoon Lake (9,800') – the trail doesn't actually go to the lake, but rather continues past and then drops below it. Follow Honeymoon Creek to Downs Fork Meadows, where the Glacier Trail splits off to the left (south) and crosses Down Fork Creek on the final bridge. Continue on the trail as it meanders along Downs Fork Meadows, through another burnout area, and finally to Big Meadows.
Section 3: Big Meadows (9,600') to Tarns Camp (10,800'): 7.5 miles. Admire the nice meadows on your left, as the trail tracks Dinwoody Creek and you finally get some altitude – and your first views of Gannett Peak! You should hit the Ink Wells Trail junction within a mile. Follow the trail along Wilson Meadows, and get ready for the creek crossings (photos follow). The major ones are Klondike Creek, Phil Smith Creek, and Gannett Creek. Expect your feet to get soaked at least once, and be sure to pack extra socks. I packed Tevas for around camp, and used them at one of the crossings. They worked well, but it took too much time, I thought, changing shoes, to make it worth the swap. After that I just let my boots, socks and feet get wet. They always dried out overnight. If you're prone to blisters, that may not be a good idea – I am not, and I really enjoyed the cooling effect of the water in that ridiculous heat. Tarns Camp is just on the other side of the boulder field, nestled right up alongside Gannett.
Klondike Creek Crossing
Philsmith Creek Crossing
First half of Gannett Creek Crossing
Second half of Gannett Creek Crossing
First stream crossing after Gannett Creek
Final stream crossing
The Glacier (with route defined)
From Tarns Camp, scramble up the loose talus and scree to the base of Lower Gooseneck Glacier. Kick-step up the steep slope – this was the steepest section for us – and top out at a nice flat area. Be aware of a possible open bergschrund, as well as a number of crevasses, between this section and the upper portion of Gooseneck Glacier. We broke this climb into four distinct, steep slopes, with gentler snow slopes, flats and/or rocky sections between each, for short rests. Once you top out on Gooseneck Glacier, above and to the right of Gooseneck Pinnacle, you'll need to traverse up and right to gain the south ridge on Gannett. This section has extreme exposure. Extreme, extreme exposure. Once you've gained the ridge, you'll be relieved to see that the other side of the ridge is merely shear drop-off. Follow the ridge to the summit and haul yourself up on top of that big pile of rocks. You're there. The register is enormous, and hidden under that boulder you just scrambled past to get up there. The summit itself is huge – lots of room to eat, drink, play, and lose total track of time. But don't – you still have to come down. We did not have thunder storms, but we did notice rock fall as the snow warmed and let loose its grip on the talus 1,000 feet or so above camp. Scary stuff.
Our route up Gannett Peak
The first snow slope
The second snow slope
Looking toward Gooseneck Ridge from top of second snow slope
Looking toward Gooseneck Couloir
Looking up the snow couloir next to Gooseneck Ridge
Top of couloir toward south ridge
South ridge to summit ridge
Episode I – A Brutal Beginning
Day 1: We hit the trail at 9:30 AM, in incredible heat. I got my first mosquito bite about twenty minutes later. We ran into a small NOLS group soon after, that was hiking out to drop off a kid at the trailhead, then would be hiking all the way back to Double Lake that day. We leap-frogged with them up the 28 switchbacks and saw them again at the stream crossing just before the meadow. Crossing the meadow of wildflowers, we ran into a group of three young guys who had actually summitted. They had good news for us on the stream crossings – and we were so happy to hear that they were passable, we forgot to ask them about snow conditions on the peak! We wouldn't run into anyone else that day, for the whole ten miles, and we were very happy to finally make it to Double Lake at about 9 PM that evening. The slow, arduous pace we kept, due to the heavy packs and searing heat, was grueling but manageable, as long as we stopped for short breaks every two hours, to drop our packs and grab a quick snack. As we descended to camp at the lake, the mosquitoes just got thicker, so we set up the tent as quickly as we could, made some Ramen noodles and tea for dinner, did some reading, and passed out.
Day 2: After filtering water, we had breakfast and packed up. Since it was the first time, we didn't realize how much this was going to suck after a few days: setting up camp, tearing down camp, setting up camp, tearing down camp. I love hiking – hate packing. Fortunately, I had a million very friendly mosquitoes to keep me company, and help me stay motivated. This was to be the "easy" day – short and not too much elevation – but for some reason it turned into the most brutal day of the whole trip. Going down the switchbacks toward Honeymoon Lake was actually harder than climbing up the switchbacks to Arrow Pass, the day before, had been. We did run into another group, and more good news: they had summitted, and told us that the bergschrund was completely filled in. That was encouraging, and lifted our spirits enough to keep us moving forward. Once again, as we descended, the mosquitoes closed in. By the time we were crossing Downs Fork Meadow, our arms, legs and faces were coated with sweat, mud, slime, filth, sunscreen, insect repellant, bug legs, bug guts, bug shit, bug blood and big, bright smears of our own blood that had exploded from the bugs we had splattered on ourselves. We passed through an area of deadfall, and Doug was so wiped out he tried to convince me that it was 'the meadow," and that we should seriously consider setting up camp. Right there among all those burned-out ashy towers of ready-to-fall-down tree trunks. He fessed up eventually -- of course this wasn't a meadow, but it was a good fantasy – and fortunately, we reached the real meadow, Big Meadows, soon after. We took off our boots, set up camp immediately, and ran through the sand down to the "beach" to filter water for dinner. The water there was full of sand and ended up clogging my water filter – it was still functional, but took a little more muscle to press the water through. Ramen noodles, tea, reading, sleep. Then a dozen horses stampeded past the tent, and galloped right up to the spot where we had filtered water, to drink. We watched them for a while, through the tent screen, in the dusk, till the coyotes started to howl. Sleep.
Raging Dinwoody Creek
Next: the saga continues, with Episode II – The Coloradans Climb Back!
For Episode III: The Return of the Hikers
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):