Gannett Peak, in Wyoming’s Wind River range, is the most remote state highpoint in the lower 48, a 40-mile round-trip from the nearest trailhead, Elkhart Park. Though it is usually done as a 2-night backpack (or guided in 5 nights), I had read a couple of reports of 20-hour outings, and figured it would be a reasonable day. Since much of the route is on trail, I could hike it without evening headlamp time; a good trail runner could probably do Gannett car-to-car in under 12 hours.
I availed myself of the Climbers’ Ranch’s showers and cooking facilities one last time, then drove down to Elkhart Park and grimly set my alarm for 3:00 AM. While burning up the approach road, I had a strange encounter with a moose. From what I could see, I startled it coming around a corner, causing it to slip and fall in the middle of the road. I slammed on the brakes, and it struggled up, shook itself off, and eventually figured out it could get away by going into the woods.
After a short night’s sleep, I was on the trail at 3:20, the full moon mostly obscured by the forest. Though I had heard the mosquitoes were out, they were subdued at night, and I only noticed them when I stopped to check my map at intersections. The trail intersections are well-signed, but labeled with the names of lakes, which I usually ignore.
Dawn found me around Hobbs Lake, and by the huge Seneca Lake, I was headlamp-free and able to appreciate the scenery. The trail climbs through shallow granite basins, following the edges of lakes and streams where it can, and cutting through saddles to get from one water course to the next. This area of the Winds is an undulating granite surface with dirt and water poured into the lower parts. I was unfortunately passing through during the mud phase, causing maximum trail damage.
The trail was mostly snow-free until near Island Lake, and the stretches of snow were mostly well-consolidated under a thin layer of slush. I finally passed the Indian Pass trail junction and, after a wide but amazingly easy stream crossing on boulders, headed north into Titcomb Basin.
The basin is deceptively massive: though it is around 4 miles from the walls of Fremont Peak to the base of Bonney Pass, the rest of the scenery is built to scale. Each Titcomb Lake is over a half-mile long, and the eastern peaks rise 3000 feet from the lakes, much of that in steep, golden granite faces. While it looked like a short trip from the junction to the base of the pass, I took over an hour and a half to cross the basin. Though there were several sets of fresh tracks in the mud, I only saw a few people at a distance.
I crampon-ed up the softening snow to barren Bonney pass in about 40 minutes, where I finally got my first view of Gannett, 6h40 into my day. I recovered from the climb while boot-skiing and jogging down the other side and onto the Dinwoody Glacier. The Dinwoody is comprised of several lobes which descend from the surrounding cirques to meet in a mess of moraines and glacial ice in the valley below.
Reaching what I thought was the Gooseneck Glacier, I put crampons back on to make my way up to the Gooseneck ridge. I later realized I had climbed the edge of a piece of the Dinwoody Glacier to its south, but the route wasn’t too hard or crevassed. I reached the ridge via a steeper couloir to the north, then crossed some rocks to Gannett’s summit snowfield, where I followed a decent boot-pack to the summit, 8h20 from the trailhead.
Though the high point is a rock next to the huge register can, Gannett somehow manages to retain snow on the summit ridge only a few feet lower than its high point. This is fortunate, since most of the underlying rock seems to be black choss. I found a sheltered spot, took out my map and fish, and spent a half-hour or so admiring my surroundings. The peaks reminded me of the Washington Cascades, with sharp pinnacles, rotten rock, and large glaciers extending nearly to some summits. While I ate, I watched a party of five making their slow way up the standard route in a roped cluster-fail.
After some post-holing and an epic boot-ski down to the flat part of the glacier, I slid upon a couple who had summited earlier in the morning. Though they were coming from a camp in Titcomb Basin, they were moving slowly, roping up to plod across the very non-threatening glacier in their mountaineering boots. I talked to them for a few minutes, then took off, thinking of how I should ration my remaining food. 2800 calories (7 banana chocolate chip cookies from the bargain bin, 3 Clif bars, and fish) is not much for a 40-mile, 16-hour day.
The north side of Bonney Pass looked long but passed mercifully quickly, and after another sweet ski down the south side and a snow plod, I replenished my water, took the plastic bags off my feet, and wrung out my thoroughly-soaked socks. The return hike was a bit grim. I was slow going through Titcomb, while my body figured out where to find more energy, and the mosquitoes were out from Island Lake on, though DEET kept them at bay. I ate my last food at Island Lake, hopefully helping myself over the rollers between Island and Hobbs lakes.
I jogged the downhills where I could, more to make the hurting stop than to improve my car-to-car time. I was slow going uphill, and the flat to slightly downhill trail from Hobbs Lake on is mostly forested and forgettable compared to the rest. However, it does have a great big “1” on a sign one mile from the trailhead, motive enough for me to jog to the trailhead, making it in 15h50.
The Titcomb Basin and Dinwoody Glacier areas are spectacular, and I have several more objectives in the area, including Helen and Sacagawea, Fremont, and Dinwoody to Warren. Each would make a good dayhike, but I’m not sure I have the will to repeat the approach while I am in the area. It is tempting to come back after mosquito season and hit them all as a week-long backpack.