Monday, August 12, 2013

Gannett Peak via East Couloir

Gannett Peak via Elkhart Park Trailhead
Gooseneck Glacier (variation) route via "East Couloir", Glacier travel, Class 4 snow, Grade II
August 9-11


Gannett Peak, at 13,809 ft., is the tallest mountain in Wyoming and perhaps the most challenging.  It is certainly one of the hardest state high points that I have done (Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainier, Borah Peak, Kings Peak, etc).  The standard approach and route is a 42 mile haul roundtrip from Elkhart Park Trailhead and is anything but direct and straight froward.  The trail meanders up through forests and high mountain meadows to "Photographers Point," down and up and down and up around several mountain lakes until finally reaching Titcomb Basin.  Titcomb Basin is a long glacial valley with shear walls and peaks on either side.  At the head of the valley is Dinwoody (or Bonney) Pass.  Gannett Peak is only visible once you reach the top of the pass, which is where the climbing route begins.  Various climbing routes exist on all sides of the mountain.     
Island Lake with high Wind Rivers and Titcomb Basin in the background
I was first introduced to the Wind Rivers as an 18-year-old when I did a 50-mile backpacking loop with my dad.  With peaks on all sides, I knew I would be back for more.  I have been to the Wind Rivers to climb 4 times since (I am now 28 years old), including a trip to the Cirque of the Towers a couple weeks ago.  Trip report HERE.

Titcomb Basin in May 2011.  Photo taken by my brother-in-law
Gannett Peak has been eluding me for the past 3 years. I first attempted to climb it in May 2011 on skis. Don't be fooled, this was nothing close to a summer hike, it was a winter expedition. Trip report HERE. My second "attempt", if you want to call it that, was last summer. After climbing the Grand Teton and Mt. Owen in 2 consecutive days, we hiked in to Titcomb Basin (~15 miles) and I strained my achilles tendon. So I limped out the following day. My third attempt was this past weekend. We hiked in from Elkhart Park and summited via the Gooseneck Glacier (variation) route. It took us 3 days.

Trip Report:   
My brother-in-law finished residency and his medical board exam on Thursday and I have to drive back to graduate school on Tuesday so we gave ourself a 3-day window to climb Gannett from Friday to Sunday (takes most groups 4-6 days).  So Thursday evening we drove to the Wind Rivers with a couple of our friends.  We camped at the trailhead and started hiking Friday morning.  The 18 mile hike in to our Titcomb Basin base camp took 8 hours.  We were all pretty pooped after the long haul.

Dinwoody Pass from basecamp in upper Titcomb Basin
Basecamp in upper Titcomb Basin
Gannett Peak from Dinwoody Pass at 6 am
We left Titcomb Basin at 4:15 am on Saturday morning.  We climbed up to Dinwoody Pass in a little less than 2 hours in the dark.  From there, we scrambled down the other side, put our crampons on and traversed the Dinwoody Glacier to the north towards Gooseneck Glacier.  We climbed onto the ridge that divides the Dinwoody and Gooseneck Glaciers and scrambled up the rocks towards Gooseneck Pinnacle.  The standard route climbs up a snowfield just to the north (right) of Gooseneck Pinnacle.  However, the conditions looked sub-par on the snowbridge covering the large bergshrund so we opted for a more difficult, yet more stable variation up an A-shaped couloir further to the north on the east side of the mountain.  I think an appropriate name for it would be the "East Couloir."

We traversed the Gooseneck Glacier towards the East Couloir at the apex of the Gooseneck Glacier.  The ~10 ft. wide bergshrund had a solid snow bridge and soft, yet steep (~60 degree) class 4 snow all the way up.  The snow runs out at the top and turns into steep, wet rock.  I scrambled around on the rocks looking for a way around.  Finally, we found a way to climb onto the rocks on the south side of the couloir and then made our way north up the ridge to the summit.  We spent an hour on the summit with great weather and then down-climbed the way we came up.  With a group of 5 with varying levels of acclimatization and experience, it took us all day to do the route.

Our route from Dinwoody Pass in the south, across the Dinwoody Glacier, up the ridge dividing the Dinwoody and Gooseneck Glaciers, up the East Coiloir, and north along the summit ridge (the standard route is in yellow).
The A-shaped "east couloir" can be seen on the left
Traversing the Gooseneck Glacier 
Climbing the "East Couloir" above the Gooseneck Glacier
Two of our group are on the edge of the glacier near the rocks for scale

We did not rope up for this climb, given our comfort level on the glaciers with relatively small and visible crevasses and our comfort level on the steep couloir.  We did, however, have crampons and mountaineering ice axes.

The summiteers 
Looking south along the summit ridge
Me on the summit