Author’s note: Yes, the date of the trip is correct: August 2000, 10 years ago. I finally decided to write up this TR before my memory fades or a hard disk crash takes away my photos.
Ten years ago, on August 21 2000, I hefted one of the heaviest packs I’ve ever carried onto my shoulders and headed into Wyoming’s Wind River range on a week-long backpacking trip with my friend Damon. Damon is one of my most frequent outdoor adventure partners, and over the preceding years we had done quite a few backpacking trips together, most frequently in California’s Sierra Nevada range. For this trip we had our sights set on Gannett Peak, Wyoming’s highest peak (13,804’) and probably the most challenging state high point in the Lower 48.
There’s more than one approach to Gannett Peak, but none that are short. Despite being the highest peak in the state, Gannett isn’t visible from many places in civilization. That remoteness is one of the factors that increases the difficulty rating of Gannett’s summit. Our route followed the Glacier Trail on the east side of the Wind River range for 20 miles up Torrey and Dinwoody Creeks, to a point where we planned a multi-day base camp. From the base camp we’d be able to complete the summit ascent of Gannett in a single long day, but we gave ourselves a 4-day window in case weather conditions became an issue. We’d use the other 3 days to peak-scramble and explore some of the surrounding terrain.
The first day of our 2-day approach involved a strenuous 10-mile, 3300’ vertical climb up the Torrey Creek drainage to a beautiful campsite near Star Lake. Discouragingly, we knew that we’d give back most of that elevation the next day on a long switch-backed descent to Dinwoody Creek. But Dinwoody Glacier is the source of the creek, and that glacier is one of the five that surrounds Gannett Peak, so the creek signified that we were getting closer to our objective.
Finally, on the afternoon of the second day and more than 17 miles into the trip, we got our first view of the peak. The view of Gannett’s large summit snowcap was inspiring but also a bit intimidating.
Continuing up Dinwoody Creek, we passed through the beautiful sub-alpine Floyd Wilson Meadows. Moose are common in this area, and we saw several bulls and cows as we crossed the meadows and climbed to a point just below treeline.
In addition to the standard backpacking gear and eight days of food provisions, we also carried in crampons, ice axe, rope and a small climbing rack. That extra mountaineering gear had brought the weight of our packs up to around 80 pounds. We set up our basecamp at around 10,500’ in the last set of tall trees, still more than three thousand vertical feet below the summit of Gannett, and planned to make our summit attempt in the morning.
The following morning dawned clear and cold, and we set out by 6:45. Our route involved crossing seemingly endless talus fields to access Gooseneck Glacier, and then ascending the glacier and snowfields to the summit ridge.
Mountaineering crampons and an ice axe are all that is needed for most of that ascent, however there is a crux pitch up 45-degree snow and ice in Gooseneck Gully where rope and a belay are advisable. Above the gully there is still quite a bit of climbing to do, mostly over third and fourth class rock. Once we attained the final summit ridge, views of the Tetons open up to the northwest. In the final quarter-mile approach to the summit, the summit ridge narrows considerably, with the sheer drop-off of Gannett’s west face on the immediate left and steep snowfields on the right. Those snowfields form the summit snowcap we had seen the day before on our approach.
I should mention that Damon has always had difficulty with exposure and altitude. Although some rock climbing experience over the past year had given him the confidence to overcome some of his fear of heights, we both knew that this climb could turn out to be a bigger challenge for him than me. But we also knew from other backpacking trips we had taken together that we were well-suited as partners for this trip, so we relied on good physical conditioning (we were both training for fall marathons) and my relative comfort with exposure to pull us through. This proved to be a good strategy, with me taking the lead up the handful of steeper exposed sections and providing rope and a belay for Damon when needed.
Damon tagged the summit first, having gotten ahead of me the last time I had stopped to pack our rope. A few minutes later I showed up and we signed the register. About 300 people had climbed the peak that year. With good weather in our favor, we lingered on the summit for a bit, but eventually started down, anxious to get some of the more difficult descent segments behind us. By the time we reached our base camp, we had been gone almost exactly 12 hours.
Back in the relative comfort of our base camp, we mixed up a batch of celebratory margaritas, considered a hydration necessity on extended backpacking trips, and kicked back.
The following day Damon opted to rest and recover, but I decided to do some exploration of the terrain around our basecamp, so I headed out on a half-day, third class solo climb of nearby West Sentinel Peak. The ridgeline and summit gave an interesting straight-on view of Gannett and much of our route from the day before. At the summit, I signed the register placed by the Chicago Mountaineering Club thirty years earlier. Other than me, just a handful of climbers had signed the register that year, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s another thirty years before the register needs to be replaced.
Having napped and snacked the afternoon away, Damon was ready for adventure the next day. We decided on a route across Dinwoody Glacier and then up steep talus fields to Dinwoody Pass and Dinwoody Peak. The pass and peak lie directly on the Continental Divide just south of Gannett Peak. The pass is also a portal for climbers ascending Gannett from the western approach. Although we roped up for the glacier, the climbing was relatively easy. Above the glacier, steep talus led to the pass and even steeper talus to the summit of Dinwoody Peak, elevation 13,500’. The summit register had been placed in 1961, and we were the fourth or fifth party that year to sign.
Dinwoody Peak is the western-most (looker’s right) of a cluster of three soaring pinnacles above Dinwoody Glacier. The view from the summit inspired us to consider a triple traverse of the three peaks: Dinwoody, Doublet and Warren… some other time. That traverse involves a rappel from the summit of Dinwoody, ascents of Doublet and Warren, and then an exciting descent (Damon used the word “horrifying”) of the elevator shaft ice couloir leading back to Dinwoody Glacier below. That route is clearly visible in the photo above, taken from the talus fields below Dinwoody Glacier.
On the final day before our exit hike, we opted for a hike / climb up Philsmith Peak, a minor 12,700’ summit to the northeast of our camp. Although the climb itself was over easy low-angle snowfields, the summit provided dramatic views of Klondike Lake 1500 vertical feet directly below.
We began our exit hike the next day, retracing our approach route. At the final viewpoint before Gannett disappeared behind us, we couldn’t help but reflect on the area’s wildness, remoteness and beauty. It’s hard to imagine a spot in the lower 48 with so many significant glaciers and spectacular peaks packed into so small an area. There aren’t many trails or easy hikes, but the rewards are solitude, unrivaled alpine scenery and plenty of challenge.