Gannet Peak

2 Aug 2000 - by Steve Bremner

I've long had my sights set on climbing Gannet Peak, at 13,805 feet the highest point in Wyoming, but never have been able to find an adequate description of the fastest route. One guide book describes coming in from the northeast on the Glacier Trail, but to reach the trailhead requires at least two extra hours of driving, and the trail is longer as well. At fifteen miles, the trail in from Elkhart Park to Titcomb Basin is the fastest route in to proximity of the peak, but the only description I had of the route from there was a vague, "If climbing from Dinwoody Pass you can avoid elevation loss by turning Gooseneck Pinnacle to the south". It didn't say that you had to lose 2,000 feet of elevation anyway!

Though Gannet Peak is the highest point in Wyoming (30 feet higher than Grand Teton) it is not visible from outside the wilderness. You have to pay your dues just to get far enough back there to even have a view of it!

I had planned on allowing four days for the expedition, but after running the Salt Lake City Marathon on Monday, the 24th, and with the race starting at 5 A.M., I decided to just relax the rest of the day and leave on Tuesday from the city instead of that afternoon.

It should have been a four hour drive, but we decided to make a run for supplies to Hill Air Force Base. A mistake. The money we saved was lost in lost time and gas as I made a couple of wrong turns going to the base and trying to get on the road again to the mountain range.

We finally arrived close to the Elkhart Trailhead about an hour before dark on the 25th of July. There is a campground there, but I avoid them when possible, so we just drove down a dirt road a ways and set up the "big tent" complete with deluxe large blowup mattress. When car camping do it in comfort!

The next morning we were not exactly up at the crack of dawn. I was up at about 6 A.M., but I let Laila sleep for nearly two more hours before I told her we had better get going! By the time we had put together our packs and were actually hiking it was 9:40 A.M. So much for an early start.

The parking lot held about 70 cars, but when we checked the register no one had signed up to climb! We found a lot of backpackers, and to our chagrin TOO many horsepackers, ripping up the trail and providing all too easy access to a pristine land to dudes and dudettes. They left a lot of destruction in their wake in the form of muddy trail segments and considerable horse droppings. To see those people loading up their horses with everything to make for a home away from home and not even troubling themselves with a lick of exercise...just going along for the ride...was troubling. Just another example of "multiple (ab)use" of our public lands.

The trail begins climbing through pine forest, but after only about three miles reaches high alpine country at about the 10,000 foot elevation level, where it stays for the next twelve miles. Absolutely gorgeous country with expansive views extending to the continental divide and many alpine lakes. We passed among others, the very large Seneca Lake, then Island Lake (a popular camping site), eventually reaching the first of the two large Titcomb lakes. Finally after nearly eight hours of hiking we found a camp site above the two lakes in Titcomb Basin. It was nestled up next to a large rock with stones piled up as a windbreak on two other sides. At the time we figured it might be prudent to take this cue that it might get windy at times. That night we would be glad we had chosen the ready made shelter!!

After we had cooked up dinner and settled into the tent the wind started to pick up and then the rain started. Then for hours thunder crashed and lightning lit up the night in a hellacious storm. The tent's rainfly flapped like you see in the movies of Mount Everest. We stayed dry though and I became a devoted advocate of the Quest fifth season tent that has done me right for some years now!

I slept through my wrist watch alarm the next morning, awakening naturally at 5:20 A.M. We were getting a later start on the mountain than I had planned on. It was 6:10 A.M. when we finally started up the basin towards Dinwoody Pass. Black clouds threatened from the east above the divide. By 6:30 I saw lightning up on the peaks, then the wind kicked up and it started to rain. We got behind a large rock and just hunkered down to see what the weather was going to do. I thought our climb might be over. Twenty minutes later the rain had ceased, and blue sky to the west was winning the battle with the black clouds from the east. We pushed on.

The day before we had passed an older gentleman, "a guide" for some of those "easterners" using llama pack animals. He told us the "crux" of our climb would be reaching Dinwoody Pass. I didn't believe him. As it turned out the 2,000 feet elevation gain to the pass was an easy snow climb. Crampons and ice ax made the work easy. With the pause for weather and fiddling with Laila's strap-on crampons it had taken us three hours to get to the pass though.

We noted two tents at the pass. I wondered what kind of night THEY had passed. Looking far down to the northeast we saw them, six climbers making their way across the Dinwoody Glacier. At this point I realized we were going to have to lose about 2,000 feet of elevation, then follow them to the right of a monstrous palisade extending down from the ridge. The course they followed led up a thin bridge of white snow in between two dirty patches of old glacial pack. As we crossed the glacier towards the bridge we passed a couple of crevasses. They were not "gaping" and were easy enough to avoid, but they are still crevasses and deserving of respect!

Turning the corner around the rock buttress (palisade) we climbed up mixed rock and ice before going on glacier with more crevasses to skirt. Again they were not the formidable crevasses I'm more familiar with from Washington state's Cascades. Suddenly we heard a terrible crashing sound from just above us. We later learned it was a boulder twice the size of a basketball that had crashed down amidst the six-person party just ahead of us as they ascended the crux of the route, a very steep couloir to the left of Gooseneck Pinnacle.

As the couloir came into view we saw their party was nearly to the top of it. Still, it looked very steep and I briefly considered going around further to the left of a rock buttress and gaining the ridge. A quick look at the topo however showed that this was the only way up. It was only about 400 feet high so we just started up it. This was Laila's first time using crampons, so I showed her how to "frontpoint" and use her ice ax as a climbing tool. We didn't have a rope, but there was really no effective way to "protect" it anyway as it was a straight shot up the snow. I slipped once, but was able to self arrest pretty quickly, so it wasn't all that dangerous. Still, since we'd brought them along this far we donned our helmets. The dogs managed fine, though Sir Vidia was a pain in the @#$ as he stayed too close to Laila.

When we reached the top of the snow gulley one of the first party had decided not to continue to the summit. She had had enough. As it turned out the hard part was over though. We took off the crampons for a short rock scramble to the final easy ridge walk on snow. The slope was easy enough to leave the crampons off. We caught up to the party ahead of us just as they reached the summit. It was after 1 P.M. by that time and I was worried about being caught in weather so we didn't stay long on top.

Sure enough as we started down the couloir the rain and wind came in. Mercifully, it was shortlived, but with a lot of high country to traverse our sense of urgency was heightened. Going down the couloir took an hour and a half as Laila made extra certain she always had three stable points! It had taken us only half an hour to go up. I was proud of her though on this difficult climb.

Then it was across the Dinwoody Glacier again, followed by going up 2,000 feet of snow to Dinwoody Pass. We passed the tents at the pass around 5 P.M. with just a quick word of greeting before we started down to the basin, ultimately reaching our tent around 7:15 P.M. I was so exhausted my single-focused object was to get everything squared away so I could get in the bag, cook dinner in the vestibule, eat, and then "rest my eyes".

The following morning we had a long backpack out ahead of us. Beautiful country, but a long hard trek. The wilderness is more impressive than anything I've seen in Colorado, replete with glaciers and a true alpine setting. If I were to do it again though I would allow more time for the approach to Titcomb Basin.

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