My friend Kai and I originally intended to climb Gannett Peak (13, 809′) in Wyoming’s Wind River Range over a five day period. It didn’t quite turn out like we had anticipated. But if you are flexible, most trips have redeeming qualities even if they don’t turn out like you had hoped. One of the trailheads for Gannett Peak is just outside Dubois, WY, which is about 45 miles east of the Tetons in the northwest part of the Wind River Range. We drove up Sunday evening and stayed at the Super 8 Motel in Dubois. Monday morning we loaded up our packs, which to my surprise, were much heavier than I thought they would be. I was thinking maybe 35-40 lbs, but they were more like 55-60 lbs. We had planned on climbing the more technical North Face route up the Gannett Galcier. This route involves snow and ice climbing with some low 5th class rock climbing. As such, we had heavier boots and crampons, glacier travel/crevasse rescue gear, a full length rope, and a light rack of snow pickets, some ice screws, some rock nuts, and some Tricams. Additionally, we each had two ice tools as well. Add in regular backpacking gear, and this amounted to very heavy packs. For quite a few years now I have been going ultralight with my backpacking trips, my pack seldom weighing more than about 22 lbs, even for multi-day trips. So a 50+ lb load was not feeling very good. Because I did not want to hike in my mountaineering boots, I elected to wear light approach shoes and pack the boots in my pack. This of course just added to the weight of my pack. Kai had a pair of lightweight mountaineering boots that were comfortable enough to hike in.
The approach to Gannett from this side is around 25 miles one way. It is no wonder that Gannett Peak is considered one of the most difficult of the state high points and has one of the lowest success rates. The Glacier Trail begins at the Trail Lake Trailhead a few miles outside Dubois. It starts out in high desert terrain, hot and dry, and slowly climbs up through forests and tops out on a long alpine tundra meadow.
At one point there were steep switchbacks that went on for miles before finally topping out on the alpine tundra. It was a tough slog and I was feeling it. Once onto the alpine tundra we continued to climb several more miles to the top of a saddle before descending down the other side back into a forested area dotted with lakes and streams.
By the time we topped out it was about 1:00 pm and began to rain. It continued to rain off and on for the next five or six hours. We donned rain gear and continued down the alpine tundra and into a burned out forest.
Erie blackened dead trees stood all around. After about 14 miles we reached Double Lake, tired and ready to call it a day.
We found a nice camp spot and set up camp.
It was at this point that I realized I had a problem. An old health issue had reappeared and I was doubtful I could continue all the way to Gannett, climb it, and hike all the way back. My plantar fasciitis was also acting up and my arches were quite painful. We had ascended about 3000′ then descended probably another 2000′. We ate a freeze-dried meal for dinner, then slept well. In the morning I broke the news to Kai that I didn’t think I had it in me to do Gannett. I knew he would be disappointed but he was very understanding. He works out like a fiend and is in much better shape than I, so he wasn’t hurting like I was. However, this is a very stiff hike, even for the superfit. We decided to alter our plans.
We decided to hike down the trail, with light packs, and do some exploring for the day. Kai also had a lightweight Tenkara fishing rod, just in case. We ended up hiking all the way down to Downs Creek, where the bridge was partially washed away from the immense spring runoff this year. The water had a milky color to it as these creeks flow from the glaciers higher up. There was quite a lot of downhill hiking to get there, but the scenery was spectacular. The creeks we encountered, at least the ones labeled on our map were more like rivers.
The hike back to camp was mostly uphill and was rigorous. We covered about 12 miles round trip. Once back at camp we decided to begin the hike out so there wouldn’t be as many miles on the last day. It was not pleasant shouldering those heavy packs again. We hiked back up to the base of the burned forest to a very pleasant stream coming out of a lake just above and decided to camp there for the night.
We were not too thrilled about hiking back up to the saddle on the alpine tundra in the heat of the afternoon with no shade. It turned out to be a very nice campsite (except for the evil hordes of mosquitos). We spent the rest of the day fishing the very active creek and lake, where Kai caught quite a few beautiful brook trout. I also fished a bit and caught a couple small trout.
I spent most of the time wandering around taking photos, mostly of wildflowers.
The next day we hiked the 12 or so miles back out. It was tough as my feet and legs were pretty sore. I also made the mistake of taking my Cilogear climbing pack (45 liter) which is not designed to carry 50+ lbs of gear, and it was weighing heavily on my shoulders (and my hips). The hike out went pretty smooth, though we were both pretty sore and tired by the time we got back to the car.
We had covered about 35-40 miles in three days with significant elevation gain and loss. I certainly have a great deal respect for people that climb Gannett and really understand why the success rate of summiting is so low. Once getting to the peak, there is no easy walkup route either. Even the easiest route requires climbing and active glacier with a bergshrund and potential crevasses to deal with.
Though it was disappointing to not make it to Gannett, we saw some beautiful country and it’s always good to be out in the mountains. We would have stayed longer but the mosquitos were terrible. Whenever we stopped hiking, and in camp, there would be literal clouds of mosquitos all over us. Long sleeves, head nets, and bug juice helped, but it was still not pleasant. I had bought a head net for this trip and I was really glad I had it as they kept the mosquitos off my face and neck while in camp. The Wind River Range is wild, rugged, and beautiful and I look forward to when I can go back for another trip. For now I’m humbly licking my wounds.