Gannett Peak, 13,804ft
Date climbed: August 21, 2008 7:14am
Eric Gilbertson, Matthew Gilbertson, Darren V
Author: Eric Gilbertson
After climbing the high point in Montana our next target was Gannett Peak, highest mountain in Wyoming. This is probably the most remote mountain in the lower 48 states, requiring a 20-mile one-way hike just to get to the base – not easy considering all the glacier gear you have to haul in. We drove all day from Roscoe MT to Pinedale WY, taking one “short-cut” along a gravel road that turned into a long-cut after a wrong turn in the dark.
Matthew needed to call some grad school professors in the morning, so we drove as close to the trailhead as we could while still getting phone service and camped there in the woods around midnight. We officially started around noon the next day, after all our errands were done.
The trail was surprisingly flat, starting at 9,000 feet and climbing only to 10,500 or so. We covered about 12 miles the first day and camped at the edge of island lake. Now, who could camp at a lake with a name like that and not say they’d swam out to the island? We all three jumped in and swam out to the island, but were surprisingly out of breath from swimming hard at altitude and enduring 33-degree water.
That night I volunteered to bivy outside while Matthew and Darren shared the tent.
Day 2: we hiked a few miles to Titcomb lake, where the trail
ended, and began our climb up to base camp at Bonney Pass. This pass is another reason why Gannett is such a tough mountain to get to: you have to climb up a 12,800ft pass to set up base camp, then drop down to 11,500 onto the glacier before climbing back up to the 13,800ft summit. Summit day of course ends with a final 1300 ft climb back to base camp.
We climbed up the steep, boulder-laden slopes to reach the top of the pass around 2pm. We thought we were in the middle of remote nowhere, but there were actually 6 tents set up there! Apparently some guided group was getting ready to summit the same day we were. We looked all around for a boulder-free spot to camp, and the only available spot had a person’s pack sitting on the corner. We had to camp somewhere, and reasoned that person wasn’t planning to camp there because they weren’t around and hadn’t set up a tent, so we set up ours.
We then proceeded to practice our crevasse rescue techniques with our rope hanging over a boulder. At about 4:30 some climbers started returning from Gannett, and one woman was extremely perturbed that we had set up our tent where we had. She kept ranting about how we should respect her spot, until we asked her if she was planning to camp there tonight. She tried to dodge the question, but it eventually came out that no, she wasn’t. At that point she must have realized her argument had no credibility, and we returned to our crevasse-rescuing practice.
Every party we talked to said it took them around 12-13 hours round trip from bonney pass, and that three parties had to tie their ropes together for a 300-foot rappell down a steep snow gully. Apparently the snow was too slushy at 1:30pm when they came down.
We weren’t sure how in shape these people were, but to be safe we decided to leave well before dawn.
Summit Day: We got up at 3:30am and started our descent to the glacier by 4. There was a full moon and we could have possibly hiked without headlamps if necessary. This was darren’s first time on a
glacier, but he was the most experienced at building climbing anchors, so we put him in the rear with me in the middle and Matthew on crevasse-avoidance duty at the front. From watching the other parties return the previous day we had a good idea of our route. We crossed the glacier down to 11,500 ft, then climbed a scree slope (still roped up) to what we called the smiley-face traverse. (this was a narrow, crescent-shaped band of snow).
At this point it was 5am and still 1.5 hours before sunrise, and we started traversing a steep section of glacier towards an obvious snow gulley. At one point Matthew slipped on the steep ice, but quickly self-arrested. When we got to the base of the gulley we checked the GPS and realized we were headed towards the North Face route, which was a vertical ice-climb. We looked around and found a different gulley that looked more promising and headed there.
By this time the sun was nearly up and we could see footprints going up the gully, basically
transforming it into a staircase. We called all the other climbers a bunch of wimps for being scared of this, and proceeded to climb up unroped but with ice-axes ready (it was still pretty steep if you fell).
At the top the snow melted away to talus and we cramped off for some scrambling. The rest of the route was basically 3rd class scrambling over a knife-edge ridge to the summit. To our left the sometimes vertical, sometimes overhanging cliff dropped about 2000 ft, and to our right was a fairly steep snow slope terminating in a cliff – definitely a no fall zone. We tried
to stay on the rocks and had to venture onto the snow occasionally with ice axes in hand. At 7:15am we reached the summit and had it all to ourselves.
Amazingly Darren pulled off a cell phone call to his parents, but no such luck for me and Matthew. We signed the register and hung out for an hour before we saw the next party below us reaching the snow gulley. We decided we should get down that gulley before the snow warmed up, and it would be wise to not cross paths with the other people on the knife edge, so we headed down around 8:15. By 9am we reached the snow gulley and the snow was still pretty firm.
Darren quickly checked out climbing potential of the nearby gooseneck pinnacle, but decided not to lead it on our little 8mm glacier rope.
We downclimbed the gulley without needing any rappelling and then proceeded to cramp off and boot
ski when the snow got less steep. By 10:30 we had reached the glacier below the smiley-face traverse and saw an interesting snow cliff to our right. We had plenty of time so we built and anchor and lowered Darren down about 50ft to the bottom with two ice axes. We all took turns climbing up and snapping cool pictures.
We finally decided to quite fooling around and climbed
back up to camp at 12:30, making for an 8.5-hour round trip. Subtracting about 2.5 hours of playing around we would have returned in 6 hours, less than half the time of the other parties the day before. That shows how we can’t really trust any other peoples’ speed predictions.
With so much extra time we hung out at camp for a while before glissading back down bonney pass and camping for the night near the titcomb lakes. We hiked out the next day with an extra day left over to mail our bikes and catch our flight home out of Jackson Hole.
More pictures on MITOC Gallery: http://mitoc.mit.edu/gallery/main.php?g2_itemId=126366