Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My First Summit, Gannett Peak, in the Wind River Range, WY.

My urge to climb a mountain started in July, 2012, not too long after I got back from our usual climbing trip in the Black Hills, South Dakota, with  several good friends of mine.

As I was contemplating of which mountain I should lay eyes on for this year, Gannett came across my mind. She is the highest peak in Wyoming (sorry, Grand Teton, but you're not the one). So, not only is Gannett 13,809 feet above the sea level, which would be the highest elevation I've ever been on, but also the most remote of all the state high points in the lower 48. Thought process and excitement flooded my mind.

Am I ready for this? Why do I strive for something that's way over my limitation? How do I know if there's a limit? Can I do it right? I immediately worked on my research, read trip reports, and talked to people about doing it solo on this beastly expedition. I found several topographic maps, acquired multiple climbing routes, and learned some useful techniques about glacier travel and self-rescue from friends and the internet.

The plan started.

On August 15th, 2012, I left for this epic expedition of my my own. Arrived in Dubois,WY, late evening on August 16 after driving for 17 hours from St. Paul, Minnesota.

That night, I decided to get a campsite in a local campground that was only several miles away from the trailhead in order to sort out my gear, and also, to get a good night sleep before hitting the trail.



Day 1, 2 & 3
Glacier Trail Approach: 
23 miles to basecamp; 
3,590 feet gain.

In to the Wind River Range, Glacier Trail welcomed me right away with a crap load of constant uphill and switchback suckfest. Immediately after was the high 5-mile Burro Pass that would take you to the end of the world where you might reconsider climbing Gannett.


I learned that these switchbacks did not take me to the top of the pass. Further on, there was still a very long slope to go up above the tree line. Several hours into the hike up on these hills, I could tell the air was getting thin as the trail got more rocky, and it was necessary to pick each step. The blazing sun blasted its best heat wave on my face, just enough for me to drain my sweat on this thirsty meadow.

Once I attained the Pass, it was, for me, a matter of grinding it out, one miserable step at a time. I was tired, I was hot, and I was beginning to wonder what on earth had prompted me to embark upon this insane adventure. After hating my life for 11 miles of hiking, I finally made it to Phillips Lake, the first water source, and rested there for the night. Rumor said that sleep was supposed to refresh tired muscles and joints. 35 pounds on my back sucked big elephant balls.





 The next morning, breakfast was heavenly. I needed to eat to heal and prepare for the suck. After demolishing the whole dehydrated meal and  a Cliff Bar, I quickly chugged 2 full 32 oz. Nalgene bottles of water, mixed with chia seeds and honey, down my throat like a homeless person who was stranded out on a desert for the past five days. After an hour to settle this obnoxious food baby, I continued on the good old trail and reached Double Lake, Star Lake, and the view of Honeymoon Lake. Beautiful morning. Beautiful sun. Beautiful lakes. Long series of switchbacks appeared. No problem. I went down some thousand vertical feet with more rocks and gravel to encounter the most beautiful creek I've ever seen. After approaching the Big Meadows, Dinwoody Creek and Klondike Creek lead me to Wilson Meadows in less than 2 hours. At this point, Gannett peaked her face around the corner for the very first time to say, "Hey, little girl, you're only half way there!" The hike was a lot less strenuous, but I decided to pitch my tent early that day to get plenty of rest for the final push tomorrow. Highlight of the day: I saw a herd of elk and a moose shortly after my first sight of Gannett Peak.

Double Lake
View of Gannett Peak for the very first time.
A herd of Elk
Say Hello to my little Moose.
 The third day of this solo expedition started out very, very moist. And by "moist", I meant crossing Gannett Creek and the many rivulets that form the headwaters of Dinwoody Creek. There are three or four of these to cross in this area and each had a makeshift bridge formed by logs thrown across. I figured out the way through this confusing area and made it over safely with great help from my trekking poles.


Continuing up the trail, about an hour later, I passed the tree line and walked up the valley toward the mountain. With green meadows and colorful wild flowers in abundance, and thousands of feet of towering rock on both sides, this valley was, so far, one of the most pleasant sights yet. However, the ascent up the long, steep sections leading directly to the gentle swayback grew increasingly aggravating and seemingly never-ending. Finally, it brought me almost to the end of Glacier Trail and the beginning of nasty boulder fields. I found a convenient, flatter area and called it a day.







Going solo did take away some sort of entertainment. I had nobody to laugh with, to distract me from the misery, to take away my fear from being attacked by predators. Food was the only comfort I had. I often looked forward to a relaxing evening with warm meal and drink. (I'm a big, fat, greedy girl who never wants to go hungry on the mountains.)







Day 4 - Pre-Summit Interlude.

There were a few potential factors to my concern on successfully climb the summit: dehydration, lack of oxygen, lack of time to acclimatize, out of shape, bad weather, basecamp too far, running out of time... So, I gave myself an extra day at basecamp to acclimatize, load up on calories, hydrate my body with delicious glacial water, and learn the route while staring at the summit.

Basecamp right under Gannett Peak

Behind me was the massive Warren Peak.

I also wanted to camp as close to the base of the actual peak as I possibly could. That being said, having a 35 lb. weight on my back while scrambling up a 1000' gain and crossing a 2 mile boulder field was another crap episode I had to put up. It wasn't as bad as Day 1. It was inconvenient...but not bad, really put my quad muscles to the test though. Finally, amid the north of the Dinwoody Glacier below and the gently rounded summit ridge of Gannett Peak above, I was able to find a flat area next to one of the high tarns to set my tent and dump my pack.



Forty minutes later, after hiding behind a rock wind break while enjoying my carb-filled dinner, my intention was now firmly in place to make my summit bid the next day. Being honest with myself about my physical readiness: blisters,  fatigued muscles, and inflamed joints were no longer my issues, I felt great. Although most summit parties prefer to camp at the bottom of the boulder field, by moving up here, I gave myself a shorter (easier?) climb on summit day, eliminating not just 1,000 vertical feet but also an awkward boulder-hopping in the dark. Water, snacks, ice axe, crampons, rope, headlight, GoPro on my helmet,... I double-checked my day pack over and over again before "resting".




Day 5 - The Glorious Summit Endeavor.
3.5 miles round trip from base camp; 2,750 feet gain.


I managed to get up at 4:00 am (that later on proved to be wise). Downing my throat with a Cliff bar and GU packages, I was ready to nail this mighty mountain. The meandering steep slope was a nasty mix of scree and precariously balanced boulders. I followed the creek, which was made by the melting glacier from Gannett. Listening to the sound of flowing water, eyeballing the shiny rocks beneath every footstep, slowly but surely, I arrived to the first glacier earlier than expected.

A 45-degree sheath of icy gravel welcomed me unexpectedly. For my first time traveling on glacier, it was a smart choice for me to stay here and wait until dawn arrived. Crampons were ready; ice-axe was secured. 30 more minutes until the dawn rises.




The wind was pounding at me as I was starting to feel the chill sinking in my bones. Time went by slowly. I finally saw the different colors of the glacial snow. It was firm for the most part. Marching toward the low point of the glacier took me over countless rivulets of swiftly running glacial melt and spots where the glacier was hard ice rather than snow. Switchbacks on this 70-feet snow wall was done with an art. At what looked like the glacier's breather, I took a short break and re-hydrate myself.

I encountered the first glacial snow. It was quite icy.
Amazing sunrise while I was traveling toward Gooseneck Pinnacle.


Approaching the famous Gooseneck Pinnacle was quite strenuous. Steeper slope, I stomped my feet and carved those crampon teeth with every step, hoping that I'd never have to self-arrest from shooting down this 60 degree glacier.



Things continued to go smoothly as I worked my way up towards the crux of the route - the base of Gooseneck Couloir. There was a snow patch at the bergschrund had mostly melted away. A 15 foot gap of empty space to the black hole below shamelessly presented itself between me and the 30 foot vertical wall that lead to the couloir. Luck has been my companion throughout the journey. Once across, the snow heading up the 60-degree couloir was very soft and provided solid footing. Just like that, I was at the top of the Gooseneck, feeling very good about my chance of summiting Gannett.
Looking down this steep SouthEast Couloir
Finishing up the remain glacial snow onto the top ridge to the Peak.


Except for the whipping and lashing wind, the weather was cooperating. Puffy cumulus clouds were racing from west to east and seemed to be growing thicker, but they didn’t have that certain look that associated with thunderstorms or precipitation. The weather stayed on my side as I flirted with several class-5 rock scrambles on the highly exposed summit ridge.

Climbing up a class-5.



A piece of an advice: don't look down.

During my last hour of ascent, I occasionally walked on top of the snow fields where there was a narrow but visible jagged crack in the snow, like a wobbly charcoal line a young child might have drawn on a sheet of newsprint, perpendicular to my path upward. Boulder hopping and class-3'ish scrambling is noticeably more tiring above 13,000’ than it is at lower elevations.







At last I reached what had to be the highest point along the rounded top of the peak: top of Wyoming. 12:30pm, I was 13,809 feet above the sea level. Tired and relieved, I signed one of the summit registers from the extraordinary summit canister, unwillingly stuffed a Cliff bar down my throat, and set off for the return trip after only 20 minutes upon the grand view on top of Gannett Peak. How fearsome this prominent peak had to offer to earn its outstanding reputation.


Prior to signing the summit book, for awhile, I thought I was dreaming. Must be the altitude affect.
First time being 13,809 feet above the sea level, EVER.

The view from Gannett summit.

Gannett Peak.

The mission wasn't finished. Only half way done, the fun game of my cautious decent had just began; going back down was mandatory. I caught a glimpse of a mild avalanche on the other side of Gannett while down-climbing the steep Gooseneck Pinnacle. Fucking YIKES! Utilizing the rope that I carried with, I rappelled down Gannett's famous bergschrund and traversed passed the crux into the forever long glacier.


Gooseneck Pinnacle


Although some ferocious winds had ushered me down, extreme care was still necessary. A great deal of positive self talk and daydreaming of an imaginary celebratory meal of sauerkraut and beer brats, accompanied by a glass of champagne waiting for me upon my return, that got me through four hours of slogging across the soft, semi-melted glacial snowfields and boulders. Finally, my wrecked  body returned to the little nylon dome that I called home.








Day 6, 7, & 8 - Back to Civilization.

Nothing special here. Just a reallllly realllly long 3-day hike back to the trailhead with a broken exhausted body...


(See above for Day 1, 2, and 3 pleasantries.)

The morning when I had to leave this beautiful place.
A smile that hides my satisfaction of conquering Gannet Peak.


Good bye Gannett.


It was definitely a long but satisfying journey, and once again – except for the huffing and puffing of the boisterous breezes – I had been blessed with cooperative weather. Water was my religion, and so were the Ibuprofen and those trekking poles. Words could not describe how much I looked forward to eating real food, taking a hot shower for the first time after 10 days, then calling my friends to bitch about the hell hike while bragging about the spectacular view on Gannett. Don't worry, I'm a walking contradiction.





 I put together a video that I recorded while spending 8 days out there in the gorgeous Wind River Range. Enjoy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oU8sqKcOT4E