Woodrow Wilson to Desolation (5 peaks)

Gannett from Koven

[This is part of a multi-part trip report of my Wyoming 13er speed record.]

During the previous day’s evening headlamp time, I had come up with a sketch of a plan to tag the Gannett-area peaks. I figured that the upper Dinwoody Glacier would be lower-angle and have better snow cover, so I could use it to get from Woodrow Wilson to Pinnacle Ridge and Glacier Pass. The pass is close to the current FKT route on Gannett, via Wells or Tourist Creek, so I could probably climb Gannett from there. And I knew that I could get back up to the crest from the saddle between Desolation and Rampart. Hopefully Koven would take care of itself. To make this work, I had to backpack over Woodrow Wilson, going up the west chute and down the north ridge/face. Thus I would climb the Sphinx Glacier again, making my earlier climb of the Sphinx a total waste (though it did not cost me a day).

Lower Titcomb Lake

Not having pre-made my breakfast the night before, I got off to a slightly slow start, leaving my boulder home to hike up Titcomb Basin. Partway up I ran into two friendly guys headed over Indian Pass on a backpack. We talked for awhile, and I learned that one of the men, Mark, was an expat and guidebook author living in Ecuador. One nice thing about doing speed records measured in days instead of hours is that taking time to talk to people or enjoy the view does not actually slow you down. Twenty minutes chatting simply meant that I would have twenty fewer minutes to lie in my bivy and fail to sleep that evening.

Leaving Titcomb Basin

After some pleasant cross-country travel up out of Titcomb, I climbed the familiar boulder-field to the Sphinx Glacier, then put on crampons to make the easy climb to its top. From the upper left side, I crossed the ridge south of Wilson, where the west couloir became obvious. Unsurprisingly, it no longer held any snow. I made my way up the rubble in the chute and the rock to either side, awkward and slow with my overnight pack pulling me backward and bumping into things. The final scramble from the top of the couloir would have been easy and fun with a daypack, but was somewhat more thought-provoking with my heavy load. I took some time on the summit to repack, shoving my bedroll into the pack and strapping my daypack below the topper. I had eaten enough of my food for it to fit, and this streamlined the load and distributed the weight slightly better.

Crevasse issues on Wilson

While it looks like an easy walk down a plateau from Wilson to the upper Dinwoody Glacier, there is a steep notch that forces one into a class 3-4 gully to the left. This was made a bit trickier by the snow, but still quite a bit easier than the way I had come up. As I had hoped, the upper glacier was not too steep, and had decent snow-cover. However, there was a tricky crevasse across much of the slope below Wilson, and a steep band of ice and rock leading up to the part below Pinnacle Ridge. I made my way down the right side of the Wilson lobe, then crossed the big crevasse on what looked like the best of several snow bridges. From there, I crossed a flat section to the rock/ice band, which I surmounted with a little easy mixed climbing, sometimes wedging a foot in the crack between rock and ice, and even getting a few solid tool sticks.

Chute up to Pinnacle Ridge

Back on low-angle snow, I dropped my pack and set off up the gully north of the highest Pinnacle with only my crampons and axe. This was badly melted out, and involved more hijinks in the ice/rock interface on the right side. I eventually reached bare debris, where I stashed my axe and crampons and carefully made my way to the ridge. From there, moderate climbing on the west side led to a notch just below the top, where a few steeper moves got me to the top of the summit block. I admired the view of Wilson, sketched my way back to my pack, then had an easy walk along the upper glacier to below Glacier Pass, which was of course a miserable loose talus-chute on both sides.

Glacier Pass and Gannett

Here I again dropped my pack, drinking some water and shoving a bag of trail mix in my pocket before heading north toward Gannett. I worked my way around the right side of the next subpeak, finding a bit of horribly rotten class 4-5 climbing across a gully, but otherwise moderate terrain, and even an old sling from someone else who had come this way. I found a cairn at the saddle past the subpeak, where I apparently joined the Wells Creek route, and soon merged with the standard Gooseneck route from the Dinwoody side. I had been hoping to run into others, thinking it would be amusing to greet them with no pack and just trail runners, but I had the peak to myself, though I saw a well-used boot-pack below the Gooseneck bergschrund. I posed for a bit on the Wyoming highpoint, then retraced my route to Glacier Pass.

Desolation, Rampart, Koven

The other side of the pass mostly sucked, with only a few stripes of skiable scree amid the unstable talus. I contoured around the bottom of the pass, then climbed north to a notch in the ridge at the top of the Minor Glacier. The glacier itself was easy going, flat and gritty enough that I did not bother with crampons. Unfortunately it has badly retreated, leaving behind a maze of steep, gritty slabs encircling the terminal lake below. I found some of the day’s sketchiest climbing as I made my way down and right, eyeing Koven and trying to decide how to climb it. My original plan had been to traverse from Rampart to its north, but the descent from Rampart looked hard, and Sarah had found some 5.7 climbing on its north ridge. The south side was supposedly easier, and it looked like I could reach the col at its base from this side.

Climb to Koven saddle

This would be a longer excursion, so I packed my daypack and left my big pack on a boulder. Fortunately I took a waypoint at its location, because I almost immediately lost it in the chaotic talus around the lake. I meandered up a mixture of grass and slabs toward the col, then followed a rotten black gully almost to Sachem Peak before cutting back left to reach the ridge. I had to do some backtracking and a bit of low fifth class, but there were no serious difficulties. Looking over the other side, I saw that the Gannett Glacier came close to the ridge, and that the other side was ledge-y and easy. The route was as described in the old Bonney guide, mostly easier with a bit of low fifth class following ledges east of the serrated ridge crest. I finally climbed a rib next to a dirt chute to reach the crest, finding an old rap anchor. From there, I stayed mostly on or left of the ridge to the summit, passing another gully and a rap anchor above a short fifth class slab below the summit. I enjoyed the view of a seldom-seen side of Gannett and its broad, flat upper glacier, relieved to be done with the technical unknowns of my route.

Sunset on Gannett

I stupidly wasted time cliffing out trying to find a better way down, then retreated to the known path down the chossy black gully. Shouldering my pack, I continued to the base of the valley, then up easy talus to the saddle between Desolation and Redoubt. It was getting late, but Desolation rises less than 1000 feet from the saddle, and Eric mentioned that its east ridge was enjoyable fourth class. I found a wonderful flat spot to camp, dumped my pack, and took off up the ridge unladen. It delivered on the promise of fun, moderate scrambling, making it a nice cool-down after the day’s more challenging and adventurous climbing. The ridge is generally narrow and favors staying on the crest, and ends at the high end of the summit plateau. I tagged the summit at sunset, then hurried back down to have a hot meal and settle in for the night. As long as the mystery de-approach from Downs west to Clear Creek worked, I was in a good position to finish the northern Winds in only six days, one less than I had hoped and two less than I had feared.

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