Early August 2000: My back-country partner and cousin, Jason Sellers, had officially opted out for this years Winds trip. I had been planning a trip to the base of Dinwoody Glacier for months to climb Gannett Peak, the highest point in Wyoming. I decided to go anyway and do a little reconnaissance on the route. I had no intention of climbing it alone. I decided to head up the Glacier Trail outside of Dubois and hike over the crest of the divide into Titcomb Basin and exit Elkhart Park outside of Pinedale (my parents offered to shuttle my car around). It would be a whirlwind 4 day hike through the northern Winds. I would Haul a 55 pound pack up and over Dinwoody Pass during an August sleet and snow storm (a storm in which I would frostbite 3 fingers) and see one of the most beautiful sites in the Winds as the clouds lifted from the high peaks surrounding Titcomb Basin (Gannett would be enshrouded in clouds this whole day). Little did I know at the time, it would be 16 years later before I would venture up the Glacier Trail again.
Mid July 2016: Jason and I decided to make Gannett a reality in 2016. We had been for years searching out the most remote corners of the Winds in the “off seasons” (many trail-less miles over the years) in hopes of finding untapped scenery and fisheries. We found many drainages holding large cutthroats and even larger golden trout. Many of the best fisheries (and scenery) were many trail-less miles far from any trailhead. Some of the most beautiful sunrises we awoke to were on the Wind River Indian Reservation Roadless Area, a vast area on the eastern side of the Wind Rivers with some of the best cutthroat action we have had in the Winds (a couple spectacular golden lakes are on the WRIR also, but we have found much better golden lakes on public land). We have almost always made the pilgrimage to the WRIR from the “Bridger” side of the Winds.
Gannett was going to be a unique trip for us this year. We both decided to step away from remote parts of the Winds and join the masses attempting Gannett Peak. We would pack away the rods (even though we did bring fishing equipment and spent an enjoyable afternoon chasing some spunky brookies and cutts) and head up the Glacier Trail for our attempt. We chose the Glacier Trail, even though at 25 miles from the trailhead to the base of Dinwoody Glacier (you still have about 3 miles to the top of Gannett Peak from here) is a bit longer than the approximate 18 miles to a base camp at the base of Dinwoody Pass in Titcomb Basin, because it would allow us a much easier and shorter ascent day. The Elkhart Park route via Titcomb Basin, you have to climb up the 13,000ft Dinwoody Pass (also known as Bonney Pass), then lose most of that elevation down onto Dinwoody Glacier, cross Dinwoody Glacier (not heavily crevassed but caution is advised, and depending on conditions can be steep snow or slick scree on the Titcomb side (snow much preferred)) then ascend Gooseneck Glacier then Gannett proper. This would have to be done in reverse obviously going back. This can easily be a 12+ hour day of mixed snow and rock. The Glacier trail approach is a much easier summit day as you can set up a base camp near Dinwoody Glacier and have a straightforward summit attempt from the base of the mountain.
Day 1: I left early from Denver to drive up to Casper and have breakfast with my parents. Jason was wrapping up his brothers wedding in Buffalo, at the base of the Bighorns, and was due to be back in Casper around noon. We headed out of Casper after stopping at the Mills Taco Johns (it’s a Wyoming thing) for our pre-hike meal around 1 PM. We were headed to Dubois.
We hit the Glacier trail early evening and hiked until it was fully dark (about 6 miles). We had a full moon though that allowed us to stumble to the creek and filter some water for dinner and the morning. We had busted out the switchbacks headed toward Arrow Pass and were in view of the pass from our camp. Tomorrow we would head down into the Dinwoody Creek drainage, running high and fast with its large amount of glacial silt.
Day 2: We awaken to a view to the north that is spectacular. We witnessed a beautiful sunrise on the Absaroka’s across the valley from us. We soon packed up and headed over Arrow Pass and down into the Dinwoody drainage. From here we would have the long slog up to the terminal moraine of Dinwoody Glacier. We were already pleasantly surprised that we had not met anybody on the trail yet. The trail up the Dinwoody drainage is a beautiful path with massive Dinwoody Creek (creek? depending on glacier melt, this “creek” can be a raging torrent of ice-cold aquamarine water that would deter anybody from crossing) that slowly works its way upstream. The high peaks are hidden for miles, but the traveling is easy.
Traveling the Dinwoody Creek drainage, we approached Downs Fork Creek, a creek draining the Downs Fork Glacier. This is the only real bridge on the Glacier trail and it has taken a hit over the years. It has been severely damaged (although just by looking at it, looks ok) from flooding waters from above over the years. We actually talked with forest personnel at the bridge as they did a survey on possible repairs or re-routing the trail a mile up Downs Fork Creek for another bridge for a safe dry crossing. This would add another 2 miles to the Glacier Trail. Our opinion was to re-route the trail, if you wanted a dry crossing. You could use the “old” trail if you wanted to save the miles and wet wade through it (even though this is a substantial “creek” with slippery glacial silt). As it was, the creek was flooding the banks anyway and we had a significant portion of wet wading even with the bridge there.
We hiked around 11 miles to Big Meadows and decided to camp for the evening. We found a high use campsite above Dinwoody Creek that had some tree coverage. We filtered our water out of a seep pond to try and not plug up our filters with glacial silt from the main creek and relaxed for the evening. Towards dusk we heard the sound of horses coming from upriver (a few of them had loud cowbells attached to them….assuming so they would be easier to locate in the morning and as a bear deterrent…….this part of the Winds is now established grizzly habitat) heading towards our camp. It seems that there was a large outfitter camp a couple of miles upriver and the horses being familiar with the country, traveled in a circle from their camp down through this meadow….all night long. The clanging of their bells and the wallow pit they would roll in just a few yards from our tent kept us up most of the night.
Day 3: We awoke to a beautiful morning. The past couple of days, the weather had been hot and dry during the day and today looked to be no different. We packed up and planned on hitting our base camp at the terminal moraine of Dinwoody Glacier later that day. We hiked out of Big Meadows and decided to filter some water out of Dinwoody Creek. I immediately proceeded to break the handle on my pump (it had not been working too well up to this point anyway, even after extensive cleaning) and once I fixed that, proceeded to blow out all the seals (due to the glacial silt) rendering it useless. This left us with one operating pump for rest of the trip, even though it had slowed quit a bit and did not know how long it would last (this pump did not have a filter that you could perform any field maintenance on).
We eventually made our way with the intersection of the Ink Wells Trail, about 18 miles from the trailhead. We saw the big outfitters camp, near this junction. Around mile 19, rounding a corner opening up before Floyd Wilson Meadows, we saw Gannett Peak for the first time this trip. This is the classic vantage point of Wyoming’s highest peak that is flanked by five of the largest glaciers in the Rocky Mountains. There is not a more true alpine peak in the lower 48. We stopped frequently to snap some photos and gradually headed upstream. We would eventually have to cross Gannett Creek. This proved to be the crux of my 2000 solo hike. This is a high gradient torrent draining Gannett Glacier. In 2000 I was able to cross on logs and once on the other side, pull my backpack across with some parachute cord. This time the crossing proved much easier as we headed upstream, where the “creek” was more braided and managed to cross fairly easily.
From Gannett Creek, you start climbing towards the divide. We started to see a few camps and people at this point. We stopped and talked with a NOLS group (you can spot a NOLS disciple by the hiking shorts and gators) that were setting up camp at the terminal moraine and heading over Blaurock Pass the next day.
We finally picked out a decent spot to camp and filtered some water and ate. Our plan was to turn in early tonight and get up around 4am to get a jump on the mountain. With the warm temperatures we were having, we wanted to get up and down off the summit ridge snow-line and Gooseneck Glacier prior to the snow getting too soft.
Day 4: We awoke around 4am and drank some hot fluids and some breakfast bars and made sure we had all our equipment. We packed our helmets, crampons, mountaineering axes, cameras and other essentials and headed out under headlamp to tackle the boulder field. We saw a couple headlamps in the distance on Dinwoody Glacier (they must have been coming from Titcomb Basin) as we pulled out. They must have left their camp at 2am or 3am to get where they were now.
The boulder field was interesting under headlamp but we were able to pick our way through it fairly quickly. As we approached the base of Gannett Peak, the sun was starting to rise in the east. We started to ascend the mountain now alongside a small stream coming down from Gooseneck Glacier. We found a cliff band with some seams in it that we took up to the bottom of the glacier. We had spotted another group (3 people) coming from the Glacier Trail side only about 30 minutes behind us. They would skirt this cliff band and hit the east side of Gooseneck Glacier, staying all on snow, versus our mixed rock and snow route. The two headlamps we saw coming over the divide earlier that morning were working their way above Gooseneck Pinnacle now.
We put on our crampons now and headed up the mild slope towards the pinnacle. We had a fairly steep gully to push up and hit a ridge, where we took the crampons off and traveled on the rocks until hitting the glacier again. Once we got onto the Glacier a second time, we cruised over to the make or break point of the summit attempt, the Bergschrund. This is the point where Gooseneck Glacier pulls away from the mountain as it travels downward and creates a vast crevasse. A snow bridge exists most years until late July or even into early August, but once it is gone, the complexity of the route changes dramatically. We banked on the snow bridge being intact for our attempt as we did not come prepared with equipment needed for a collapsed snowbridge.
We surveyed the snow bridge (it was actually like two snowbridges as you had to make a “Z” over the crevasse) and deemed it safe. It was calving in pretty fast and with the weather looked to be only a week, maybe two from falling in. Once across the bergschrund, the slope steepened significantly. It was about a 50 degree angle on snow and a fall could land you at the bottom of the opened bergschrund if you did not slide over the bridge (this is one spot on the mountain that many people rope up). If you did slide over the bergschrund unscathed, there was a nice run out to stop you though. At this point we were approximately 13,000ft above sea level.
We worked our way up the gully beside Gooseneck Pinnacle and hit the rock again. We once again took off our crampons and proceeded to make our way towards the ridge line. We had one gully to cross before climbing and popping out on the ridge that would lead us to the next snowfield and finally the summit. This gully had a snow chute that we decided to cross in boots, as it was short and had good hand holds on rocks. A slip though was a steep 100 yard drop then an even steeper drop over a 500 foot cliff to Gooseneck Glacier below. once on top, we could look over the other side and see the upper portions of Dinwoody Glacier below us. It was a beautiful site.
We continued up this ridge and eventually hit the summit ridge snow crown. This is a fairly steep and exposed section with a 1000+ foot cliff at the bottom. We started up this section and we met the two climbers ahead of us coming down (we were about 30 minutes from the summit from here). We found out that one of the climbers, this was his third and only successful attempt on Gannett. He had been turned back once by the bergschrund and another time by personnel conflicts. He was being guided by a man out of Jackson, and they were roped up, moving cautiously down. They still had a big day ahead of them as they still had to climb back over Dinwoody Glacier and Dinwoody Pass back down into Titcomb Basin. Jason and I were glad we had taken the slightly longer hike in to do an easier summit day.
We pushed on and finally made the summit ridge line. Once on the ridge line, it was straightforward to the summit. It was mainly on snow with some rocks mixed in, but you could leave you crampons on until the final summit block. We were careful with our footing as a slip could be disastrous. A fall could be hard to self arrest and if you failed to do so, you had a 1000+ foot cliff at the bottom where you would land on top of Gooseneck Glacier. We clung as high on the ridge as possible, but not too high as the other side was a 3000+ foot drop to Mammoth Glacier below. We could see the Grand Teton in the distance (about 70 air miles from Gannett) and a haze caused by a big fire in the Gros Ventre on the Hoback River. Some of the “open” crossings where you could get a good glimpse of the other side and the exposure were a little gnarly as the wind would whip through them, keeping your balance was important.
We finally hit the summit block and took off our crampons and scrambled up the last 50 yards or so to the top. We were the second group to summit this day and had the summit to ourselves. The weather was perfect, a little windy but not bad. We had a 360 degree view of Wyoming from its highest point and what a view it was. We proceeded to check things out and explore the summit and set up the tripod for some summit photos. We spent more time on the summit than planned and the party that was behind us reached the summit about an hour after we did (we spent a little over an hour on the summit). It was a husband and wife (both in their early 60’s) being guided by another guide from Jackson. They were state highpointers and they had done Denali and many other major mountains, but Gannett had eluded them the first time. Everybody that we met on the mountain this day, all had previous failed attempts on this mountain. Jason and I felt fortunate to get the perfect conditions to summit in our first attempt.
We decided we had stayed long enough (much longer than anticipated, especially after our “late” start) and headed down. The snow, even on the summit ridge, was getting a little mushy and footing not as good as it was coming up. Leaving the summit ridge,via snow, to the ridge that heads towards Gooseneck Pinnacle was fairly mushy and footing not good at all. The steepness of the slope here and exposure forced us to beeline as quickly to a cluster of rocks we did not use coming up (we later saw the group we met on the summit, they were being belayed by the guide down to this cluster of rocks. They did not trust the footing either). We followed this ridge down to the Goosneck Gully where snow conditions were even worse. My crampons were constantly balling up with snow and actually took a quick slide on the snow bridge down to Gooseneck Glacier where I easily self arrested. Once on the Glacier we had our mixture of snow and rock going down and a few mental lapses in route finding but easily made our way back to camp. It was a little before 3 PM when we arrived.
Day 5: We awoke and decided to start our hike out. We had potential plans of heading over into Titcomb Basin or check our Blaurock Pass, but opted for a return (Jason was looking forward to spending time with his dad in the Riverton area) journey. We hung around and took photos all morning then packed up and headed to Honeymoon Lake.
Day 6: After fishing for some cutts in Honeymoon Lake the previous night we headed up the switchbacks towards the Dinwoody Lakes to fish a little and then move on to where we camped the first night, on the north side of Arrow Pass. We were in no hurry to go anywhere (even though Jason’s filter broke at Honeymoon Lake and we were boiling water at this point). Day 6 ended with a bang. After all the years of hiking and gnarly off-trail excursions with 50 lb packs, one of us sustained a backcountry injury. We had just left the trail and entered a gully to get over to our camp site. Jason mentioned there were some loose rocks (he was in the lead) so be careful. I proceeded to follow him with caution and before I knew it, I had slipped and stumbled forward (usually you lose your footing and fall back and land on your pack) and the weight of my pack pushed me forward (I was on a downward slope) and I slammed my face into a rock. I heard a nasty crunching sound as I made contact. I came up a little woozy (don’t know if it was from the adrenaline after falling in my system or hitting my head). Jason asked if I was alright and I said I’m going to be spitting out teeth and gonna need a dentist as I slowly rolled over. I spit and nothing. I gathered myself and examined my mouth and everything seemed intact, no loose teeth, no blood, just a nasty contusion on my cheek that stayed there for months. I was still a little woozy and a storm was coming. Jason noticed my wrist, which I did not at all, and asked if it was alright. I examined it and noticed it was a little puffy and sore. We decided to cover my pack and head the 1/4 mile down and set up camp before the rain and give me time to get that woozy feeling to calm down. I iced my wrist in camp (well, cold creek water in a titanium flask) and contemplated getting my pack.
In a short time I walked back to get my pack. I noticed at this time it was painful to lift things with my right wrist, still just thinking it was a sprain or something. I assumed it would hurt a lot more if it was truly broken.
Day 6: we packed up and headed the 6 miles to the trailhead. We would then drive to Jason’s dad’s house near Pavillion and drop him off, then it was off to Casper for dinner with my parents, then off to Denver later that night.
I still didn’t think my wrist was broken but by the urging of my wife I went to the urgent care to have it checked out. It was broken. I got a cool cast and was still able to fish the rest of the summer (shhhh, don’t tell my wife!) so wasn’t too bummed.
Gannett Peak is a great mountain to climb. In the best of conditions ( I would say Jason and I had almost perfect conditions), this is a fairly easy mountain to climb if you come prepared with the proper equipment (I would say crampons and ice ax a must in any condition. In anything but perfect conditions, a rope is necessary). Jason and I have slogged 50+ pound packs over off-trail passes in the Winds that were physically harder than climbing Gannett, but Gannett is not an easy peak. You should have basic knowledge of walking in crampons, use of ice ax, self arrest technique, and rope technique for anything other than perfect conditions. You should also be prepared for some decent exposure on the summit ridge. I can truly say Gannett Peak 2016 was a spectacular experience.