Gannett Peak via Titcomb Basin / Bonney Pass on 7/13/04
July 18 2004, 12:41 PM
We had an awesome climb of Gannett Peak from the Titcomb Basin approach. Snow levels are really high this year, making the standard route much easier. We climbed a different route than the standard on the ascent, but used the standard Gooseneck Route on the descent. The schrund and snowbridge isn't even there right now, just a nice mellow snow slope. Trip report and photos are at:
I don't want this to read as an overdramatic cautionary tale, but it seems enough highpointers might be interested in how a climb can go wrong, so i'll tell it like it happened. No pictures are part of this report, but if you are planning to try this route, email me and i might be able to dig a couple pictures out that can give you an idea what to expect. Rex's pictures in the trip reports section are of the same route we did, and are excellent.
On July 7th, i set out to climb Gannett Peak, WY, starting at the Elkhart Park Trailhead near Pinedale, approaching the mountain via Titcomb Basin, and climbing it from Bonney Pass and the Dinwoody and Gooseneck Glaciers. The map i used was from Earthwalk Press. My partners for this climb were Serge Massad, Ray Schwartz, Doug Varga, and Emma Philips. Doug and I have previously climbed on Rainier, Hood, and Borah together. Emma is my girlfriend. Serge and Ray i met for the first time on this hike. Four of us, minus Serge, made our meeting point Salt Lake City, and after a day of fretting over not being able to get in touch with Serge, he did call and we met him in Pinedale.
All information from rangers and outfitters had led us to believe that there was a LOT of snow on the route. We all brought snowshoes, but then after talking with some very adamant people at the outdoor shop in Pinedale, decided that we'd leave the snowshoes behind in the car. So we set out early in the afternoon on the 7th with ice axes, crampons, rope, pickets, 6 days of food, etc. Our packs varied from 40lbs to Ray's gargantuan possibly 70lb. load. As varied as our packs were, our paces were at least as varied. We spread ourselves along the the Pole Creek Trail under mixed skies, meeting in bunches here and there at junctions, trading some heavy items, and getting to know each other while grunting our way along the rolling terrain.
It was clear that the different paces in the end meant that the whole group was moving at a snail's pace, like an amoeba stretching one finger out and then waiting as the rest of the blob oozed itself forward to meet the finger. The scenery is gorgeous...one stunning alpine lake after another. Stunning distant views appeared of the Continental Divide, including Fremont Peak and the pass we'd have to eventually cross to get to Gannett. The snow was around, but mostly off the trail, and when on the trail it was easy to follow the postholes of the parties that had preceded us in previous days. Snowshoes were certainly not necessary. But, the mosquitos were epic. We all had headnets, but that wasn't enough. They were biting me THROUGH my capilene shirt, and whenever we'd stop, we'd bundle up against cold that didn't exist, just for the sake of keeping the mosquitos at bay. (At this very moment i'm scratching a mosquito bite on my earlobe, still there from this trip.) The other main drawback was that we were making very very slow progress.
That first night we made camp above Hobbs Lake. A deer wandered through camp. I'm not sure why, but i couldn't sleep at all. Premonition stress maybe? It seemed to me just from the first day that we were not going to make it to Gannett Peak as a group...the communication wasn't ideal, and the paces and conditioning were so varied. We were a group forged by highpointing...but little else.
The next day was much more of the same. Beauty everywhere. Mosquitos everywhere. The five of us everywhere on the trail, miles apart. Wading through Little Seneca Lake was a minor and even fun obstacle. The snow on the ground got thicker, but was never too much of a pain. (Our route was the standard one...if you have a map follow the obvious most direct trails from Elkhart Pass east and north to Titcomb Lakes, you'll know our route...or email with questions.) In order to make sure no one got lost, we had agreed to meet up at the trail junctions, but more often the person in front just decided to go on anyway. After a long day of hiking and waiting, we made it as far as the southern end of upper Titcomb Lake. It was a little short of our intended base camp, but it was a great spot, and we set our camp for the next 3 nights.
Our third day was set aside as a rest and "practice" day. Emma, though proving herself to be one of the strongest hikers in the group, had never been on glacier before. Ray hadn't either. Doug and I had been a few times, but needed to brush up on our basics. Serge took command as the group leader and under a 2nd straight day of crystal-clear skies, put us through some exercises in basic cramponing, self-arresting, and walking as a rope team. There were several "techniques" he showed us that were at odds with what Doug and i had learned previously, but it was clear he was the most experienced of us, and we gratefully fell in line with his instruction.
By the end of the session, Ray had decided not to try for the summit. He was feeling the grind of the past 2 days, badly. It was clear he was physically too taxed to keep up on the very long summit day from our not-so-advanced base camp. The rest of us got our gear in order and went to bed early in hopes of getting some sleep before our 1 a.m. departure. I hadn't slept more than a couple hours in the past 2 nights...and this night i didn't add to that total.
At 1 a.m. on summit day, for the first night, there were no stars. I.e. the sky was clouded over. We left on time with headlamps on, but instead of it taking the expected 2 hours to get to the base of Bonney Pass, it took nearly 4. Serge had scouted out the route the previous day, but wasn't able to find his tracks, so we followed him as he zig zagged along the basin in the dark. We started the steep climb up Bonney Pass. The other 3 reached a windbreak on Bonney Pass at about 5:50. I caught up at 6:00. I thought i had been further behind than that, and i was upset. I was zonked. Whether from lack of sleep, conditioning, stress, or what, i felt exhausted like i never felt on Rainier or any other climb. I told the others they should go without me, but Serge told me i'd be fine...just to take a minute and we will all go together. Emma gave me a hug and i believed. I decided to leave a liter of water wedged in the wind break, surrounded by errant M&Ms left by a previous group, to lighten my load and give me something to look forward to on the return.
With the dawn broken, the dark cloud cover was now apparent. Doug and i each asked for Serge's assessment of the weather. I didn't know if i was just looking for an excuse to turn back, but it looked like looming storm clouds to me, and i said so. But Serge was unconcerned, and we were eager to believe him, so at about 6:15 we roped up and started down the Dinwoody Glacier. The down felt good to me, but roped up, it was still taking a lot of time. By the time we had traversed the snow finger below Gooseneck Pinnacle and started the climb up the Gooseneck Glacier, it was nearly 9 a.m. Up we went. At 10 a.m., at 13,100 ft., we stopped for a break. We did an inventory of water. Emma had brought 2 1/2 liters and was half out. I had brought 3, but with one left behind at the pass, i was mostly out. Doug had brought 3 but lost one along the way, and Serge had only brought 2. We were low on water, and while we were discussing it, snow started to fly and wind picked up dramatically. It took some convincing, but we came to a consensus that we were not going to summit Gannett that day. We had started from too far away, wasted time getting lost, and all in weather conditions that nobody in their right mind would have set out in to begin with.
Serge told us that at this point it would be "safer to not be roped up anymore." We unroped, and he started back the way we had come. It was the last words i heard from him until the next day. Serge quickly turned into a speck in the distance, as Doug, Emma, and I stayed together. The snow turned to sleet. With no cover from the wind, soon there were gusts that required leaning full force into them to keep standing. The next 6 hours were hell. I can only speak to my own condition with any exactness, but i don't think the other 2 were doing much better. My rainjacket, boots, gloves, and pretty much everything else failed me. I don't know if it was from sweat, faulty gore-tex, or what, but i was drenched through quickly. In ~32 degrees, this was bad bad news. I was exhausted, but if i stopped moving at all i immediately started shaking. My fingers and toes were numbing, and so were Emma's. At first i was able to follow Serge's tracks, but soon they were filled in with sleet and snow. Luckily i had a beat on where we had to go, so direction wasn't an issue even in the bad visibility.
I'm not sure what else to say about those 6 hours. We just kept pushing on. Frankly, thoughts of death crossed my mind. I'm just grateful we stayed together and helped each other out in our own ways. I won't detail it much...nothing was overly-heroic...but we just kept each other going. I did most of the leading. Doug loaned me some overmits. Emma was tireless and encouraging. When we got to where i had left my water at the pass, it was gone. No one besides Serge passed by that spot that day...maybe the mountain gods took my water. The descent was made easier for Doug and Emma by some wild, butt-numbing glissading in the sleet. I tried it, but immediately started shaking uncontrollably...i needed to keep my feet moving to stay ok. We pushed our way to the bottom of the pass and were met by the real hero of the day...Ray.
When Serge had arrived at camp a couple hours earlier, he had told Ray that we didn't have any water and he should go to find us...before Serge disappeared into his tent. Ray interrupted his daylong battle with the marmots to load up his pack with food, water, and dry clothes, and had headed up the basin to find us. It was a big boost to see him. He led the way back to camp. Apparently i was walking like a drunk, which i hadn't realized. Early hypothermia. By the time we got back to camp a little after 4:30, the sleet turned to showers and finally abated. I got rid of my wet clothes, re-staked the tent, and hit my sleeping bag. Thank god Ray boiled water and brought it to each of us. By about 9 i had finally warmed up and stopped shaking.
The next day was clear again. A perfect summit day...for someone other than us. We agreed to leave and proceed on our own until Seneca Lake. Emma and i left last. It gave us a chance to have a last moment at Titcomb Basin. It's truly a glorious place, and what had gone wrong couldn't put a dent in that glory. We left camp a full hour and a half after Doug...3 hours after Ray had left. Doug had gotten on the wrong trail and so we ended up bumping into each other at about noon. The three of us together again, we hiked along until we crossed paths with a pack train. It took us about a second flat to flag down their leader and ask what the rates would be for packing our stuff out to the trailhead. (Bald Mountain Outfitters, 307-367-6539, email@example.com, www.baldmountainoutfitters.com. i'll never again complain about horse poop on a trail.) They took our gear (minus some snacks, water, and raingear), and caught up to Ray and took his gear, and so we did the whole 17? mile hike out to the trailhead in one day.
I could barely keep my legs moving, but this time instead of the cold, it was the mosquitos that pushed me on almost without a break for the entire day. There was a brief, heated exchange of words with Serge. He had left his rope behind and i called after him to ask if it was his. At that point, i figured it was the last i'd see of him and demanded to untie my accessory cords before he took his rope back. He tried to yank it from me...i suppose i was putting him behind schedule, or that i was supposed to carry his rope. (he was the only one who opted not to pay the horse packers to carry his gear.) Considering what had happened the previous day, i think we were all glad that was the extent of my discussion with Serge for the rest of the trip.
We made it out by 8 p.m. or so...retrieved our gear...could NOT find a hotel in Pinedale or anywhere short of Evanston...Ray drove us safely to the Motel 6 there.
None of us are worse for the wear. Hopefully i'm a little smarter now. It was pretty trying, but i can't say i'm turned off from climbing yet. I just need to change a few things. I will never again trust someone (non-professional at least) to lead me when every instinct in me is telling me they are wrong. If i'm leading someone, i'll never leave them behind in trouble. I need to figure out what went wrong with my gear. People climb in harsh conditions, and still stay dry and warm somehow. I didn't. I'd welcome any suggestions for better gear or approaches to it. I sweat like crazy, and then i end up freezing. I need to figure out how to rest better in the wilderness...i was exhausted so much of the time, which in part spoiled what should have been 5 days in the most beautiful of places. And i just need to be in better shape.
Specific to Gannett, i would have to say if you are approaching from Elkhart Park, camp further up the basin than we did. Consider adding a weather day to your planning. Consider horse packers in. Or better yet, try a different route...i know if/when i go back, i'm going to try it from the Dubois side instead.
Thanks Ray for your help, Doug for your help and companionship on yet another highpoint odyssey, and Emma of course for everything. (How did i find such an incredible hiker chick??? Now i just have to get in condition to keep up with her...) Thanks Rex for your info.
The story was told very well like it has happened except that:
1-I have never said I was your personnal guide on this trip,
2-If so, I have never got paid for that king of service;
3-you forgot to say that you "kind of" started crying on the top of Bonney Pass.
4-That was the first time I experienced being with someone that was crying on the mountain so consequently had very limited experience to that kind of situation, sorry
Gannett should never be underestimated and it seems you have learned your lesson. However I laughed out loud when I read that you would do it from the Dubois side instead next time. I have gone in both ways, and the Glacier trail(from Dubois) is not only about 10 mi. longer but is waaaay harder. I would just train more and go for the elkhart trail again.
The Gannett reports were bumped up and i just now noticed this post! We did end up going from the other side (Dubois/Glacier Trail). The approach is definitely harder, but the summit day was so much easier that after doing both ways i'm still not 100% sure which way is more difficult to summit from. My advice would be if you've tried from one side, go see the other side the next time!
We took the long Glacial Trail starting near Dubois, spent 3 days to reach base camp (no horse packers) and then summitted on the 4th day. Compared to the Titcomb Basin route, our approach route was longer, but our summit day was much easier (we were 8 hours round trip). Had some bad weather days after that, but also some sunny beautiful days. One of our party packed in a fishing pole so we had a trout dinner and lunch during the trip. Definitely the most beautiful area I've been to yet on my highpointing adventures.
I made an animated slideshow of our Gannett Peak climb from '04 that I thought HPers might find interesting. Here's the link to the slideshow, it will run better if you right click on the image and choose "Save Target As" and then run it once it downloads to your computer. If you get audio but no video, you need to upgrade your Windows Media Player here.
Sorry for the bad link in the previous post, here's the correct link:
It will run better if you right click on the image and choose "Save Target As" and then run it once it downloads to your computer. If you get audio but no video, you need to upgrade your Windows Media Player here.
I was on Gannett last july by the same route you were on...
Frankly, that was an excellent presentation...
Keep up the good job with climbing and taking all those very nice pics..
50 HP completer #145
This trip was in the planning stages for 2+ years. A job change at the end of 2006 forced the postponement for a year while I accumulated vacation time. Our plan was to drive to Wyoming, climb Gannett Peak, drive through and visit Yellowstone National Park, and then head to Montana and climb Granite Peak. From there we’d drive back to Redmond, WA.
I began an aggressive training program at the beginning of March with workouts 4 – 5 times per week. I included running for cardiovascular and treadmill climbs (with weight) for leg strength and endurance. The net result was a loss of 20 pounds, and what I thought was the best shape I’ve been in for hiking in a long time, maybe ever. Joe is naturally in good shape, but he also supplemented his routine with pack weight exercises.
Joe arrived at SeaTac around 9PM on Friday, June 27. We spent Saturday getting our gear organized, and picking up our food and any remaining items. An early departure was planned for Sunday.
June 29 – We awoke at 4:30, and were on the road at 5:30. This was going to be a 930 mile drive, and we wanted to have some daylight left when we got there. We took 3-hour driving shifts, only stopping to change drivers and refuel. At 9PM (MDT), we arrived at the Glacier Trail trailhead near Dubois, Wyoming. There is a long dirt road to get here, so once here we decided to stay and car camp. There were about 10 other cars present. I slept in the car and Joe slept outside on the air mattress with only a sleeping bag. The mosquitoes were not bad that night, and the sky was cloudless.
June 30 – We awoke around dawn, and spent quite some time getting our packs together. This is a 25 mile one-way hike to reach Gannett Peak, so we wanted to have everything we needed for 5 days. It was 8:30 by the time we were ready to begin hiking. My pack weighed 58 pounds, Joe’s was 54. And that was without water!
The first 3 miles followed a river in a generally gradual uphill route. At Bomber Basin, the Glacier Trail splits from the Bomber Trail, and we headed up a series of switchbacks. These took us another 3 miles and some 2000’ in elevation gain. And it was getting warm by now. At the top of the switchbacks, we entered a meadow where we could see the trail stretch in front of us for a couple of miles. At least the gain was more gradual here. We also took a long break here, and realized that we were very tired. This was going to be work!
At 2, we reached Arrow Pass, a 10,900’ pass that marked the crest of our first day’s hike. While there we heard thunder and saw the storm clouds that are quite common in the afternoons here. After another break we descended toward the lakes and the Wind River valley. The trail was never easy footing, always having rocks, water, or some other obstacles that required your attention. We reached Philips Lake first, and enjoyed a break near the water where Joe cooled his feet. While there, we spoke to an exiting group of 3 women and 1 man that had successfully reach Gannett. They were only on their 3rd day! They told us they hiked in 22 miles the first day, summited the second day, and were now heading out. Incredible! We pushed on past Double Lake where there was quite a bit of snow on the trail. We even lost the trail once and bushwhacked until finding it again. This was also where the mosquitoes decided to join the party, and there were lots of them! Traveling past a number of meadows, we saw a cow moose across the river.
We finally reached Star Lake, and found a nice campsite in the woods on the edge of the lake. We were whipped, and gladly took off our packs for the last time that day at 5:30 after traveling 12 miles. We were now back at 9200’. The evening was again cloudless, and we truly felt “off the grid”.
July 1 – We got up and ready by 7:30, ever mindful of the skeeters. This was another long day of hiking. The trail is never flat or up, but constantly up and down. The up sections were always painful, reducing us to what seemed like a crawl. We knew there was stock on this trail, and the droppings were quite visible. This morning, we passed a group of 7 pack animals lead by a man on horseback, returning from somewhere ahead of us. He seemed to be happy just plodding along.
This was the day we had to get past the convergence zone of a number of feeder streams into the Wind River. There was a guy rope across Gannett Creek that made it easy to cross, and the others had logs or rocks. Overall we didn’t have any problems crossing. However, once across, we got off trail. An hour of bushwhacking and route finding eventually returned us to the trail, but not without expending some valuable energy. Shortly after regaining the trail, we were threatened by a thunderstorm and decided to call it a day. The hastily assembled tent provided relief from the rain, although it never rained very hard. We were so tired after traveling 11 miles that we couldn’t go on anyway. We were still not at our desired high camp, and had to make some decisions about our plans.
That night we adjusted our plan of attack. Having spent two days getting this far and being exhausted, we decided to have a short hike tomorrow to the base of the mountain, rest for the remained of the day, and scout out our route up the glaciers. We thought we could begin our hike out if the summit climb was not too difficult, and still return to the trailhead on day 5.
A bonus for us was the Northern lights display. Although we couldn’t see it directly, the reflected light was flashing al night long.
July 2 – We were up early, anxious the get to the mountain. When walking around, Joe found there was a much better campsite than ours about 50 yards away. It was higher, and more defined. Someone had left a pair of Cabelas hiking boots there which were now chewed up a little. These play a role in our story later.
After a 2 hour hike across snowfields and boulder fields, we reached the base of Gannett, and set up the tent on the snow near the water exit of a large snow tarn. We took advantage of a group from NOLS that was preparing to leave after a month in the woods. They told us about the route and confirmed there were no problems or threats on the mountain. With their input and the trip reports we had, we devised a scheme for the morning. The day proved to be a beauty with no storms all day. We prepared the next day’s equipment and packs and got to bed early, before dark. With the added bonus of no mosquitoes, Joe even took a quick bath in the tarn! The sun was warm and clothing dried quickly.
July 3 – Summit Day! We were up and ready early, and left for the summit at 5:10. Before leaving camp, we saw the headlamp of another hiker about halfway up the mountain. Someone was ahead of us, yet we didn’t see any tents in the basin!
The snow was lightly frozen, so walking in crampons was a delight. We worked our way to the Dinwoody glacier, and followed the tracks. This was typical glacial travel, and not very dangerous. About 600’ up there was a snow bridge that crossed over to the Gooseneck glacier. From there it got a bit steeper, but again more typical of the snow travel I’m used to in the Cascades. True to the beta we received, there was no bergshrund to navigate. We were making good time, even with the stops to put on or take off crampons as we alternated between rocks and snow fields. We saw the party in front of us making their way up the summit ridge. They were just leaving the summit when we got there, and told us they came in from Bonner Pass, the Southern route. They needed the earlier start as they had to go back over Bonner Pass on their way out, and the snow softens as the day progresses.
We reached the summit at 8:30, taking 3’ 22”. Number 45 for me, 14 for Joe. We had it all to ourselves, and the views were great. We couldn’t find a summit register, so if there’s one it may have been covered in snow. We spent about 30 minutes there, and then headed down. We caught up to the earlier party. They were a guided group, and were traveling slowly. There was glissading on the way down, with Joe taking more advantage of it then me. The plunge stepping was almost as effective. We were quickly back down, arriving at our tent at 10:30, for a total trip time of 5’ 18”.
After some lunch, and a nap, we packed up and left the area at 1PM. By this time the thought of leaving the hiking boots on the trail was just too much for Joe, and he said he wanted to carry them out. I applauded his thoughtfulness, but didn’t offer to carry one! The packs were already very heavy and getting heavier (psychologically). We reached our earlier campsite, and Joe tied the abandoned boots to his pack.
We were now able to follow the actual trail along the river, with a minor detour through the woods when the snow became too deep over the trail. When we got to the convergence of the feeders, we got a surprise. The water level had risen considerably. Although we could still cross Gannett creek using the guy rope, the second feeder had risen above the logs we used on the way in. We had no way to cross without getting wet. As we pondered the least damaging way to cross, we wished we had a second set of shoes so we wouldn’t get our hiking boots wet. Standing there talking to Joe, with his pack sporting the old boots, I remarked, there’s a set of boots we can use! The idea was like a breath of fresh air. Surely they would fit one of us. Karma was in full bloom.
After trying them on, Joe said they wouldn’t go on his feet, so onto mine they went. Our plan was to have me take my pack across, return for Joe’s pack, and he would “skip” across the water in true orienteer fashion, minimizing the amount of water getting into his boots. The deepest part was about 18”, so after removing my shoes and socks and pant legs, I waded across. The cold water felt good on my hot feet! 10 minutes later we were across, and decided to leave the boots on a tree for the next party needing to cross. I guess Joe was rewarded for his selfless act of carrying the boots that far.
We continued toward our goal, a beach-like area we passed on the way in. At 7, we got there and were happy to drop the packs. This was about 7 miles from our base camp, leaving 17 more to the trailhead. The site had a large escarpment near it, and it wasn’t long before the elk and antelope arrived to get to the river. And the mosquitoes remembered us! Thankfully I’m a firm believer in better living through chemistry, and carried DEET powered bug repellent. It really works!
July 4 – We were up early again, shortly after day break. The 17 mile hike to the trailhead was mostly uneventful, and very long. We were struggling the last 6 miles or so. While approaching Arrow Pass, we passed a group of 2 women and 3 men. They were carrying large packs, so we chatted. Turns out they are with an outdoor Christian group, and had been in the woods for 6 weeks. Their packs were at 80 pounds, and that was after they gave up their crampons, snowshoes, and harnesses during a restocking visit a week earlier. And they were in great spirits. Talk about feeling inadequate. We reached the trailhead after 10 hours, and really needed the rest.
We went into Dubois, got a motel room, and cleaned up after 5 days in the woods. That felt good. We also were so beat we questioned our ability to go to Granite. We decided to rest for a few days, and then make the decision. Would not recommend the motel we stayed at, the Wind River motel.
July 5 – We spent most of the day in Dubois, doing laundry, washing the truck, and visiting the local attractions. Ever hear of a tie hack? Well, Dubois was the center for them in the early part of the 20th century, and has a museum. They also have the largest herd of big horn sheep in the country, and they come down from the mountains in the winter to feed.
Around 2 we left town, having decided that going to Yellowstone was a bad idea as it was the 4th of July weekend. We went instead to Cody, having a great dinner at The Trailhead in Riverton along the way. In Cody, we were in the middle of a major bull riding competition, and the place was packed. The town is definitely a place for night life. We headed out of town to the Buffalo Bill Dam, and a nice public campground with mountains on either side. Very nice.
July 6 – We returned to Cody to shop for more supplies, but their only outdoors place didn’t offer the stuff we wanted. While there, we gave the lady behind the counter a full report on our hike to Gannett. We took two scenic highways North into Montana, highway 296 from 120 to 212, and then route 212 across Beartooth Pass. There is still snow on the mountains there, and extreme skiers are still making runs down what look like impossible slopes. After driving through a thunderstorm, we ended up in Red Lodge, and got a room. This place was nice, and I’d recommend it. It is called the Alpine Lodge, and includes a hot made to order breakfast.
See Granite trip report for the rest of the story!
Howdy, saw this one report, and it says see Gannett report and I dont seem to be able to find a link. Can you email me or give me full link to your full report. Thanks. We hope to go next summer and Im trying to read all I can. Trying to decide which side/route is best to go. Any thoughts you would have would be appreciated.
It took me a little while to figure out what you were asking, but I did. My last comment on the Gannett report references the continuation of my HP trip to Granite. Sorry, but this is all I published. Happy to tell you more privately.