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Trail Map | Trail Data | Climbing Route


Among state highpointers Gannett Peak is widely regarded as the toughest in the contiguous 48 states. I feel very fortunate to have completed this one on my first try. Many capable highpointers have been foiled multiple times by weather or rotten ice on this mountain. And when I consider the inflexible schedule we were faced with, all I can say is the Mountain Gods were in a forgiving mood on summit day. On the other hand, our success was not just dumb luck. In our favor we had a small group, the right gear, and a purposeful attitude. But our real ace-in-the-hole was a trip leader who had climbed the mountain fourteen times before.

Our access was via the Wind River Indian Reservation. The Crowheart store is roughly midway between Lander and Dubois, Wyoming. We had to check in there and pay for a permit for each of the two days we would cross the reservation -- $25 for the day in, $20 for the day out, per person. We left our vehicles at Crowheart and were shuttled to the Cold Springs Trailhead by the tribal authorized outfitter. The fee was $175 each way for the group -- not unreasonable when you consider it is a 3-hour round trip for the outfitter over a rugged, truck-busting road. The advantage of this access is that Cold Springs is the closest trailhead to the mountain. Disadvantages are the fees and the fact that you are committed to a fixed return date.

DAY 1: 1.5 miles, start 9,600', end 10,200', gain 600', loss 0'

We set out from Cold Springs on the Ink Wells Trail. After .8 miles the Dry Springs Trail turns left. We continued on the Ink Wells Trail in the direction of Scenic Pass.

On Friday, July 24 I had flown into Salt Lake City from the lowlands of the Midwest where I was on a work assignment. Now, only 24 hours later, I was toting a heavy pack at an altitude of 9,600 feet, and headed higher. This trip followed about the same pattern I've noticed on previous climbing trips. Around 11,000 feet I began to get that tell-tale nauseous feeling -- but so slight it didn't curb my appetite. And at about that same altitude I really started to notice how much faster I got winded than back home.

We got started a little later than planned, a problem that was exacerbated by rain which caused us to set camp after 1.5 miles instead of the planned 6.0. Even if we had been on schedule we would probably not have arrived at the trailhead sooner than 2:00 p.m. Six miles may have been a bit optimistic for this short first day at altitude, regardless of the weather. In any case, because of threatening skies we could not risk venturing onto the exposed area around Scenic Pass so we set up camp below tree line.

We had plenty of mosquitoes for company. They were with us all day every day except on Gannett Peak. Although not too much of a nuisance while hiking, the bloodletting began in earnest when we stopped. I like to avoid using DEET if I can, but it was almost essential around camp, and it did keep the pesky critters at bay. I found a headnet to be helpful too but it was useless at mealtime, of course.

DAY 2: 4.2 miles, start 10,200', end 10,520', gain 1,250', loss 930'

By Sunday morning the rain had cleared out. We finished the remaining miles to our original destination by crossing Scenic Pass, (11,450'), and taking the left fork where the Ink Wells Trail briefly splits. We made camp where the two forks rejoin, back below tree line again. One special treat on this section of trail was my first-ever view of a flock of mountain sheep, on Scenic Pass.

Because we had taken two days to hike the six miles originally planned to be done in one, we had lost our one extra day that was to have been our alternate summit day in case of bad weather. Only time would tell whether we would regret that.

The terrain was mostly treeless on the drive to Cold Spring. There were some spectacular views along the way. At the trailhead we headed into the woods and popped in and out of small meadows until we emerged above tree line near Scenic Pass. The ordinary scenery prior to Scenic Pass was replaced by some real jaw-dropping vistas once the continental divide peaks came into view.

Our Sunday night camp had a terrific lookout point at one end. There was a great scene of Gannett Peak framed by trees to our north. To the west the sun set over barren, rocky peaks. The ever-changing patterns created by the sun and clouds kept us checking back from time to time to see what Mother Nature was up to.

DAY 3: 7.8 miles, start 10,520', end 11,050', gain 1,450', loss 920'

Monday the group split up. James Hollandsworth Sr. and Jr., "Pop" and Jim, had not planned to do the climb. Instead they would do some day-hiking and meet us back at Cold Springs on Thursday. Pop was the primary organizer of the trip. He is an amazing "ageless wonder" who at 83 years of age carries a full pack and holds his own on the trail.

The summit group consisted of myself and husband-wife team Vince and Nancy Lee. Vince and Nancy are Wyoming residents. I'd like to think the fact that they live at 6,000+ feet gave them an altitude conditioning advantage over me. Probably it did but these people are in incredible shape and I would have had to work hard to keep up with Vince under any circumstances.

Before leaving camp we cached some gear and food. Then we set out for high camp on what I thought would be a fairly easy eight-mile hike.

The Ink Wells Trail heads past Echo Lake then steeply down to Dinwoody Creek and a junction with the Glacier Trail. From there it looked on the topo map like a nice level hike for several miles before climbing to near the foot of the Dinwoody Glacier.

In fact, the terrain is fairly level as you parallel Dinwoody Creek and Upper and Lower Floyd Wilson Meadows. The problem is that horse traffic has turned the Glacier Trail into a mess of roots, rocks and mucky bogs. We were also slowed by two crossings of major Dinwoody Creek tributaries, the first on a makeshift log bridge and the second a ford of Gannett Creek at the site of a washed out log bridge.

The scenery is post-card perfect as you descend on the Ink Wells Trail and catch some gorgeous composite views of Floyd Wilson Meadows and Dinwoody Creek beneath Gannett Peak. At one point along the meadow Vince spooked a moose out of the trees. It bolted a short distance into the meadow and then went nonchalantly on with its browsing. The weather was warm and sunny all day except for threatening clouds near camp at the Dinwoody Creek headwaters, but they didn't end up dumping any moisture.

We arrived at camp at 4:30 p.m. I'd hoped for an easy hike with lots of time to relax and acclimatize before summit day. While this was certainly no "death march", it proved to be a hard days work nonetheless. But since we had to meet the outfitter on Thursday there was no decision to be made and no time to kick back. We would climb Gannett on Tuesday, or not at all.

DAY 4: 5.0 miles, start 11,050', end 11,050', gain 2,754', loss 2,754'

We got a fairly early start on Tuesday. I saw perhaps five other groups on the mountain that day. We were the second or third to start up from the lower part of the glaciers but we gradually lost ground to the others. The distance to the summit from our camp was roughly 2.5 miles. One of the groups ahead of us was camped maybe a half mile closer to the mountain, directly at the base of the glacier. The others were camped further away, some coming over passes to the Dinwoody Glacier. Four other groups summited before us. One group behind was the only one I saw that did not summit.

Our slow progress was due in a large part to my unfamiliarity with walking on glaciers. I didn't expect this was the sort of thing that would take getting used to. Apparently I was wrong. It sure seemed to sap my energy a lot faster when we were walking on snow than on rock. Nevertheless, the weather could hardly have cooperated more beautifully. The skies were overcast, making for pleasant climbing conditions until we were within about a half-hour of the summit. Then the sun burst through and we had the most glorious conditions imaginable for the next hour.

Our summit route was north across the base of the Dinwoody Glacier to a rocky climb up and across lower Gooseneck Pinnacle Ridge. We traversed north across the exposed rock to a bivouac site, then we headed up the Gooseneck Glacier.

Above the Gooseneck Pinnacle we crossed a bergschrund and did a belayed climb up a rock face, back onto the Gooseneck Pinnacle Ridge. From there we angled across steep snow to the top of the ridge. We roped up for this traverse. It was very steep at the beginning and icy at the end.

About this time is when the sun finally came out. From this point up, the Gooseneck Pinnacle ridge line was free of snow and we followed the exposed rock fields up to the point where an easy climb lead to a moderately steep snow slope and up to the Gannett summit ridge.

On top, there was some exposed rock but primarily the summit ridge was a gently ascending pile of snow, wind-blown to a sharp up-side-down "V". Following the top of this peak we arrived at a jumble of large boulders, the summit of Gannett Peak.

We did not reach the summit until 2:30 p.m. Instead of being chased off by lightning bolts we basked in the best weather of the day. Thanks in part to the bright, sunny skies and puffy clouds, the view was incredible in every direction. The register is little more than a wad of used paper scraps stuffed in a metal canister. After shooting a few pictures I signed in and we headed down.

We roped up again at the steep snow on the side of the Gooseneck Pinnacle Ridge. Taking a more direct route to the exposed rock, we did a belayed climb down to the steepest part. From there we rappelled down till we were past the bergschrund. After we'd completed all the rope work the weather could restrain itself no longer and it began to sleet. By then we could not have cared less.

That night the weather kept us from cooking supper. I was too tired to eat anyway. All I needed was rest. Our summit climb had consumed 12 hours. That seemed so incredibly slow I wondered if I should be embarrassed to mention that here.

Normally on the day prior to summit day I try to plan a very short hike or a layover day at high camp, partly to be completely rested and partly to spend time acclimating to the altitude. If we'd had that luxury we probably would have trimmed at least two hours or more off our climb.

DAY 5: 7.5 miles, start 11,050', end 10,450', gain 800', loss 1,400'

Wednesday we retraced our steps back to the same camp where we'd cached our gear and food.

DAY 6: 6.0 miles, start 10,450', end 9,600', gain 1,000', loss 1,850'

Thursday we headed back to Cold Springs. At Scenic Pass Mother Nature cut loose with a bit of rain and thunder just to show us who's in charge and remind us that our summit day weather was an extraordinary gift for which we should be thankful.

Back at Crowheart it was a different world -- warm, balmy, and no mosquitoes.

I've been involved in related activities for years, like caving and backpacking, but this was my first real mountaineering experience. Vince was a super trip leader, patient and instructive when he could be and insistent when he had to be. There's no doubt his experience and expertise had much to do with our success. Thanks again, Vince.