| Gannett Peak – The Trilogy: Episode II: The Coloradans Climb Back!
Gannett Peak – The Trilogy
Episode II: The Coloradans Climb Back!
dhatfield and susanjoypaul
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
Episode II – The Coloradans Climb Back
Day 3: The pounding of hooves on the ground outside the tent woke us at the crack of dawn. The horses were back. It was even too early for the mosquitoes, so Doug took advantage of this rare window of opportunity and disappeared from the tent to use "the facilities." He was back in minutes, practically somersaulting into the tent, zipping the mesh door closed behind him. "It's a war out there!" he declared, and sure enough, the bugs were back, clinging to the mesh like blood-thirsty vampires. A half dozen had caught a ride into the tent on his back and we quickly set about clapping them to death in our hands. At some point in this trip I had gotten so filthy that crushing bugs with my bare hands didn't even gross me out anymore, it had become a matter of survival.
I moved slowly. I have never actually been beaten with a tire iron, but I imagine that if I had, I would feel like I did that morning. I typically backpack with a heavy pack at least once a month, year-round, and I tend to recover quickly overnight. For some reason – I don't know if it was the extreme heat, or the constant mental stress caused by my battle with the bugs, or something else – but this hike was destroying me. Wyoming was kicking my ass - and I couldn't even see the peak yet! Over breakfast – peaches, oatmeal, fig newtons and tea – I announced that I was going to cache my bear vault with enough food to get out on our return trip, plus half of my fuel, and all the trash I had collected so far, to lighten up my pack. Doug could do the same – stash half his stuff in my vault, and then we'd just carry in what we needed for the next few days. At night, I'd store my stuff in his vault. We hung my vault high up in a tree, and I noticed a difference in my pack weight immediately. (I've discovered since that caching food in this area may not be legal, so I'm not recommending or condoning what I did here at all).
We set off on the trail, bound for our high camp. The lighter pack was just the beginning of a fresh start on this trip: as we gained altitude, the temperature dropped into the 70s, the mosquitoes began to disappear, and a slight, cool breeze – sent from heaven, if I believed in such a place – brushed our faces. We had no trouble negotiating the many stream crossings, and the cold water that filled my boots was sweeter than a cold beer on a hot porch in July. Eventually, it came into view: Gannett Peak. Our mountain stood there, white and welcoming, majestic and still against the azure skies, silently beckoning us to come on up and meet it; stood there like it had been waiting for us all this time. There's that moment when you see your peak. I don't know how to describe it.
We got as close as we could without camping in snow, just off the trail on a nice grassy spot alongside the roaring, glacial waters of Dinwoody Creek. We dropped our packs, sat down on some wonderfully flat rocks and took off our boots. This was home – at least for the next couple of days. And it was beautiful.
Gannett Peak from our camp
Day 4: This was our rest day. Doug and I scouted out a route through the boulders to the moraine, spoke to a NOLS group that had summited the day before, and picked out our own route along the glacier for the next day's climb. In the late afternoon we crossed the icy waters of the Dinwoody to call on our neighbors, Bob and Chuck, across the creek. The guys had welcomed us to camp the day before, and we knew they would also be climbing Gannett the next day, and that we may all end up together on the peak at some point, so it made sense to get to know them a little better. We found out that this would be Bob's 5th time on Gannett, and that he had made two winter ascents and even skied off it. Chuck had 4 failed attempts under his belt, and was determined to make it up this time. We sat in the grass there for an hour or so, trading lies of mountaineering derring-do – Bob won, hands-down, with his tale of being caught in an avalanche on Denali in 1992, swept into a crevasse, falling through it and onto a ledge, jumaring out, and eventually being carried out in the first short-haul rescue on Denali! I actually found his story on the web, when I got home:
We swapped business cards, as the boys were from South Dakota and had an interesting route they promised to take us up Harney Peak some day, that state's highpoint and a destination that was on both Doug's and my "short lists." Then we rested.
Enjoying the much needed rest day
Trekking through the boulder field between our camp and Tarns Camp
Crossing the icy waters of Dinwoody Creek
Day 5: Up at 3, out of the tent at 4:11 AM. Across the boulders, snow, rocks, moraine. Crampon up and climb the first steep, hard snow slope. The next one was easier, the next even easier. We crossed rocks in our crampons and at some point Bob and Chuck caught up to us. Doug and Chuck traded off breaking trail, with Doug doing 90% of the work overall. Doug is the best lead ever on steep snow – he kicked his way up each slope like a machine, and I followed easily behind. Kick, kick, thwock (plant the axe), kick, kick, thwock, kick, kick, thwock. Traverse to the ridge – extra vigilant here, the exposure is unforgiving – but still an easy walk through deep, abundant snow. Summit. We stayed up there for an hour and fifteen minutes, doing all those things you do on a summit: taking pictures, eating, drinking – urinating off the edge, of course. The enormous register was half-covered in snow, frozen solid in ice beneath a huge boulder. Doug went to town on it with his axe, liberated it – and we all signed it, except for Bob, who was eager to get down a ways and get in some good glissades. He and Chuck did just that – while Doug and I watched from above. We had made a pact that we would not glissade off this peak, no matter how tempting. Twenty five miles from the trailhead, with no cell coverage, we knew that even a twisted ankle could be disastrous. Something worse could be deadly. So we took our time coming down, stopping every now and then to admire the views – knowing in our hearts just how damned lucky we were to be here, and that we might never, ever see all this again. I thought about where that word "breath-taking" must have come from, standing up there – the beauty of those peaks snatched the breath right out of my lungs more than once, and I had to remember to grab it back, suck it in. That was the day. That was the perfect summit day.
Alpenglow on Gannett Peak
Climbing up the first steep snow section
Breaking trail on lower Gooneneck Glacier
Some deep snow encountered along the way
Climbing up Gooneneck Couloir
Traversing over to summit ridge
Starting across the traverse
Along the traverse to summit ridge
Looking up the summit ridge (true summit is the last stand of rocks on right)
Relaxing on summit block.
Views to the south/southwest of Gannett
Looking north from the summit
This has got to be the world's largest summit register
Looking down at most of our route from the summit
Descent from the summit
Back at base of Gooseneck Couloir, another awesome day in the mountains!
Next: the final installment, Episode III – Return of the Hikers!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):