Ascent of Gannett Peak on 1994-08-01

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Mark Newcomb (Guide)
Hans Johnstone (Guide)
Forrest McCarthy (Stayed behind)
Bob T.
Janine C.
Margot S.
Date:Monday, August 1, 1994
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Gannett Peak
    Elevation:13804 ft / 4207 m

Ascent Trip Report

Monday, August 1, 1994:

Note: This account only covers the summit day of a five-day backpacking trip. I was on a guided hike/climb run by Exum Mountain Guides of Jackson, WY, led by Mark Newcomb, Hans Johnstone, and Forrest McCarthy. Other clients, besides myself, were Janine Clarke, Bob Thomas, and Margot Snowdon. We hiked for two days up the Glacier Trail from near DuBois, WY to our bascamp. The following account begins on the third morning of the trip.

I didn't sleep well at all, both because of rain and worrying about having
to abort our climb, and Bob and Janine didn't sleep much, either, softly
talking for a while in the middle of the night. However, at 3:30 AM there was
a headlamp outside in the pitch darkness--it was Mark, who had come to rouse
us out of bed for the climb. The rain had stopped, and the remaining clouds
weren't enough to cancel our long-planned summit climb.

The three of us got out of our tent and one by one dribbled over to the
"kitchen" area of our campsite, on the other side of a low, dense thicket of
bushes. Mark and Hans were there, cooking up oatmeal, tea, and hot cocoa--I
had some of this last drink, and it was great on this cool, dark morning.
Margot appeared last, and, as each one of us finished breakfast, we returned
to our tents to get our gear together. By 4:30 AM we had re-assembled at the
kitchen and were ready to hit the trail. I carried the daypack for Janine,
Bob, and myself, while Janine had her video camera in a bag around her neck.
Mark and Hans carried big packs with most of Margot's stuff, plus the ropes we
would need. We all had put on climbing harnesses.

Forrest was not coming with us on the summit climb. As a porter, he didn't have to, and since he
had already climbed (and skied off of) Gannett, he elected to go off solo and do the triple traverse of
Warren, Doublet, and Dinwoody Peaks instead. Hans, though, was coming--he had never done Gannett,
and was "auditing" the route so he could lead it for Exum in the future. Therefore, our summit party was six:
Mark and Hans as guides, plus four clients.

The first part of the climb was clambering up the long stretch of jumbled boulders and crossing the
countless brooks of the extensive moraine area beneath Dinwoody Glacier. This was made very difficult by
the darkness that our headlamps did little to penetrate--we could generally only see ahead to just the next
boulder. I was grateful for Mark leading the way.

After a while the slope started getting steeper as we followed and crossed more babbling brooks,
and Mark had us turn off our headlamps once there was a tiny, tiny glint of light from the east. However, as
soon as the slope steepened, Bob, who had been lagging ever since we left, really started to fall behind badly.
He had no pack--Hans and I were carrying all his stuff--but he had problems with the very rough footing of
the moraine and the high altitude. At one point (at about 11,350 feet) Mark, Margot, Janine, and I had to
wait five or more minutes for Bob (and Hans as rearguard) to catch up.

When he did we had a little conference, and it was decided to send Bob back to our camp to wait
for our return. It was a combination of Bob realizing he wasn't up to this climb, and the guides kind of
telling him he wasn't, all done in a very amiable way. Bob didn't seem to mind, and was as personable and
friendly as usual as we gave him some food and clothing to carry and Mark pointed out to him the route
down to the tents. I was kind of surprised that they would let him hike the rough, rocky mile back alone--in
general, guides never let clients go off alone. I guess the short distance, made easier by the coming dawn,
plus their assessment of Bob as the competent, optimistic hiker he had been on the approach hike, made
sending him back a small risk. Plus, had Hans escorted him back, it would have been a wasted day for him,
since he was supposed to be auditing the peak.

Our party, now five strong, continued up the rubble of the moraine and by dawn we were climbing
slippery slabs at the base of a glacier. Mark was disappointed in the small size of the glaciers, since the
normal route, an all-snow slope to the crest of the Gooseneck Ridge, was now icy and rocky. In 1992 I had
gained the ridge from the south, crossing a moat from the Dinwoody Glacier, and I had expected us to use
the same route. However, we were being led up the north flanks of the Gooseneck Ridge, and I was not
going to question the guides.

We climbed as high as we could on the steep slabs, and then rested to put on our crampons and
rope up. I strapped mine on over my leather hiking boots, let Hans tie a bowline through my harness, and
was soon climbing a very steep, very icy glacier slope, third in line behind Mark and Janine and ahead of
Margot and Hans. I had no trouble with the flat-footed French technique here, but Janine later said this
was the hardest part of the climb for her. Soon the slope became softer and less steep, and we climbed
upwards to the crest of the wide, confusing Gooseneck Ridge. We crossed some sections of rock, keeping
our crampons on, and some of easy snow, on terrain I vaguely remembered from 1992--I had finally come to
my route of two years ago, making a personal connection of 50 miles from one side of the Winds to the

After a bit the ridge reared up very steeply ahead to the elbow-shaped rock of the Gooseneck
pinnacle, so we swung out onto the Gooseneck Glacier so we could bypass those cliffs. We arrived at the
real crux of the route, the Gooseneck Gully, a steep couloir with an ugly bergschrund guarding its base. This
was the obstacle that had turned back my 1992 attempt.

Mark felt that a rough snowbridge across the left side the ugly series of crevasses forming the
bergschrund was the best route across. We bunched up on the lip of the cave-like chasm as Mark went
across first, and then climbed a very steep snow slope for a little bit to get in position to belay the rest of us
across. Janine went next (I took pictures of her crossing), and then me, followed by Margot and Hans.
Crossing this without a rope and a partner would have been possible, but foolish, so I was very glad I was in
a group. The possibility of the bridge collapsing, plus the steep snow slopes, combined to make it a
dangerous area.

Mark then sent Hans, with a rope, on up the very steep slope of the couloir--it looked convex,
bulging out of the mountain. Hans reached the top of it, out of sight, and by yelling Mark and Hans got a
belay system set up. We three clients then ascended the 60 degree snow slopes belayed from above by Hans,
finding it easy to make steps in the soft snow. In September, 1992 the couloir had been much icier. Soon we
were all atop the Gooseneck Gully, on the crest of the Gooseneck Ridge once again, beyond and just a little
bit below the actual pinnacle of the Gooseneck. So far the day had been fairly overcast, but as we started
along the summit ridge the sun came out for the first time. This, plus having the hardest climbing behind us,
lifted our spirits.

We trudged along up more rocky sections and crossed a snowfield or two before reaching the final
snow crest of the peak, which was a lot steeper than I had thought it would be--it was a long, long way down.
We switchbacked up the slope easily, and the only problem was that it the uphill was to our left for most of
the way, forcing us to carry our ice axes in our left hands--hardly a serious problem. After some chugging
we reached the crest of the snowy ridge, at the Continental Divide, where we, for the first time, could see
over the other side, all the way to the Tetons.

From this point the route led along the snowy ridge for a short while, just to the east of the actual
crest and beneath some rocky outcrops to our left. On this stretch Janine handed her video camera over to
Hans, who went ahead and climbed an outcrop to film us slowly climbing along beneath him. At one icy
stretch between some rocks Mark chopped steps with his ice axe for us, and Hans, as cameraman, made
some mock-serious comments about how expert Mark was at this traditional alpine art. Shortly after this,
and sooner than I expected (due to my altimeter reading low), we rounded an outcrop, climbed a small snow
dome, and heard Mark suddenly congratulate us all on reaching the summit of Gannett Peak. We had made
it, and I had gained my 49th U.S. state high point.

The five of us then took a half-hour rest at the apex of Wyoming. Janine and I were the only ones
with cameras, and we took lots of pictures, and Janine also broke out her video camera. The very summit
was a pile of rocks that Margot, Janine and I posed on while the guides acted blase about where they were--
Mark had been here three other times, and although it was Hans's first ascent, he didn't seem too excited,
either. After doing McKinley I guess Gannett is pretty tame.

In the summit rocks I found a register canister, but it was full of ice, and even after banging some of
it out the main notebook was frozen deep inside the pipe. We had to make due with signing our names on a
soggy piece of paper that was all I could get out of the canister. The day was still partly cloudy, with
occasional patches of sunlight striking us, but the views of the glaciated heart of the Wind River Mountains
were pretty awesome, with glaciers, pinnacles, ragged bergschrunds, and many lakes all visible from what my
guidebook called "the most alpine summit in the American Rockies". After we all ate a little bit and posed
for self-timed group shots of the five of us, Mark told us that we had to get moving. He was, as usual,
pessimistic about the weather, and wanted us to get down.

Mark told us to put on our Gore-Tex pants, since he was planning on some glissading, but it turned
out that Bob had been given mine when he turned back this morning and I had to wear his 45-inch waist
pants. We then roped up, and started back down the summit ridge, in exactly the reverse order as during
the ascent: Hans first, then Margot, myself, Janine, and finally Mark, in the all-important rear spot. Going
downhill was like it always is on a big mountain--much easier and also much more dangerous, but we had no
problems with the first stretch along the ridge and the surprisingly, incredibly steep snow pitch down to the
top of the Gooseneck Ridge.

At the first band of rocks we took off our crampons for good, since Mark felt the snow was soft
enough and that they were more a pain when crossing rock than a help when crossing snow. We then
downclimbed carefully to the top of the Gooseneck Gully, which looked especially steep from above, its
convex snow face hiding the bergschrund at its base from above. Here Mark told us we were going to do a
butt-glissade--sliding down the gully while sitting down and controlling our speed with our ice axes. Janine,
Margot, and I were incredulous, but our guides set up a good belay above, and after calming down Margot,
who was very scared by the whole proposition, she took off down the slope. I went next, roped to her, and
the process actually worked. I almost rear-ended Margot, we all plowed up huge amounts of snow in front
of us, and the "ride" was pretty short, but it was certainly an interesting experience.

Just above the bergschrund we stopped and sat in the snow while we waited for Mark to climb up to
a rock shelf to the left (looking downhill) of the gully, where he set up a belay using some webbing that had
been left there. We then crossed the bergschrund on a different, more secure snowbridge than the one we
had used going up, on its left side, belayed from the rocks above. Once we were all across, Mark and Hans
stowed their ropes, Mark told us to follow him, and he took off down the slope below the bergschrund by
ripping off an incredible boot-skiing run. We all followed, boot-skiing with varying degrees of success in his
wake--I did very well, since I had come down several other mountains by sliding down on my soles, most
memorably at Mt. Egmont in New Zealand last November.

We boot-skied/plunge-stepped to the next band of rocks, then hiked across it, then roped up one
last time for a last snowfield traverse, making excellent time. However, we soon came to the very bottom
section of the ridge, a section of steep ice. We could have put our crampons on and downclimbed the way
we had come up, but no one wanted to do that, so instead we debated whether or not to try to climb down
the truly rotten, crumbling rock walls beneath us that were next to the glacier. I added my two cents worth--
that maybe we should get down using the route I had used in 1992, off the other side, where the only real
obstacle I remembered was a glacier/ridge moat that, although deep in spots, I had been able to surmount
easily solo.

Mark finally decided to let us make our way down the two-hundred foot slope of rotten rock the
best we could, and we all set off, trying to be very careful about not rolling rocks on people underneath us.
Hans went off to the right (looking downhill), Mark and Margot stayed to the middle, and I first waited a
bit, then tried the route between the two of them before abandoning it after the hairiest, most dangerous
moment of the whole climb for me, when the whole rotten slope I was on started giving way beneath me and
I had to desperately cling to unstable rocks to keep from falling.

I then went over to try Hans's route, since I could see him below. However, he motioned me to the
left, and then even further left, and I finally descended the leftmost section of the slope, near the snow
(which I sometimes ran into), parallel to Janine, who was coming down the middle. I arrived at the bottom
of the slope next to last, five minutes before Janine, slowed by having to get out of the way of the rocks she
was dislodging and the time I wasted trying to find the best route.

We regrouped at the base of this slope, the guides seemingly unperturbed by the miserable ordeal
we had been through, and then started the easy, non-technical hike back to our campsite. It was a lot easier
going through the jumbled talus of the glacial moraines with the sun out, and we crossed innumerable
brooks, passed the spot where Bob had turned back, and soon could see our tents, although for a while some
of us thought the tents we saw weren't ours. At one point I gave my daypack to Janine, since I had been
carrying it all day, and then, happy to be packless, bounded off unencumbered. However, she found that a
crampon point inside it was jamming into her back, so she offloaded it to Hans, already carrying a huge
pack. Seeing this behind me, I took the pack back. I wasn't paying for porters, so I didn't really mind
carrying it, but I felt that Janine could have at least offered me some thanks for carrying a lot of her stuff all
day, which she never did.

As we neared the campsite we got separated, and I was alone as I crossed
several raging streams on rocks and finally stumbled into our campsite after
Mark but before Janine and Margot. Bob was basking on a rock, and I stopped
to chat with him for a bit--he didn't feel bad at all about having to turn
back, and told me he had seen us up on the summit ridge, silhouetted against
the snow, so he knew we had made it. It was now about 3 PM on a mostly sunny
afternoon, so after unloading the daypack, taking off my boots, and drinking
some water, I, too, found a rock to lie down on and rest, savoring the
beautiful scenery, happy I had made the summit.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:9564 ft / 2914 m
    Extra Gain:1640 ft / 499 m
    Route:Gooseneck Ridge
    Trailhead:Trail Lakes Ranch  7520 ft / 2292 m
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Stream Ford, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Guide, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:4 nights away from roads
    Weather:Cool, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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