July 10th, 2004
Amy and I departed my parent's cabin at 8 a.m. to meet Neil at the Elkhart Park trailhead at 9 a.m. Cresting a hill we got our first view of Fremont Lake with the Wind Rivers in the backdrop. Fremont is one of the most beautiful lakes in the country in my opinion. Continuing up Skyline Drive the road gains elevation rapidly as it climbs through the forest. There is a scenic overlook near the trailhead with an awesome view of Fremont and Jackson Peak. If you are ever in the Pinedale area, this is a must-see. We arrived at the trailhead a little early so we stretched and finalized our packs. Neil was quick to arrive and so our journey into the Winds began.
Our energy levels were high, especially mine, because I was estatic to be back in the Winds again. The Pole Creek trail climbs very gradually for the first 5 miles to Photographers Point and we took several breaks along the way. Today's destination was Seneca Lake about 9 miles in, so we were in no hurry. The bugs weren't too bad, so I opted to leave my headnet off while Amy and Neil kept themselves covered up. Around mile 3 the trail crosses Miller Park, a large meadow near Photographers Point show below.
We arrived at Photographers Point around noon and decided to take a break. The view is one you will never forget as the high peaks of the Winds stand majestically in front of you. Fremont and Jackson Peak are the peaks in the center of the photo below.
After about a 45 minute break we were back on the trail with the next destination being Barbara Lake. The trip was going fast since we were all trading climbing stories. The trail descends a little bit to Barbara Lake and we stopped at the lake to pump some water. My uncle always comes here to fish and as we were getting water, it was obvious why. There were trout everywhere jumping out of the water snatching insects. We could see dozens of fish swimming around, most of them very good sized. I'm definitely bringing my flypole next time. Fremont Peak was in view looking across the lake. After about 10 minutes, we were on our way again.
The trail had been pretty dry up to Barbara Lake, but past the lake, it was getting muddy and wet. The trail drops again and then climbs back up to Hobbs Lake which is also a popular fishing destination. Just past Hobbs Lake there was a slightly problematic stream crossing. We didn't want to wade across the stream so we climbed uphill, hoping to find a place to hop across the rocks. A couple hundred feet above the trail we found a decent place to cross the stream.
Continuing onward the trail drops again a fair amount before beginning a long gradual climb up to Seneca Lake. Getting from Hobbs Lake to Seneca was taking longer than I expected, and we began to wonder if Seneca Lake really existed. Finally cresting a hill, we got our first view of Seneca Lake, and it was spectacular. The lake is about 1 mile long and doesn't offer much camping except on the far end, go figure, so we contoured around the lake and found a decent campsite on the northern end. It was about 5 p.m. so we lazily set up camp, got water, and cooked some dinner. Amy and I had a dehydrated lasagna that was the best Mountain House meal I ever had. The bugs were a little worse at the lake so we retreated to our tents around 7 p.m. for the evening.
July 11th, 2004
The next morning we weren't in a hurry to hit the trail since it was only about 7 more miles to Titcomb Basin. We ate breakfast, broke up camp and hit the trail around 10 a.m. Little Seneca Lake is about .25 miles down the trail and we had to climb up and around a rocky section where the trail disappeared under the lake. We talked for awhile at the lake with a group of NOLS kids that had been back in the Winds for 24 days. They had 6 more days to go before they were being picked up at New Fork Lake. After Little Seneca Lake the trail climbs for awhile again before cresting a hill with an awesome view of Fremont Peak. The approach to Gannett Peak basically entails walking towards Fremont Peak, and Fremont grows closer and closer. Snow started to cover the trail in many places, but was firm enough that we weren't postholing.
After taking a short break we pressed on towards Island Lake. I had seen Island Lake in many postcards and photos so I knew it would be spectacular, but when we were finally treated to our first views, it exceeded all expectations. I had heard somebody describe the hike to Titcomb Basin as 'living in a postcard' and I think it is the most accurate description. Elephant Head Peak is on the right side of the photo with the peaks of Titcomb Basin on the far left.
The trail again drops down to Island Lake and we began to traverse right around the southern end of the lake. We stopped to pump some more water and take a short break. This is one of the most spectacular places in the Wind Rivers and I will definitely return to camp here someday. Pressing onward the trail begins to climb towards Indian Pass. Near the Indian Pass junction we had to cross another stream.
At Island Lake, Fremont Peak looks close enough to touch, but the peak is so massive it deceives you into thinking Titcomb Basin is near. We still had a few miles to go before we would reach our camp near the lower Titcomb Lake.
The trail became increasingly muddy and the basin was a complete swamp with all the water from the recent snow melt. Some of the nearby lakes and ponds were still frozen, and this is at 10,500 feet. Lakes in Colorado around 12,000 feet melted over a month ago, what a difference a few hundred miles makes. As we finally arrived in Titcomb Basin we were concerned that we would have trouble finding a campsite with dry ground. Originally we were planning to camp between the Upper and Lower Titcomb Lake, but decided to settle for the first dry patch of ground we found. We found a decent site near the Lower Titcomb Lake and called it good enough. The Titcomb Lakes sit at 10,500 feet, so after 16 miles and 2 days, we were now just 1,000 feet higher than the trailhead. Titcomb Basin is truly a magnificant place, and is a worthwhile destination in itself. I found it just as spectacular as the Cirque of the Towers. We were surrounded by huge granite spires, thunderous waterfalls, and beautiful mountain lakes. This place has it all.
We quickly set up camp and starting cooking some dinner. We ate, talked, and soaked in the views. We were camped directly under Fremont Peak and were treated to the sun setting on its massive west face. We hit the sack around 8 p.m. but I had trouble sleeping because I was so excited to finally visit this magical place.
July 12th, 2004
Waking pretty early the next morning, I noticed the water in the lakes was completely calm. I sent Amy out on a mission to get a picture of the peaks of upper Titcomb Basin reflecting in the water. I think she did a pretty good job.
Today's destination was the top of Bonney Pass several miles and 2,300 vertical feet above camp. We planned to bivy on top of the pass and start our summit bid from there. Since we didn't have far to travel we took our time breaking up camp and stashing everything that wasn't going to the summit. We were taking our summit gear, sleeping bags, ground pad, and rainfly from the tent in case it rained. Everything else we wrapped up in garbage bags and stashed under a large boulder. Amy and I spent a long time marmot-proofing our stash with large rocks so heavy we could barely carry them. Surely no marmot would be able to move these. A bear could surely, but Titcomb Basin isn't ideal bear habitat so we were fairly confident our food and gear was secure. We started hiking around noon and the photo below shows the route up to the top of Bonney Pass. The peaks in the photo below from left to right are Mt. Woodrow Wilson, The Sphinx, Bob's Tower and Miriam Peak.
It took awhile to travel past Lower and Upper Titcomb Lake, these lake are about a mile long each. The Upper Titcomb Lake was still partially frozen. Near the Upper Titcomb Lake we passed a lady from Europe returning from her successful summit of Gannett Peak, and she remarked it was the best peak she has climbed in the United States so far. Once past the Upper Lake, the trail fades and we picked a line of least resistance through the massive boulders and granite slabs. Near the end of the upper basin, we transitioned to snow permanently as the approach to the pass gets steeper and steeper.
Looking up at the spires on Fremont Peak, Sacagawea Peak, and Tower 1, it was easy to see why Titcomb Basin is a mecca for rock climbers. You could spend years in here climbing all the routes on world-class granite.
I was feeling great and Amy and I took turns kicking steps up Bonney Pass. The climb up to the pass probably maxes out around 30 or 35 degrees and goes pretty quickly. When dry it can be a miserable scree climb, but in July the pass is usually still a snow climb.
Neil, the ever-wise mountaineer, conserved his energy and let me and Amy break trail up the pass. I was so excited for my first glimpse of Gannett Peak, I charged up Bonney Pass like a madman.
Finally, after 3 days of hiking, we were treated to our first view of Gannett Peak from the top of Bonney Pass. For both Amy and I, it was the most remarkable view Amy and I have ever seen. The photos do not do the area justice, there were massive glaciers, snowfields, and jagged peaks for miles. This is truly some of the best wilderness we have left in the lower 48 states. Neil arrived about 20 minutes later and we looked around for a dry place to bivy for the night. There are several windbreaks built out of rocks on top of the pass, but most were too slushy and muddy to sleep on. Neil found a decent place among some boulders and Amy and I dug out a decent spot on some dry ground.
We had arrived on top of the pass at 5 p.m., but after eating, boiling water for summit day, and digging out a bivy site, the daylight was fading fast. From our bivy site, we literally had Gannett Peak at our feet shown below. We tried to hit the sack around 9 p.m. and get a few hours of sleep before our 2 a.m. wake-up call from Neil. Once again, I was too excited to get much sleep so I gazed at the millions of stars that were out. I saw 3 shooting stars so I wished for a safe, successful summit and return. Around 1 a.m., I still hadn't slept and began to feel like I had a fever. I took off my beanie and unzipped my sleeping bag to cool off. My body was burning up and I began to feel like I needed to vomit. I spent the next hour just breathing and trying to convince myself not to puke. I had gotten a couple weird bug bites and I was wondering if I was having a reaction to one of them since I was feeling so good just a few hours earlier. I had to rally, I've waited too long and come too far to get sick now right at the foot of Gannett Peak.
DAY 4, SUMMIT DAY
July 13th, 2004
When Neil called at 2 a.m. I was still wide awake and feeling sick. We boiled some water for hot tea and I hoped it would make me feel better. No such luck and I was still feeling too sick to eat anything. We broke up our bivy sites and stashed our gear that wouldn't be going to the summit. I didn't feel up to the climb, but decided to at least descend the backside of Bonney Pass to the base of Gannett Peak and hoped I would start to feel better. At about 3:45 a.m. we began descending the pass in the dark, our crampons crunching on the snow. Amy and Neil talked away while I was silent, trying not to get sick. The descent down the pass went quickly and soon we were beginning to ascend the Dinwoody Glacier heading towards Glacier Pass. We dropped off Bonney to around 11,800 feet before beginning to ascend again. I started to feel better and took a couple chunks of a protein bar from Amy. Getting something in my stomach made me feel much better and quickly my energy and confidence was returning. The photo below shows our route up Gannett in red, and the standard route up the Gooseneck Glacier in yellow. We chose the route in red based on information we had received from several parties who said they had went around the leftside of the Gooseneck Pinnacle. Turns out, they meant the standard route and just miscommunicated the route to us, but we wouldn't realize that until we reach the base of the steep snow couloir on left side of the Gooseneck Pinnacle. The photo was taken the day before since it was still dark at this time.
Neil set a great pace up the Dinwoody Glacier and we had to cross about 4 or 5 crevasses like the one below. This one was about 30 feet deep but some were much deeper.
Towards the top of the Dinwoody Glacier we had a technical section to get through so Neil decided it was time we better rope up. The technical section involved a thin snow-bridge followed by a steep, icy traverse to the left since there was a bergshrund on the right side. We could have bypassed this section to the far left if we wanted to. Once through this part, it was a gentle snow slope up to the base of the Kourbelas Couloir. I named the couloir after Neil since I checked in Joe Kelsey's Wind River book after the climb, and the couloir and route we took wasn't named.
We arrived at the base of the couloir around 6 a.m. and I was thankful I was feeling better. The route was about to get much steeper and had I been sick still, I would be a danger to Neil and Amy.
Neil led the way up the couloir setting an awesome pace. The couloir doglegged to the left after climbing through the gully above, and got steeper from that point on. We were all climbing in sequence and fell into a rhythm, plant the ax, kick 2 steps. Repeat Repeat Repeat. The max angle of this couloir was probably between 45 and 50 degrees.
The top of the couloir placed us at about 13,200 feet, 600 vertical feet from the highest point in Wyoming. The route from here just follows the top of the snow along Gannett's awesome summit ridge.
Our route rejoined the standard route and there were nice steps kicked in all the way to the summit. At one point the clouds were pretty dark and it began snowing on us. There wasn't any lightning present so we decided to press on and hope it blew over. The snow only lasted about 10 minutes before the weather improved. Gannett's summit ridge is pretty awesome, there's a 3,000 foot drop to the left, and a steep snow slope that ends at a very large cliff to the right. Don't slip either way.
We reached the top of the Winds at 8 a.m. and had the roof of Wyoming all to ourselves. This was the most awesome summit I have ever reached. The views are truly alpine and the best in the lower 48 in my opinion. It was a perfect harmony of granite and ice, snow and sky. Being a Wyoming native, I am very proud that Gannett is so remote, tough, and beautiful. No train, road or class 1 trail up this bad boy.
Neil wanted to let the snow soften up a little bit to make the descent down the standard route a little easier, so we spent about 2 hours on the summit. I called my family and let them know we made it and were safe, it was awesome to share the moment with them. There is a large stovepipe on the summit with the register inside, so we all signed in. Many people remarked that it was the best peak they have ever climbed and I definitely echo those sentiments. I had been wanting to climb Gannett for 3 years and couldn't believe I was finally on the summit. It was well worth all the effort and planning. Many of the Wyoming 13ers surrounded us; Mt. Helen, Mt. Warren, Mt. Woodrow Wilson, Fremont, and Jackson. None of them look easy, it would be an amazing accomplishment to climb all of these technical beasts.
This is a close-up photo of the usual crux up the standard route. Normally there is a large bergschrund at the bottom of the steep snow slope, but with the higher than average snowfall this year, the bergshrund wasn't present. When we were getting ready to leave the summit we were joined by a group of highpointers who were guided up the mtn. by Jackson Hole Mtn. Guides. Talking to the guide, turns out we met him on the Grand Teton 3 years ago. Small world sometimes. We chatted with them for awhile before we began our descent around 10 a.m.
The descent down the summit ridge went quickly and we came to a rocky section we had to cross above the Gooseneck Pinnacle. Crampons on rock make a retched sound and it was quite a pain to cross the rocks. Luckily it was short and we were soon back on snow.
The crux slope on the standard route was completely mild with all the snowpack and there was a well beaten track up the snow slopes. We had several other sections of rock and snow to cross before we were back to the Dinwoody Glacier and ready to make our ascent back up Bonney Pass.
The route up to Bonney Pass looks really long and discouraging, but it actually goes pretty quickly. Amy was a champ at this point and led the entire way up the pass. We arrived back on Bonney Pass at 2 p.m., about 8 hours from when we left. We gathered up the rest of our gear, ate some lunch and began the descent back to Titcomb Basin.
This photo is Mt. Helen and the Titcomb Lakes. We had to descend back to the far lake in the photo below. Amy and I glissaded down Bonney Pass and were back to Titcomb Basin in no time. We began to run out of steam traveling past the lakes again and stumbled into camp about 5 p.m. As we neared our gear stash, a marmot poked his head up and ran away as soon as he saw me coming. Sure enough, the little bastards were able to squeeze under the large boulder and managed to rip open every item of food we had left. Amy and I were exhausted and were looking forward to a big dinner to renew our energy levels, this was the last thing we wanted to deal with. We had originally planned on staying in 7 days and climbing Fremont Peak as well, looks like that was definitely out of the question now. We checked Neil's food and it was still intact, so we knew he might have some extra food. Neil arrived back in camp and gave us some instant mash potatoes and tuna fish for dinner. It was nice to get something hot to eat and tasted great after the long summit day. We talked about our plan for the next couple days since our food supply was gone. We figured we there was enough food for all of us for 1 day, so we would hike back out to Seneca Lake or Hobbs Lake tomorrow. Then just walk out the rest of the way on an empty stomach and head straight to Pinedale for some lunch. Sounded like a decent plan, so after dinner we hit the sack. I was out in about 10 minutes and slept great all through the night.
July 14th, 2004
Neil had some oatmeal he gave us for breakfast and Amy and I still had a few Clif Bars. After breakfast we broke up camp and it was time to say goodbye to Titcomb Basin. I was sad to leave this amazing place that had become home for the last few days. We began hiking around noon and set a good pace back to Island Lake. Near Island Lake, an outfitter was bringing 2 climbers and their gear into Titcomb Basin on horseback. Amy and I thought there might be a chance he could carry our gear out, and we could hike out the 16 miles today.
When the outfitter was returning he was willing to take our packs out for us, so Amy and I decided to take him up on the offer. Neil was wearing double-plastic mountaineering boots and wouldn't be able to hike out the entire way in 1 day, but if we headed out, he would have enough food for another day. Amy and I removed the top part packs to use as a fannypack, grabbed the water filter, bug spray, and a raincoat. After the outfitter loaded our packs and took off, we said goodbye to Neil and were on our way. It was 2 p.m. and we now just had a 12 mile dayhike left, no problem.
It rained off and on as we rapidly passed up Little Seneca Lake and were back to Seneca Lake in about an hour. We stopped to filter some water before taking off again. It was so nice to be relieved of our heavy packs and we were making pretty good time. We were back to Hobbs Lake quickly and knew once back to Barbara Lake, it was only about 6 miles more. We looked back one last time at Fremont and Jackson Peak and promised to return. I wasn't too upset not being able to climb Fremont Peak, because Titcomb Basin is so cool, now we have an excuse to return soon.
Barbara Lake was our last stop for water and it wasn't long before we were back at Photographer's Point. Only 5 miles left to go now and it is all downhill from here. Amy and I talked as we descended through the forest and started making plans of our return. We arrived back at the trailhead at around 7 p.m. tired but completely thrilled with all the adventures we had. We made it back to Pinedale and I got a double cheeseburger at the Wrangler Cafe. While enjoying a cold beverage and a hot meal, we both realized, we would trade it all in a heartbeat to be eating Clif Bars and oatmeal under the granite towers of Titcomb Basin. The pull of the Winds is stronger than ever, we will be returning again and again. We traveled into the heart of the Winds and fell in love with what we discovered there, as well as what we discovered within ourselves. There aren't many places left in the lower 48 that can make you feel like that, but this Wyoming cowboy is happy to know, the Wind Rivers still have that ability. As Neil so eloquently put it, 'That mountain will teach you something about yourself.'