Ascent to Gannett Peak-Gooseneck Ridge on 1992-09-03
|Other People:||Solo Ascent|
Only Party on Mountain
|Date:||Thursday, September 3, 1992|
|Ascent Type:||Unsuccessful - Turned Back|
| Motorized Transport to Trailhead:||Car|
|Point Reached:||Gannett Peak - Gooseneck Ridge|
| Elevation:||12850 ft / 3916 m|
| Remaining Elevation:||954 ft / 291 m (16% left to go)|
Ascent Trip ReportTuesday, September 1:
Back on U.S. 189 I resumed my northward journey, passing through Daniel, WY before hanging a right onto U.S. 191, which led me after about ten minutes to Pinedale, the large (for Wyoming) town at the base of the Wind River Mountains, their snowy summits barely visible above the foothills outside of town. I hadn't yet had breakfast, so I found a down-home restaurant where I had a massive meal of eggs, toast, hash browns, and bacon, figuring that I'd need the calories. After this I found the Skyline Drive at the east end of Pinedale and drove uphill for twenty minutes on the nice, paved road to Elkhart Park, the parking area where the trail to Gannett Peak started.
Gannett Peak, 13,804 feet, is the highest mountain in Wyoming, beating out the more famous Grand Teton by a mere 34 feet. Located in the heart of the remote Wind River Range, any attempt on it involves a long approach hike. I had made an extremely feeble attempt on the peak in May of 1989, driving up almost to Elkhart Park until my car was halted by snow on the road. I had then skied up the Pole Creek trail a ways, lost the trail in the snow, and decided to abort my attempt after only a mile. On the way back my car got stuck in the snow on the road, and I dislocated my shoulder digging it out. All in all, not a very successful trip, and with the prospect of less snow I was determined to make amends for my blundering of three and a half years prior.
At Elkhart Park I spent a good long time getting packed up in the crowded parking lot under humid, cool, clearing skies. I anticipated being out for about five days, so I brought lots of food. I even got my new MSR stove to work for the first time in the back of my station wagon--apparently the white gas was a big help--and brought that, too. While I was jamming my tent, mattress pad, sleeping bag, clothes, and other junk into the pack I was accosted by a ranger who made sure I knew the camping regulations, saw another hiker start off, and, maybe because I had drank too much at breakfast, had to make multiple trips to the outhouse at the trailhead.
By 9:00 A.M. or so I was ready to go, so I hoisted my horribly heavy pack onto my back and started up the Pole Creek Trail. I signed out at the register a little way up the trail, and was soon plodding up the gentle slope through a forest that I remembered from my brief 1989 trip. Once the narrow meadows in the little valley to my left disappeared, I began to look for the place where I had lost the footway in the snow back in 1989, but the heavily-used trail just went on through the forest without any serious turns or anything, so I couldn't figure out where I had gone wrong.
For about four miles the trail just went through open pine forest, sometimes crossing grassy meadows, once passing a trail sign in one of them, and going very slightly uphill--in fact, it was pretty flat going. I also passed Photographer's Point, a ledge in the forest that provided a nice view of the distant snowy crags of the Winds, looking very serious. It was hot, and my pack slowed me down, but after a bit I came to my first real landmark, the junction where the Seneca Lake Trail went off to my left. A short ways down this trail I took a rest, then continued as this path passed some tents and then several lakes as it went downhill an awful lot for a trail that was supposed to take me up into the mountains. Near one lake I passed a guy talking to two people with crampons on their packs--I asked them how the climbing was, and they said they turned back on Mt. Jackson due to miserable snow conditions. I didn't know where Mt. Jackson was at that point.
After more up and down through pretty forest the Seneca Lake Trail passed one more small lake and began a steep uphill stretch, during which it crossed a rushing brook. Sweating and slow, I finally crested the uphill to emerge at large Seneca Lake, with Fremont Peak (second highest in the Winds after Gannett) and Mt. Jackson looming over it. It was a little windy, since I was now basically above timberline (although there were still occasional trees for a while longer--timberline in the Rockies is rarely a clear-cut line like it is in the Northeast), and I took a long rest and ate some lunch looking over the scenic lake.
I decided to at least make it to Island Lake tonight, still another three miles or so further, and maybe even beyond that, so I shouldered my pack again, and followed a trail that was actually sections of several different trails. The going was pretty as it mainly crossed extensive above-timberline meadows and passed many lakes, large and small. There were occasional uphill stretches, but all in all it was fairly flat. The massive bulk of Fremont Peak drew closer, and the weather got cloudier, as I drew near Island Lake.
As I approached Island Lake on a downslope it started to rain lightly, not surprising considering that I was in the Rockies and it was after 2 in the afternoon. Having hiked about 13 miles, I decided to camp here for the night, so, as it rained lightly, I struck off to the left from the trail across a meadow above the scenic lake, found a tentsite that seemed to be away from the other tents pitched in the vicinity, and set up my camp. Once my tent was up I went inside and napped for a bit as it rained, the wind blowing my tent around noisily.
At about 5 or 6 P.M. the rain stopped, and I got out and went down to the lake to filter some water, saw that I was closer than I wanted to be to other campers at the crowded lake, saw a party with llamas pass by my campsite (while napping I had wondered what the funny noises those animals made were when I heard them), talked for a bit to the guy who had set out from Elkhart Park at the same time as I had, and admired the great view of the jagged, snowy peaks of the Wind River Mountains rising above the lake.
I then cooked dinner, having good success with my MSR stove in cooking up some dehydrated beef and potatoes, then just sat on a rock for a bit in the rapidly cooling evening air before turning in. Although clear out, it was still windy, and the flapping of my tent woke me up from time to time during the long night.
Wednesday, September 2:
I did not set my alarm this morning, because I knew I had an easy day ahead of me--my plan was to hike for another five miles or so, into Titcomb Basin, to position myself advantageously for an attempt on Gannett the next day, Thursday. So after sleeping until it was light out, I cooked up a leisurely breakfast, packed up my campsite, and returned to the trail across meadows. It was an absolutely clear, cloudless, perfect day.
Once back on the trail I followed it as it dropped to the southeast shore of Island Lake, followed the shoreline a ways, and then climbed up gently towards Titcomb Basin. The last clumps of trees were at Island Lake, so the terrain was totally open above-timberline meadow and rock with occasional bushes. After passing a couple of minor lakes (there must be hundreds of them in the Winds) and trail junctions, the main trail, still climbing gently if at all as it wound around rocks and rocky hills, came out to the main floor of Titcomb Basin, a long cirque with two large elongated lakes filling a lot of its fairly flat bottom. The trail went along the east shore of the lakes as it headed north into the basin.
Just before the lakes I took a long rest--I was going very slowly, since I was ahead of schedule--and ate some food while sunning myself on a big rock. There were fewer people up this far from the road, but I still saw a couple people headed up towards Knapsack Pass while resting.
Past the last of the Titcomb Lakes the basin became walled in by impressively jagged walls, with fantastic spires and pinnacles lining the serrated ridges high above. The trail pretty much disappeared, too, but the flat basin bottom was easy going despite occasional swampy areas and talus fields. For the first time I could see Dinwoody Pass, a low, gentle spot on the jagged ridge that three-quarters encircled the basin, which was the route I would be taking to Gannett the next day. I still had yet to even glimpse the monarch of the Winds.
Soon the flat floor of Titcomb Basin was becoming steeper and totally full of huge jumbled talus blocks as I neared the steep headwall, so I started looking for a campsite. Although it was only a little past noon or so, I didn't want to go any further--I was where I wanted to be for my second night out, I didn't want to haul my full pack up the steep headwall to Dinwoody Pass, and I didn't anticipate there being any reasonable campsites up at the Pass or beyond. Actually, the entire hike to here had been devoid of prolonged killer uphill, but I knew I'd do more than my share tomorrow.
At first there seemed to be a lack of good campsites in the very rocky upper basin. I wanted one sheltered from the wind, near a brook, and on flat, non-rocky ground, and I had time to kill, so I rooted around a bit, then stashed my pack behind a largish rock, thinking it would do if I couldn't find a better one. I then explored around a bit more, finding very few suitable camps, even when I climbed the left headwall a little bit. As a final gesture I went up to a mammoth rock--about twenty by twenty by fifty feet--a ways up the basin from where I has stashed my pack, and, much to my surprise, found two perfect tentsites behind (up the ravine) from it. The sites were two sandy flat areas sheltered from the wind by the huge rock, with rude windbreaks of rocks even in place. The main brook of the upper basin was even just a few feet away.
I went down and retrieved my pack, and then set up my tent in the nicer of the two campsites, the one right against the humongous rock. I then ate some more cold food for lunch, and then realized that I had very little to do for the six hours until the sun set. This was especially unfortunate because it was a gorgeous day, one of those rare days in the Rockies where it didn't even cloud up or rain in the afternoon--the sky just remained cloudless until sunset. If I had known that, and how quickly I could have gotten to the upper Titcomb Basin, I might have tried to climb Fremont Peak or something else, but now it was too late for that, and I still expected the inevitable rain that never came. I thought about climbing to Dinwoody (Bonney) Pass or Knapsack Pass (another way out of the upper basin), but decided against it, instead deciding to hang out, rest, and acclimatize.
So I sat in my tent and read my Climber's Guide to the Wind River Mountains, the only book I had, cover to cover, took a nap, went to the bathroom, took some pictures, and made feeble attempts to augment the rock walls around my campsite. While napping around 4 P.M. I heard voices, so I poked my head out of the tent and saw two guys--one a ranger, I think--talking about fifty feet away. I said hello and told them they were welcome to use the second campsite, since it was the only other suitable place around, but they weren't interested in camping there. After a brief exchange they left, heading down the basin. They were the last humans, or even signs of humans, I would see for over 24 hours.
At 5 P.M. or so I cooked up my dinner, now getting good with my new stove, then filtered some water from the nearby brook, then crawled into my sleeping bag to go to sleep. Predictably, I was not tired, so I lay awake for a long while. The wind had even died down on this perfect day, and despite being up at 11,300 feet and above timberline my tent hardly flapped at all. I only hoped tomorrow would be as nice.
Thursday, September 3:
My "clocklet" (what I called my small Radio Shack LCD alarm clock) chirped me awake at 4 A.M., and, in the pitch blackness, I fired up my stove for a good breakfast of potatoes. I then organized my pack, once again using my big Gregory internal frame backpack as a daypack even though it was dreadfully under-filled for what it was designed for. After filtering some water from the nearby brook so I had three full quart bottles, making sure I was dressed appropriately, and zipping up my tent, I headed uphill towards Dinwoody Pass as the first light of dawn penetrated the upper Titcomb Basin.
Above my campsite the going was difficult, over steep jumbled rocks in confusing piles, occasionally requiring me to use my hands to climb a small ledge. I looked for a trail, but the darkness and the broken terrain caused me to lose the faint paths I sometimes found. I stayed to the left (looking uphill) as I started climbing steeply uphill towards Dinwoody Pass (now called Bonney Pass), finding the steep terrain more and more difficult as the blocky talus turned increasingly into loose ball-bearing scree. I rested often as it began to get light out, very glad that I wasn't trying to take my heavy full pack up this so-called pass, really more of a high notch.
I started making for a short snowfield that ran down from the pass a bit, thinking that it would be easier walking than on the difficult steep rock. When I reached it I put my crampons on over my leather hiking boots, an arrangement that had worked on Mt. Olympus, and started up the steep, icy snowfield. The crampons were absolutely necessary, and they made the snow easy, far easier than the crumbling rock. I saw now how they would have made my earlier climb of Mt. Shasta less difficult.
After a couple rests on the narrow snowfield (almost a couloir), it started flattening out as it neared the pass. It was just about dawn, but it was not as nice a day as yesterday, with lots of high clouds present and, at Dinwoody Pass, a fierce cold wind. I was stripped to just a shirt for my uphill labor, and at the pass the very strong wind howled right through me. I, staying on snow as much as possible because I didn't want to stop to take my crampons off, looked for a place to rest out of the wind, but the flimsy stone windbreaks on the flat, rocky pass looked useless. In a hurry, I descended the other side of the pass a little bit and finally sat down to rest, my first order of business changing into warmer clothes and taking off my crampons. I had no gloves with me, so I put on a pair of socks over my hands.
I had noticed the great view while I had hurriedly traversed Dinwoody Pass, but now I had the time to study the alpine panorama before me, on the other side of the pass from the way I had come up. It was, basically, the most awesome alpine scenery I had ever seen, the Swiss Alps alone excepted. Jagged rocky peaks and ridges were everywhere, and huge glaciers carpeted the valleys. I got my first view of Gannett Peak, a huge snow-crested dome lording over the entire scene. Rainier and Olympus had been spectacular, glaciated mountains, but before me was an entire range of spires, pinnacles, domes, and rugged ridges, just as glaciated.
After recovering from my first impressions of the view, I studied what route I might take to Gannett. I saw the Gooseneck Ridge, universally thought to be the easiest route, and saw that the only way to get to its base was to loose about 1000 feet of elevation from Dinwoody Pass down to the enormous Dinwoody Glacier and cross the glacier to the base of the ridge. I had thought, from looking at the map, that I might be able to find a way with less elevation loss, but the awesome ridges of Mt. Woodrow Wilson were in the way. The Dinwoody Glacier didn't look too bad to cross, so I resigned myself to my fate and started to descend to it. I already was beginning to wonder if I was in way over my head or not.
The slope from Dinwoody Pass down to the glacier was not as steep as the way up from my campsite, but still too convex to see from above where the good routes were. I started on rock, angling to my right, but after it became apparent that I was heading for extremely steep talus I slabbed left, putting on my crampons to cross some powdery snowfields and finding a broad snowfield that led left before melding into the flatter white expanse of the Dinwoody Glacier. Once there I easily started hiking down the very wide river of snow, trying to descend as little as possible while crossing it and avoiding dangerous crevassed terrain. I could see my destination, a talus slope on the Gooseneck Ridge that seemed to provide access to its crest, and was trying to reach its base.
The glacier was just a snowfield at first, but I suddenly came to a very narrow crevasse, and after that they became more frequent. I angled into the center of the glacier to avoid them, but still had to detour occasionally. They were mostly narrow, but it seemed there was a couple of inches of fresh snow over the harder glacier ice--people I had talked to yesterday had told me that it snowed a lot on Monday, three days ago--and that tended to hide some of the crevasses. I didn't see any footprints in the snow on the whole glacier, meaning I was the first person to penetrate this area since the weekend.
The glacier got messier, with lots of rocks and recently-frozen ice among the crevasses, as I leveled myself out and started crossing it in earnest, heading towards the Gooseneck Ridge. I finally hiked up the short, gentle slope that led up to the ridge, but as I approached the steep rock something looked funny. When I reached the ridge, my nagging suspicion was confirmed--there was a massive bergschrund separating the glacier from the ridge, and I found myself atop an almost concave snow cliff fifty feet high, towering over a gaping canyon that separated snow from rock.
Fortunately, I saw that the bergschrund almost disappeared a little bit to my left, so I hiked along the glacier's edge a bit, having to detour around huge crevasses that were like tributary canyons to the big bergschrund. At the crest of a ridge on the glacier the snow only dropped a few feet to the rock, so I rested here in the much smaller canyon, taking off my crampons and eating some food for the serious climbing ahead. The weather was not the greatest--although sunny, it was getting cloudier and cloudier--and I was confident I could make it to the top before it got really ugly in the afternoon.
Unfortunately, though, I was at the base of the ridge at a very steep section--almost cliffs--instead of the gentler talus slope I had intended to use to gain the crest of the ridge. There was no way I was going to risk hiking down into the bergschrund to my right to the base of the talus, so I had to find a way up the steep pitch of cliff directly above me. This wasn't too bad, with maybe only one really unsavory move, and I then slabbed right over very crumbly rock to the main talus slope, where there was even a faint path uphill to the crest of the Gooseneck Ridge. Up top there was a flat area where there were even some primitive windbreaks of rocks, but I don't think they would have offered any protection from the wind today.
I then went up along the crest of the jagged ridge. It was all rock, without any loose talus, but still difficult owing to its steepness and kind of rock--either huge smooth slabs of bedrock or giant jumbled blocks. I had no problems, though, following the irregular crest as it turned a couple of times. To my left the ridge dropped off hundreds of sheer feet down to glaciers, but to the right the Gooseneck Glacier was pretty much level with the ridge's crest.
After a bit the ridge became very steep, and there was a wide arm of the glacier on the right butting right against the top of the ridge, and I guessed that this was where the ridge was abandoned and the glacier snow ascended--my guidebook mentioned that the standard route up Gannett was to get around the hardest part of the ridge by going onto the glacier and regaining the ridge by going up Gooseneck Gully, a snow couloir. So I strapped on my crampons, got out my ice axe, and climbed out on to the steep glacier. I saw a couloir up at the top of the glacier, leading to the saddle between the Gooseneck Ridge and the summit ridge of Gannett, but it looked very steep, rocky, and treacherous--the sounds of falling rock I occasionally heard seemed to be coming from its vicinity. Therefore, I was glad when, shortly, I looked up to my left and saw a wide snow band leading steeply up the side of the Gooseneck Ridge. This was clearly my route, the Gooseneck Gully.
As I approached the base of the gully I was very perturbed by the extreme steepness of the snow slope--I took extra caution here. I also noticed that there was a band of very wide, ugly crevasses that almost totally crossed the gully, blocking my path. I carefully switchbacked up to the base of this barrier, which my guidebook called a bergschrund, thinking I would climb around it on the left, where there was a few feet of unbroken snow between the bergschrund and the cliffs beside the gully. To gain this spot I had to hike on the lip of one of the crevasses making up the bergschrund--the crevasse was more like a cave, since it was shallow, angled out on the steep slope, and very wide. The fresh snow was several inches deep on the lip, too.
From the end of the lip, which provided a flat spot to stand, I started carefully making a path in the deep fresh snow on the same level as the lip, out across the unbroken part of the gully. The snow was deep and soft, and only after making a good platform did I venture off of the lip. Once I took the step onto the platform, the slope was so steep I could reach out and touch it easily right next to me, and when I did, probing with my axe, I noticed it was steep, hard grey ice under only a dusting of snow, not the soft mushy stuff just a couple of feet below. To climb it I would have to either cut steps or front-point my way up using the two spikes on the front of my crampons. As I weighed my options I was getting nervous about the precariousness of my position on this very steep slope, and the more I thought about it the more I realized that I had no business going any further.
This was a hard decision to make, since I had come so far and I could see that above the bergschrund the gully became less steep as it gained the crest of the ridge, but the steepness, icyness, and narrowness of the section of gully that avoided the bergschrund were all too extreme. Also, I hadn't seen a soul all day, or even evidence that there was anyone within five miles of me, and I didn't want to take any chances. On Olympus, I had gone on only because I was playing tag with another party on that snowy giant of a peak.
I stepped back to the lip, carefully retraced my steps along the cave ledge formation, and then made a brief reconnaissance to the other, right hand side of the gully, but there was no way around the bergschrund. Climbing over the cave-like crevasses was out of the question, so I reluctantly realized that I wasn't going any further up the gully.
I retreated carefully, nervous about the steepness of the snow, and took some pictures of the bergschrund once I was below a ways. I then glanced at the far away steep rocky gully I had first noticed and definitely confirmed that I wasn't about to try that. So I hiked down on the snow back to the rocky Gooseneck Ridge, thinking I'd make a last try by staying on the ridge--if I did, it would bring me to where the gully would have. The trouble was that the ridge looked very steep and rugged, as it included a jagged spire called the Gooseneck Pinnacle, which lent its name to all the surrounding features (ridge, glacier, gully).
After removing my crampons and resting, I started up the ridge--it was near vertical, involving lots of tricky Class 3 climbing, and I had to explore from time to time to find passable routes up the ledges and cliffs. Very slowly I worked my way up, going one way and then another, as the terrain got more and more difficult over rock that was at least of pretty good quality--lots of big slabs. I think I may have even gotten higher up that I had in the snow gully, but, as the forbidding bent rock spire of the pinnacle drew nearer, I realized that there was no way to get past it without a rope and an experienced partner. There was no way to contour around to my right into the gully, around the corner, as it were, because the cliffs were especially sheer there. Finally stymied, I found a high perch on the left side of the ridge, a thousand feet above the glacier below, and had my long rest, where I ate my lunch--the food I had been saving for the summit. I was at about 12,800 feet, 1,000 shy of Gannett's top.
As I rested I didn't feel too bad about not making it--my view was of the entire Dinwoody Glacier area, the most high, remote and rugged mountain fastness in the contiguous United States, and here I was, totally alone, attempting a monstrous peak. I was lucky to have made as far as I did alive. After taking pictures of the pinnacled peaks under the increasingly overcast sky I started back down after my long break. I could tell that by afternoon it would start thunderstorming seriously, and I wanted to get back to my campsite as soon as possible.
Climbing down the steep section of the Gooseneck Ridge was so difficult that after downclimbing a few ledges I cut over to the snow on the nearby glacier as soon as possible to descend that for a bit, back to where the ridge got easier. Easier, relatively speaking, though--the smooth slabs and big blocks still demanded extra care, and sliding down on my butt a couple times was necessary. In other places I had to rock-hop very carefully. I finally got down to the top of the talus slope, followed it down a bit, then cut over to the small cliffs that led to where I could gain the glacier. This last pitch was bad news, since there was really no way to get down without jumping down a ways and without more butt-sliding, both over loose rock. I was greatly relieved to sit and rest next to the glacier at last, sort of in the shallowest part of the bergschrund.
At my rest here I put my crampons on, after retrieving one that I accidentally dropped a few feet down from my perch, and had more food and water to eat. I then set out to recross the glacier. It was a very long but uneventful uphill slog across the wide expanse of ice, now very mushy and crossed by many little brooks. I avoided crevasses easily, even after blundering into an area where there were more than usual, but I chugged uphill into the safe center of the glacier and then found my tracks from this morning. That they were still visible confirmed my suspicion that I was the first one here in a while, since I would have seen other footprints otherwise.
Once on the upper part of the glacier I just slowly toiled uphill, putting one foot in front of the other, as my tracks led me up and up, soon off the glacier and up the steep snowfields heading for Dinwoody Pass. As I neared the pass I left my earlier tracks to stay on snow longer, having to cross a couple rock bands but still keeping my crampons on. Just short of the pass the rocks became too numerous, though, so I took a long rest, fatigued from the uphill. Here I took off my crampons (for the last time on my whole trip) and looked out over at Gannett Peak, taking a picture. The clouds were looking more and more ominous, so I was glad that all I had left was downhill.
After my rest I got up and crossed over the ferociously windy Dinwoody Pass, and started the very steep, miserable descent over crumbling scree back to my tent. I was planning to plunge-step down the upper snowfield, but the snow was too hard for safety, and I didn't want to put on my damn crampons again, so I dealt with the rotten terrain the whole way. I went slowly, but it was still murder on my knees. I was able to find faint paths, which often yielded patches where I could scree-ski down a bit, but in general it was no fun. Once the slope got less steep I steered towards the massive rock where my tent was pitched, clambering over the jumbled terrain downhill until I happily arrived back at my campsite.
Here I went into my tent and rested for a good long time, thinking about what to do. It was only about 3 P.M. when I arrived back, but the weather was deteriorating, so I thought about just staying put for a second night in the upper Titcomb Basin. However, I decided to try to climb Fremont Peak (at 13,745 feet the second highest in the Wind River Range) the next day, both because it was a far easier climb than Gannett, not requiring technical gear, and I wanted to climb at least one major peak after my failure on Gannett. In order to be in position for a climb of Fremont I needed to be back down towards the trailhead a few miles, so I decided to pack up my camp and hike down to a good Fremont basecamp.
Therefore I went through the bother of breaking camp, as usual the worst chore being stuffing my sleeping bag into its too-small pack compartment. I then headed off back down Titcomb Basin, towards the lakes, after the first half-mile or so of difficult rocks pretty easy going. There was no real trail over the wide brooks, swampy areas, and meadows, but as long as I headed for the foreshortened but visible lakes ahead I knew I was fine.
As I neared the upper Titcomb Lake I suddenly came across a guy and his two dogs, camped out with a little bivvy tent behind a tall rock. He was the first person I had seen all day, and I stopped and chatted with him for about ten minutes. He was a friendly sort, and I told him about the great campsite I had found way up in the upper basin--he said he'd probably go check it out the next day.
After leaving him and resuming my hike, it started raining very lightly, like it had for a few seconds before I met the guy, so I put a trash bag over my pack in case it started really pouring. It didn't, though, at least not for a while--instead, the wind got very strong and the sky darkened. I soon found the trail and hiked past the two large Titcomb Lakes, at the base of the second one seeing a tent on a bluff above the lake, where I waved to the far-off guy there who saw me. After this I started looking for a campsite of my own, preferably one off the trail a ways and near some running water, but I didn't see anything viable for a long way as the trail wound about meadowed, rocky, flat terrain. Near the lowest of the three Titcomb Lakes (elevation 10458), though, the rain suddenly became more steady, although not intense, and I realized I had to camp soon. I thought there might be some flat sites on a slope above the trail to the left, among patches of bushes (there were no trees at all this high up), so I explored the meadows for a short while, finally choosing a pretty good site between some bushes and a rock. It was visible from the trail, and water was a bit of a hike away, but it would have to do.
It rained lightly as I pitched the tent, but after getting inside and resting for a little bit it started pouring torrentially. I waited for a while, thinking that when it cleared I would do my cooking, but it never cleared. I made a trip to a brook to get some water, and contented myself with a cold dinner as the rain just kept coming down. I was tired from my long day, so, after setting my clocklet for 4 A.M. so I would get an early start on Fremont tomorrow, I crawled into my sleeping bag to go to sleep. I was disappointed about not making Gannett, but at least I was glad that I was warm and dry in my tent as drenching torrents and horrible wind lashed my tent all night long.
Friday, September 4:
My alarm chirped me up at 4 A.M., but the hard rain and wind that had been with me all night were still storming away, so I immediately decided to bag any attempt on Fremont Peak. I just went back to sleep, lulled by the sound of fat raindrops on my tent fly and the flapping of the whole thing in the wind.
In a couple hours it got light out, and I stirred, going to the bathroom and eating some cold food for breakfast--I didn't want to cook in the tent, and it was still raining. I was glad I still had a whole one-pound bag of peanut M+Ms left, having learned my lesson on Rainier and Olympus about bringing enough good ready-to-eat high energy food, and they were good as an addition to my breakfast of tuna and crackers. I was thinking that I should maybe wait out the rain in my nice cozy tent, and maybe go for Fremont the next day, or something easier if it cleared later today.
When I finished breakfast I noticed that the rain wasn't making such a racket anymore. Optimistically thinking that it was letting up, I looked outside my tent to see that instead it was now snowing very heavily. Disturbed by this development, I immediately decided to get the hell down off of this mountain range before I got drifted in or froze to death. So I hurriedly got all my junk into my pack, dressed in my warmest clothes, then threw my pack outside, covered it with a trash bag, and proceeded to take down my tent, which was already buckling under the weight of the couple inches of wet snow that had collected. While doing this I remembered what I forgot to bring on my trip--a pair of gloves. I was using extra socks instead, and I almost froze my fingers off as they got totally wet and I had to handle the cold aluminum poles to pack my tent.
I finally got the soggy mass of nylon into a trash bag and threw it in my pack (at least I always bring tons of Hefty trash bags on any backpacking trip), tied on my crampons, ice axe, and tent poles to the back of the pack (another finger-freezing activity when wearing socks in a blizzard), and hefted the load onto my back for the long hike back to my car at Elkhart Park, about fifteen miles away.
First I hiked through the snow to the trail, which, thanks to trail erosion, was an easily-found trench through the meadow, then just followed the trail as it wound around the typical above-timberline Wind River terrain, across meadows and past lakes, rock outcroppings, and trail signs. I had no water initially, so I got some out of a brook without filtering, the only time on my trip I did that, due to the snow and the coldness of my hands. The wet snow still fell like crazy as I hiked, and I had to put my hands in my pockets to keep warm. The trail was very soggy, too, often a river of slush, and my feet got predictably wet.
After what seemed like forever I got back to Island Lake, and after taking what seemed like way too long to make my way around its southeast shore I finally took my first rest at the little sign that simply read "Island Lake", sitting down on a log under the first grove of trees I had seen in two whole days. The trees, however, did not provide much shelter from the incessant sleet, snow, and rain as I gobbled up more peanut M and Ms. As I rested I saw a shadowy figure off in the fog I called to, and he stopped in the grove on his way to the trail. Another solo backpacker like me, he had spent the night at Island Lake and had also decided to get down as soon as possible given the weather. I offered him some candy, but he declined, plodding off into the snow. We would be playing tag on the trail for the next few hours--I passed him first, at a trail junction just past the short stretch of steep uphill after Island Lake.
The stretch of trail from Island Lake to Seneca Lake was more slogging. The snow got less deep, down to only about an inch, and the wet snow falling changed from sleet to cold rain or back to snow randomly, but I just kept plugging away, warm except for my wet-sock clad hands--somehow my waterlogged feet were fine. I rested as the other backpacker guy passed me again--I found out he was from Idaho as we chatted briefly. The trail then meandered around the cold, fogbound shore of Seneca Lake a bit, past where I had rested on the way up, and then down a rare steep slope into the forest.
Once into the trees the precipitation was mostly rain, but with occasional intense bursts of snow, and the ground was likewise mostly just muddy and wet, but sometimes there was a lot of white stuff clogging up the trail. I passed the other backpacker on the downhill, then hiked along as the trail discouragingly meandered along past lakes for a few miles. I was starting to get tired from all the miles I was putting away, and I was beginning to realize just how long a hike it was out to the parking lot. I took another long rest at the outlet to Hobbs Lake, filtering some water out of a stagnant pool near a log bridge and putting down more M and Ms. Here the other backpacker caught up to me again, and he too went off to get some water, complaining that he felt like he was really lagging and losing it.
While I rested here I was passed by the guy I had seen up in Titcomb Basin yesterday, with his two dogs trotting along ahead of him. Apparently he wasn't going to get a chance to find the campsite I had told him about. As he blew by, though, he did have the quote of the day: "I'm just going to go home and watch TV for eight hours straight."
After my rest I left the guy I had been playing tag with for the last time and continued my long march out to my car. The last six miles or so were marked by more rain and snow, general fatigue on my part, and my usual underestimation of how far it was coupled with my usual disbelief that I had hiked up the whole way I was now descending. I also started seeing many backpackers heading uphill--I made comments such as "You're heading the wrong way" to the hardy hikers, warning them of the weather I had encountered, but they weren't dissuaded. I never caught up to the guy with the two dogs, but I did see his dogs footprints in the snow and mud, together with human prints, llama prints, deer prints, and prints of some large rodent--all together quite a collection.
After some grueling uphill I passed a large group camped out and turned on to the Pole Creek Trail, and after a couple hours more of interminable slogging through the rain, during which I made the interesting discovery that my hands were warmer inside soaking wet polypro socks than without them on, I finally reached the trail register, where I signed out, and then the parking lot. It was only about 2 P.M., and I had come down the miles quite quickly, spurred on by the weather.
As I opened the rear hatch of my car to throw my pack in it started pouring rain horribly hard, so I quickly changed into dry clothes and extracted my wallet and keys in the limited shelter provided under the hatch. I then drove off down from Elkhart Park towards Pinedale in the intense rain, in full retreat from the fury of the Wind River Mountains.
|Summary Total Data|
| Total Elevation Gain:||6915 ft / 2107 m|
| Extra Gain:||1720 ft / 524 m|
| Trailhead:||Elkhart Park 9375 ft / 2857 m|
| Grade/Class:||Class 4, Snow|
| Quality:||7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)|
| Route Conditions:||Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb|
| Gear Used:||Ice Axe, Crampons, Tent Camp|
| Nights Spent:||3 nights away from roads|
| Weather:||Cool, Very Windy, Overcast|
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