I climbed this Mountain in July 2012 with my good friend Rick Overholt. It was a 50 mile hike (the GPS rounds all the corners sampling 10 minute intervals making it seem shorter) so we decided to rent Llamas to make the hike more enjoyable. We planned a 7 day hike to give us another chance at the summit if the weather didn’t cooperate. Because of the duration and amount of food required, as well as the extensive ice climbing gear our final load was around 220lbs so we got our money’s worth out of the Llamas.
This was the first trip I used my The DeLorme inReach, two-way, satellite communications device and I was very happy with the results. The track I posted here is from the device and it was nice to be able to communicate with friends and family during the trip. Summit day was especially cool with people cheering us on.
At 13,804 ft elevation, Gannett Peak is the highest peak in Wyoming. It is located in the Wind River Range and is the tallest peak of the Central Rockies; the largely continuous group of mountains traversing the states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. The base of this sprawling mountain, rests in both the Bridger-Teton National Forest and Shoshone National Forest. The 896 acres Gannett Glacier, which is likely the largest single glacier in the American portion of the Rocky Mountains, flows down from the northern slopes of the mountain. Minor Glacier is situated in the western cirque of the peak while Dinwoody and Gooseneck Glaciers can be found on the southeast side of the mountain.
It is considered by many mountaineers to be the most difficult state high point in the lower 48 except for possibly Montana’s Granite Peak. Having climbed Granite Peak last year, I found Gannet to be the more physically demanding climb.
The starting elevation at the Glacier trailhead (Trail Lake Ranch) was 7600 ft, and we crossed into and out of numerous valleys gaining over 10,750 ft over the course of the hike.
On July 13th we went to the Llama school required when renting from Lander Llama and passed with flying colors. In fact, Rick made valedictorian!
We met our team of three Llamas, America, Kutz, and Atlantic. They were well trained, well behaved and all had a great sense of humor chuckling at even Ricks moderately funny jokes.
We learned that they really do spit, but mostly at each other. They can carry 75lbs each, only need water periodically like camels which they are closely related to. They eat grass and grain and are easy to manage.
So after the graduation ceremony, (Rick tossed my hat in the air) we were given the panniers (big saddle bags) to load out. We took these back to the hotel and it took several hours to get our gear squared away.
It was midnight before we got the last of our gear squared away and loaded into the panniers which must be balanced per pair. We had to get up at 4:00AM to get to the trailhead from Lander at 7:00AM. There seems to be some force of nature that prevents us from getting a good nights rest before starting a climb.
Day 1 – Saturday July 14th
Our Llama team was delivered to Glacier Trailhead at 7:00 AM as planned. We saddled them up and set out for Double Lake which was about an 11 mile hike. As we were crossing the Burro Flat we began to have Llama trouble. Atlantic who was tied behind America began to cush (lay down with legs folded) every 25 yards or so making America stop as well. Kuntz also decided he didn’t want to go any further and just stopped moving. After checking saddles, loads, and scratching our heads we began to juggle the order. We put Atlantic up front, with America (who never gave us any trouble) behind him. Then when Atlantic began to Cush I wrapped the rope around my waist and using my body weight and legs forced him back up. After I did this a few times, he popped back up as soon as I began to wrap the rope around my waist. Eventually he learned that trail-cushing would not be tolerated and stopped doing it. To solve the problem with Kuntz we simply led the other two ahead and he followed. Llamas are very codependent and get very anxious when they are not with rest of the team.
Once at the beautiful Double Lake, Rick found a nice campsite back in the trees (see GPS Track) that gave us room for ourselves and the Llamas, which we staked out with their 15′ tethers so they could graze. We offered them water after setting up camp, but they were not thirsty which was common. I suppose it is part of their camel heritage. They do graze a lot and I’m told they get water from the plants they eat making them easy to care for on the trail. You do have to stake them out in view of each other or they get upset.
Day 2 – Sunday July 15th
We got a late start which was a combination of us sleeping and underestimating the amount of time it would take to get the Llamas packed back up and situated. With Llamas, everything does seem to take longer. We Finally hit the trail at 11:30 AM and had no further trouble with the Llamas. We covered around 9 miles this day and were greatly slowed by the water crossings of which there were 12 or so. Around 6:30PM we got our first view of Gooseneck Pinnacle and Gooseneck Glacier. We thought it was the summit, but later realized that it was not. It was an awe inspiring sight though. We were hiking through the breathtaking Big Meadows valley (we camped here on the way out) and the mountain was framed at the South end of it. I had been studying the topographical maps and was looking forward to this view. I was not disappointed and took a lot of photos here.
Around 7:45 we hit the first major water crossing. We followed a trail that went up assuming that it was an easier way across, but after 20 minutes of hiking the trees became too tight and we had a Llama jam. We came back down to the main trail and stripped for the crossing. There were around 12 back to back water crossings in the next two miles, and we didn’t expect to see anybody on the trail this late so we just kept going. Yes we were hiking naked and it felt surprisingly refreshing.
We finally got to a sign that said no livestock beyond this point so we stopped and setup camp near that sign just off the trail. This was our least favorite campsite as it was very tight and not very pretty. I messaged Lander Llama via the Delorme inReach device I was using to see if we could go beyond this point which aplenty we could, but didn’t get his reply until we had already struck camp. We intended to go all the way to high camp which was why we hiked so late. It was 10:00 by this time, and we were trail weary and cold from the water crossings so we stayed put.
Day 3 – Monday July 16th
Since we only had about 3 miles to go, we got plenty of rest and left camp around 1:00PM. The biggest water crossing yet was just ahead. We scouted for an hour on the West side of Dinwoody which is laced with many tributaries to find an easy way across, but could not find a path that we felt comfortable about taking the Llamas through. We finally decided to cross the main section of the Dinwoody. The Llamas were having to fight the current a bit, but we got across without any problems. By 2:30 we were across and finished the short hike up to high camp arriving around 5:00PM. As we were setting up camp, Al Spencer, a 56 tough as nails art teacher from Ohio, walked into our camp and introduced himself. We talked a bit and were impressed with his credentials. He had completed all but Gannet and Rainier in the last 4 years and soloed most of his climbs. We invited him to join our climb team which he did. There was considerable discussion about wether we would need to rope in and we almost didn’t bring the rope at all. We finally decided to bring it and it is a good thing we did as it was definitely needed.
We completed our preparations for summit day and finally got to sleep around 11:00PM. It seems to be impossible to get a full nights sleep before summit day.
Day 4 (Summit Day) – Tuesday July 17th
Around 1:00AM a storm blew in and the wind was so strong that the rain was being blown underneath the rain fly getting some of my gear wet. This was a minor inconvenience for me as I simply moved the gear to my rear vestibule on the leeward side of the tent. Rick called me on the radio and told me his tent was totally flooded. Mine is a two man tent, so we waited a while and when there was a bit of a lull, he joined me and we got a couple more hours of sleep.
The big day was upon us and we met Al at his camp and set out just before 4:00AM. I offered to carry the 4.5lb rope if Al would wear the GoPro chest mounted camera so we got some great climbing shots of both Rick and Myself. My pack with food, water, rope and ice climbing gear was around 30lbs. Much heavier than I like for a summit bag, but I didn’t have much choice.
The first obstacle is the Moraine (Glacial debris ranging from sand to car sized boulders) at the base of Dinwoody Glacier which was about a mile and a half. It was still dark and we had a hard time finding our way through the maze of boulders and glacial streams and lakes. We had to backtrack at some points as we got hemmed in. It was close to 6:00AM before we hit Dinwoody Glacier and we were glad to be in crampons, but not for long. We soon had to drop the crampons to work our way through more rocks as we made our way over to Gooseneck Glacier which we made by 7:00AM. At which point we went with full ice gear and roped in. We had to cross more rocks and were in and out of crampons a couple more times up the summit. The ice climb was very manageable but exhausting work. The snow bridge across the bergshrund (crevasse) that separates upper and lower Gooseneck Glacier was intact but appeared to be fragile. Once we crossed the bergshrund to upper Gooseneck Glacier the real climbing began. This was as close to vertical ice as I have ever climbed and it required kicking in a good ice step, and plunging in our ice axes with both hands and hauling ourselves up by the head. It was a bit unnerving at first, but we soon became comfortable and made our way up the slope. Around noon we were at 13,547 ft and could see a snow storm coming in. We were so close that we decided to push hard for the summit and one hour later we were made the peak just as the storm hit in earnest. We could hear the static electricity building up around us, especially when standing on the peak. It sounded like rice crispies popping to me and I thought it was my ears popping from the altitude. Only later did I learn that this is the precursor to lightning. We took the requisite summit photos, and headed back down the mountain the storm chasing us. It was very hard to see and as he sky and the ground were the same color. We carefully masseur way down and by 3:00 the storm had passed and we could once again see for miles. Such is the fickle nature of the mountains.
Once we got back down to lower Gooseneck Glacier, we proceeded to glissade down the glaciers which was great fun and saved us a lot of time. Al was the glissade master and showed us how to steer with our feet instead of our axes which worked much better once we got the hang of it. I did some nice somersaults before I figured out the technique, but no harm was done. Rick did injure his thumb hitting a rock and thinks it may be broken.
The journey back through the major Moraine at the base of Dinwoody was easier in that we could see, but harder because we were so dead tired. We were able to follow the cairns mostly which helped, but it was still a grueling job to get over around and through the giant boulder field.
We returned to a cold and windy high camp around 7:30PM making it a 15 and a half our day and we were totally exhausted. It was all I could do to strip off the muddy gear and get cleaned up for dinner and tend to the Llamas who were very happy to be moved to new grazing. All the trip reports I have read gloss over the fact that this is a HARD CLIMB! I am in very good physical condition and it pushed me to the limit and Rick felt the same way. Also staying at this altitude had a dampening effect on our appetites, moods and morale in general.
Day 5 – Wednesday July 18th
We were still feeling battered from summit day, so we took our time getting packed up and moving. We arrived at the first of the series of water crossings which was the Dinwoody, I proceeded to strip down to my underwear and put on my water shoes. Rick had convertible hiking pants, and only needed to zip off the legs and don his water shoes. We had learned on the way in that fully stripping was not required as the water at its deepest was thigh deep. And it’s a good thing because about this time a woman (wearing a dress believe it or not) was preparing to make her way across the Dinwoody leading a group of kids. She did a test crossing and displayed a technique that we adopted and found to be much more stable than just walking across. You can see her technique in the video that Rick shot of her. We learned that her name was Anna Gast and she is a NOLS instructor out with a group of kids teaching them about the wilderness. They were all very excited about the Llamas and wanted to take photos with us. All the while I’m standing there in my underwear, but they didn’t seem to notice. I can imagine the kids showing their trip photos back home and their parents asking; “Who is that strange man with the Llama, and why isn’t he wearing any pants?” So we completed the rest of the water crossings, and as soon as we crossed the northernmost one, I donned my pants again and we had lunch while I tended to my feet. The water shoes had worn the skin off the back of my heels so I was continually having to apply liquid skin (magical stuff) and moleskin over the injury. Note to self; water shoes are not for hiking.
Our goal was to make it to Big Meadow as it is a spectacular place to camp. As we were exploring the area looking for a suitable tent site, we crossed a sand pit and all 3 Llamas dropped to their knees. I We took an hour to setup camp, and three hours to take photos. After we had been there a while a herd of roaming horses trotted into the valley and were very curious about the Llamas. They whinnied and nickered at them but the Llamas were not impressed. The horses eventually ran off deeper into the valley to graze and drink. The valley was very peaceful with little to no wind as it was fully surrounded by mountains. That night we made hot chocolate, smoked cigars (meant for the summit) and watched the stars in a perfectly clear sky. If you have never seen stars from a high altitude out in he back-country where there is no light pollution it is truly breathtaking.
There is also a clear running stream coming into the valley midway along the trail which is a great place to fill up.
The next morning I got up at 5:00 to hike to the other end of the valley and take photos of he sunrise across the various lakes. The lakes were mirror smooth and the mountains kept the sun from touching the valley floor until 8:00AM by which time I had taken hundreds of photos.
Day 6 – Thursday July 19th
We needed to cover a lot of ground over the next two days so we hoofed around 14 miles that day with a lot of elevation gained and lost. We took very few breaks but when we came across some swimmers at double lake (yep they were naked) we decided to have a swim of our own (at a different lake of course). We jumped into the last lake on the way out which turned out to me fed by glacial melt and was very cold, but refreshing. Something spooked the Llamas while we were swimming cutting our swim short but we never saw what it was. They were all looking in the same direction with great concern though so it must have been serious. After that we soon began the long demoralizing slog across the Burro Flat. This is a wide open meadow with very little to offer aside from some wildflower and lots of rocks. The saddle at the center is also the highest elevation outside of summit day so it wears you out mentally and physically. And the only water is on the far side of it, so you have to push through it which we did. While I was filling our water, Rick went looking for a campsite. Rick’s theory about water = campsite proved true again, and we hade a nice little secluded spot to settle in for the night.
Day 7 – Friday July 20th
Having a very short downhill hike we took our time getting going. The Llama pickup was not scheduled until 4:00 so getting the the trail head early would have just meant a lot of sitting around. Since we had time I paid more attention to the rocks that before and found some beautiful samples of pink granite, mica, and others yet to be identified. (Later At the airport on the way out, the TSA lady picked up my VERY heavy pack and said; “What do you have in there, rocks?”) At the trailhead Scott the owner of Lander Llama seemed annoyed with us when we arrived at the trailhead 15 minutes early. In retrospect my guess is that he was watching our GPS trek and assumed that we would be there sooner since we camped only a few miles from the trailhead.
In a couple of hours we were back in Lander and our first stop was the local ice cream shop where we stopped half a dozen times at both ends of the trip. The other favorite restaurant was the Gannett Grill where we had 90% of our meals. We tried everything and it was all great. Another local biz worth mentioning is the Wild Iris Mountain Sports store. They had a huge sale with the day we arrived and I picked up some Mountain Hardwear (my favorite brand of outdoor clothes) for 70% off. There is also a single screen movie theater with sofas in the balcony which are quite comfy. All in all, Lander is a quiet little town, where the folks are friendly and the service was generally good.
The Llamas where rented from Lander Llama. America was a hulk of a beast that was very dependable and never gave us any trouble. Kutz was paint and proved to be very athletic. If there was a big log or something that the others would not cross, we could take him first and the others would then follow. He never hesitated to cross any obstacle we put before him. Atlantic was a bit stubborn and would cush (lay down with legs folded under) on the trail periodically until he realized that we would not tolerate that. We really enjoyed having them to carry the load, and once we learned their quirks they were easy to work with. We also liked how quiet and docile they were. And because they drink little and eat anything, (even tree bark) it is easy to care for them I’m the field. They do tend to slow you down especially loading and unloading, so allow extra time if you take Llamas.