| Episode III – The Return of the Hikers
Gannett Peak – The Trilogy
Episode III: The Return of the Hikers
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 III – The Return of the Hikers
Day 6: "Hey, it's my birthday!" "Yup, it is." "Hey, I DID GANNETT PEAK." "Yup, it's true!" I sat up. What a great day – already – and I wasn't even out of the tent yet! "Happy Birthday." Doug handed me a package. It was heavy. I opened it. The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes and Trails by R.J. Secor. "Dude… you packed this in?" "Yeah, I know – and don't worry, I'll pack it out too." "But I can have it back when we get to Dubois?" "Of course." "Wow." "Yup." "How did you know?" "You mentioned it one time…"
I wanted so much to stay in that place, at that beautiful perfect camp beneath the towering peaks, alongside those cold, gushing waters – lie out on the sun-kissed rocks and go to sleep forever. I wanted so much to leave, to get back to town, out of my boots, out from under that pack, into a hot shower, drink gallons of beer and eat pancakes and sleep in a soft, cool bed. It was that uneasy, pulled-apart feeling you get when you've been away for awhile – but not quite long enough. We packed up and yelled our thank yous and good-byes to Bob and Chuck across the creek – they yelled back, even louder.
A couple of hours later, we dropped our packs just short of Wilson Meadows and went in opposite directions to take advantage of the privacy offered by the trees there. Back at our packs, I said, "Doug, there's a naked man in the meadow." "What?" "I think he saw me – so maybe he'll have his clothes back on by the time we get over there." We shouldered our packs and headed down the trail. "Well, good morning sir!" I hollered. The man was about sixty years old, and he was now dressed. 'John' was a talkative fellow, and wanted to know how the peak was – and if we thought he could make it up there without an ice axe. "Well, waddya got?" I asked. "I got a nice walking stick." "No axe? No crampons? No helmet? Going up there by yourself? I'd have to advise against it," I said. "Well, said John, "maybe I'll just see how far I can get up on one of those over there." He nodded toward the vertical rocky precipices that lined the meadow. "I don't know, looks like a lot of rock fall comin' off the top," I said. "Not to mention the cliff faces," added Doug. John frowned. We stayed for about twenty minutes, talking with John – he told us all about the Upper Uintas of Utah, and Kings Peak – another summit, incidentally, on both of our "short lists." "Y'know," I said, "you don't have to climb anything today. Look at this place – you got the whole damn meadow to yourself out here. And all these views. Amazing, isn't it?" "I like you," he said, and smiled. We shook hands all around and parted ways.
Big Meadows was as we had left it, and the bear vault, with all the food we had cached in it, was intact. The wind was starting to pick up now, and we situated the tent to catch a breeze through the screen that night, and to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
Our final night at high camp
The long hike out begins
Day 7: It was gritty. Everything was gritty. The wind had screamed all night and filled the tent with sand. There was a coarse coating of the stuff on everything: my sleeping bag, my Nalgene bottle, my hair. My ears were filled with the stuff. Oh well, at least it wasn't mud, or blood, or bug guts. At least it was different. We decided to forgo filtering water in the sandy, sandy lake, and opted instead to just fill a single liter bottle at each water source, as needed. This worked out fine. We felt good this day, and talked about maybe pushing on, past Double Lake, and seeing how far we could get up to the pass for our final campsite. We saw a horse in the woods, standing there all alone. And we walked – through the deadfall, past the lake, up all those switchbacks. Through the gate, where we'd run into a bunch of outfitters on the way in, five days earlier. Down the trail came another outfitter with half a dozen horses, all loaded up with great boxes of gear; he was headed to Tarns Camp and stopped to ask us about the peak. 'Steve' was surprised to hear that we'd made it up, said that almost everybody that went in the year before – including his own clients – had been turned away. He was happy to hear about all the snow up there. "You folks heading to Double Lake?" It was a rhetorical question – there was nowhere else to head from there, on that trail. "Be careful - I just saw a Grizzly there, about a year and a half old I'd say. It's been a bad year for'em. This is the furthest south I've seen'em in ten years." Whoa (and not horsey). That got our attention.
At Star Lake, just a mile before Double Lake, Doug strapped on his 44 Magnum. The belt and holster were a good idea – he'd lost so much weight he was having trouble keeping his pants up anyway. We decided to get through Double Lake as quickly and quietly as we could and head up to the pass to camp. We never saw the bear, never wanted to see the bear – although secretly maybe we did, from really far away. But we did not.
We passed Phillips Lake and made our camp at the next water source, near a bridge, exactly 1,000 steps short of the top of the pass. I know because I counted my steps the next day.
Last views of Gannett Peak from Floyd Wilson Meadows
Final camp just below Burro Flats
Day 8: One thousand steps and there we were, at the top of Arrow Pass! We crossed the great meadow there, thick with wildflowers of every style and hue. Big fancy petally things, tiny little clustery buds, tall skinny bottle-brushy ones too. Purple, yellow, white, blue, red and pink. But mostly yellow. There was a good breeze up there, and from either side of the trail they nodded their flowery little heads as we passed by, seemed to be waving good-bye. A marmot stood on a rock – yelled at us, told us to get lost. We moved on, and at the end of the meadow, we sat for lunch, our last break before those twenty-eight switchbacks that would take us back down to Bomber Basin, and shortly after, the trailhead.
Our perch, a gentle, grassy slope, faced east, offering us a perfect vantage point of the Old Glacier Trail, the one that many of the outfitters used. We watched a long caravan of horses, loaded up with packs and people, heading south along the ridge. South towards Gannett Peak.
"Hey, Doug – do you remember those kids we saw in the meadow, that first day? Didn't they have daypacks on?" Doug nodded. "And the second group, on the switchbacks to Honeymoon Lake. They had daypacks too." Bob and Chuck had entered through the Inkwells, paid the Native Americans there to let them pass, and carry in their gear. Even the NOLS group – with their extremely aggressive tour de Wind River Range plans, told us they depended on gear drops along the way. "Did we see anyone with big packs?" Doug thought for a minute. "Nope. No, we didn't." "Do people do this?" I asked. "Maybe we're stupid," Doug said with a smile. "No," I decided, "but we have major bragging rights."
Down the switchbacks we went – and then we saw them. Men with packs – big packs. Packs just like ours. There were about eight of them total – the one in front looked fit enough to carry me, Doug, and both our packs, but their energy declined rapidly as you went down the line. The last guy was bent over, red-faced, and breathing hard. I took a shot, thinking that maybe they were a group of highpointers, folks who have made it their goal to summit the highest point of each state in the US. "You guys highpointers?" I asked. They looked around at each other sheepishly, wishing they knew what the strange, dirty woman was asking them. One guy near the back piped up, "Nope, just a bunch of slobs from New Hampshire." We all laughed. I love men – especially New England men. They don't care.
A lively conversation ensued as they asked us question after question about conditions on the trail, at the lakes, the stream crossings, bridges, and of course – the peak. They were delighted to hear that we'd summited without a rope or pro – and Doug was just as delighted to share all his information with them. This felt really good – coming away successful, giving people the good news – yes, maybe they could do it too.
We parted ways, and Doug and I headed down the trail. My pack felt lighter and my feet didn't hurt anymore.
Relaxing in a meadow near Arrow Pass
Crossing East Torrey Creek
Some Panoramic Photos from summit
Looking southeast from summit. Peaks (L to R) Sunbeam Peak, Turret Peak, and Mount Warren with Bonney Pass on right
Looking south at Mount Woodrow Wilson
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):