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Lessons from Gannett Peak: #BeSafeGannett Expedition Report

Thursday, August 23rd, 2018

This July, four of employees headed into the Wind River Range of Wyoming to attempt to summit Gannett Peak, the highest point in Wyoming. Joe Miller, Ben Pasquino, Chelsea Miller, and Jenny Hastings had the opportunity to put themselves and some of our products to the test at one of the most remote places in the USA. 

Team gear check before flying out for Wyoming – we carried a lot of important gear!

Day 1: Elkhart Park Trailhead to Little Seneca Lake
11.7 miles 1959 ft. elevation gain

Day 1 leaving the trailhead we were all smiles for the adventure ahead!

We set off from the Elkhart Park Trail head at about 8 am with big smiles on our faces. The terrain on our first day was pretty rolling and not too strenuous. As primarily East Coast hikers, we were thankful for switchbacks (we don’t find those often in the White Mountains); however, we were also quickly affected by the altitude. Ben, Jenny, and I found ourselves a little short of breath, dizzy, and with nagging headaches. Joe, who hiked Mt. Whitney in June, found that his prior trip above 10,000 ft. helped him acclimate quicker this time around.

Our first view of the high peaks came at Photographer’s Point, about 5 miles in. Those of you looking for a beautiful day hike in the area, we would highly recommend the trek to Photographer’s Point.

Photographer’s Point gave us our first breathtaking view.

After a quick break for lunch, we continued on through beautiful fields of wildflowers and past gorgeous lakes. We camped for the night at Little Seneca Lake, where the boys enjoyed some fishing, and Joe caught a Rainbow Trout.

Our first day was not without issues. A few miles in, we discovered that Ben had some pretty nasty blisters. This gave us a chance to break out our Ultralight/Watertight .7 and apply some blister treatment. Ben glued his skin back together with some tincture of benzoin (warning, he also discovered this hurts pretty badly) and bandaged himself up with some GlacierGel and Duct Tape. Take it from him, folks: definitely make sure your boots are broken in and fit well before undertaking a multi-day hike.

Ben patching up his blisters using his Ultralight/Watertight .7 medical kit

Day Two : Little Seneca Lake to Titcomb Basin
7.7 miles 1093 ft. elevation gain

We broke camp at Little Seneca Lake a little later this morning and made our way up mountain passes to Island Lake. From the pass above Island Lake, we got a great view of Bonney Pass, which would be our gateway to Gannett Peak. At Island Lake, we stopped to fill and treat our water using Aquamira. The water in the Wind River Range was pretty clear, so we didn’t need to filter out sediment. We only needed to kill any potential bacteria.

We drank a lot of Aquamira-treated water!

Hiking past the lakes and ponds on our way to Titcomb Basin, we encountered lots of bugs. On this trip, we all relied heavily on Natrapel. Natrapel is a Picaridin-based formula that will repel bugs for up to 12 hours and won’t damage any gear or synthetic materials.

Chelsea applying some Natrapel to keep the mosquitoes away

We also all had treated our gear with Ben’s Clothing and Gear, a Permethrin treatment, before we hit the trail for extra protection. One of the guys at the Great Outdoor Shop in Pinedale, WY informed us that the bugs were especially bad this year! Our insect repellent really helped though, and we were easily able to deal with the legendary bugs of the Wind River Range. As we trekked further into Titcomb Basin, the trees began to drop away, the sun became more intense, and we began to see more and more snow and rocks. At this point, we all transitioned into our glacier glasses and pulled out our brimmed hats.

We pushed as deep into Titcomb Basin as possible before setting up camp for the day. Joe found us a beautiful campsite sheltered from the wind and conveniently close to water. Make sure to look up camping regulations where you’re going – in the Bridger Wilderness, we were required to be 200 ft from trails and lakes and 100 ft from creeks and streams. We took a little longer getting up camp this evening, as Joe and Ben took some time building up a rock wall to block the wind.

Our camp at Titcomb Basin, where we built a rock wall for wind protection

We wanted to invest in this space because we were planning to spend a few nights here. We spoke to a few climbers coming down Gannett Peak and got all good news (the snow bridge over the bergschrund was still in good shape) and were advised by multiple people to start early. As the sun set in Titcomb Basin, we sat in awe of our surrounding and couldn’t believe we were finally here.

Day 3: Rest Day in Titcomb Basin

We decided to spend our first full day in Titcomb Basin as a rest day because the weather outlook looked better later in the week, and we were grateful for one more day to acclimate. On our rest day, we brushed up on our rope and glacier skills. We practiced tying alpine butterflies and retraced figure-8s, moving as a rope team, and making snow anchors with pickets. We also packed our summit packs to make sure we had all of our gear ready for the trek up Gannett Peak. Shortly after, heavy rains pushed us inside our tents, making us glad we opted for a rest day, rather than a summit bid.

After our short rain break, we took some time to test and photograph a few of our amazing products. Ben practiced using the Survive Outdoors Longer Rescue Flash Mirror to signal for help (he successfully signaled Joe, then Jenny and I ,from over a mile away while we were hiking back to camp at one point), and Jenny took advantage of the Adventure Bath Wipes to feel a little more human after some sweaty, dusty days on the trail.

Ben catching the sunlight with the S.O.L. Rescue Flash Mirror – it’s bright!

At this point, hikers started trickling back into the basin after their days on Gannett Peak. We met one very experienced mountaineer who not only gave us great beta on climbing Gannett Peak, but entertained us with tales of his world-wide adventures. One of my favorite parts of spending time in the backcountry is meeting fellow hikers; it’s always fun to trade stories, and they often inspire my future trips.

Both Grizzly and Black Bears make their home in the Wind River Range. Throughout our trip, we stored all of our food and toiletries (including sunscreen and insect repellent) in bear proof Ursacks. We chose these over bear canisters for our trip, as they were lighter and more convenient; however, often you can rent bear canisters from the US Forest Service if you don’t own any (in the White Mountain National Forest, you can borrow them for free). Responsible food storage in the backcountry is important both for your safety and the safety of the bear. On Day 1, we were able to hand our bear bags in trees (at least 10 ft. off the ground); however, in Titcomb Basin, we didn’t have any trees to use. While in Titcomb Basin, we hung our bear bags off boulders, roughly 200 ft. away from camp. Throughout our time in the Wind River Range, we also carried bear spray in case of any threatening bear encounters. It’s vital to do all of your cooking and cleaning away from your camp; this way bears and other critters won’t be attracted to the smell and will hopefully leave your camp alone. While we didn’t end up seeing any bears, we were glad to have been prepared.

Day 4: Freemont Peak and Titcomb Basin
5.91 miles 2047 ft. elevation gain

As the weather for today was still a little iffy, and the weather for the next day looked beautiful, we decided to push Gannett Peak off for one more day. We were very lucky to have a lot of time out in the Wind River Range, which allowed us to be flexible and wait for a good weather window.

Joe, Jenny, and I decided to get up at 5am for a 6am start up Freemont Peak (the third highest peak in WY). This peak is traditionally approached from Indian Basin, but we figured we’d give it a shot from Titcomb. We scrambled up scree and talus over 3rd and 4th class terrain to just over 12,000ft before heading back down. We ran into a wall (literally) when we encountered some 5th class climbing. As we didn’t bring any rock protection with us on this expedition, we scrambled back down, happy to have warmed up our legs and lungs for our push up Gannett Peak the following day.

Jenny and Chelsea on their way up Fremont

Back at camp, we rested up and hid from the sun, which was very strong at 10,000 ft. (remember to pack sunscreen – we were glad we did!). Shortly after second dinner (more on that ahead), I noticed some ominous clouds rolling into the Basin. We hastily put all of our gear under our tents and strung up our bear bags as thunder echoed around us. Shortly after we were safe in our tents, the rain quickly transitioned into hail! Our tents held up just fine, and Jenny and I stayed unaffected, if a little exhilarated, by the hail. Joe and Ben had opted for an ultralight, floorless tent (they used the S.O.L. All Season Blanket as a base).

The boys’ floorless tent worked great overall, but definitely let in some hail!

While their tent held up great and they were grateful for the reduced weight during our 40 mile round trip hike into Titcomb Basin, the hail ended up bouncing up into their tent and off their faces. They were certainly glad it was only pea sized! The hail subsided after 20 minutes or so, and we turned in for the night around 5 pm to prepare for our 12 am wakeup call.

Day 5: Gannett Peak Summit Bid
16.5 miles 5935 ft. elevation gain

On summit day, we got up at midnight for a 1 am start. We put on our crampons on a snowfield close to camp and were able to leave them on for the rest of the day. We got a little off route in the dark, navigating by our headlamps, and ended up scrambling most of the way up Miriam Peak before realizing we weren’t headed in the right direction. We pulled out our Survive Outdoors Longer Escape Pro Bivvies and waited for a little bit more sunlight to figure out our next move.

Joe in the Escape Pro Bivvy, looking at our route as the light increases

Once the sun had come up a little more, we realized that we were only one snow field over from Bonney Pass. We rappelled down from our bivvy perch to the correct snowfield and finished our ascent up Bonney Pass around 7 am. From the top of Bonney, we got our first view of Gannett Peak and its gorgeous hanging snowfield. To climb Gannett from Titcomb Basin, you have to ascend about 2,000 ft. up Bonney Pass, then descend 1,000 ft. to the base of Gannett Peak before making your final 2,000 ft. climb to the top. On the return trip, you have to climb back up Bonney Pass before making your final descent back to camp in Titcomb Basin.

We saw our first view of Gannett Peak from the top of Bonney Pass

Once at the base of Bonney Pass, we roped up to make our approach to Gannett Peak over the Dinwoody and Gooseneck Glaciers. On our way up, we had to hop a crevasse and cross a bergschrund on the Gooseneck Glacier.

Our rope team on the Gooseneck Glacier

By the time we were partway up Gannett, the snow on the glaciers had begun to deteriorate. Joe, who was leading our rope team, was post-holing up to his waist, and in the soft snow we were moving very slowly. About 500 vertical ft. below summit, we decided the snow was in too bad shape to continue and that we needed to turn around. At this point, it was already 1 pm and we had been moving for 12 hours. While this was a very hard decision, we knew we had to make it back over Bonney Pass and back to camp safely.

Gannett Peak descent

Descending Gannett Peak, shortly after we decided to turn around

By the time we got back to camp, it was nearly 9 pm – we had had a 20-hour day out in the mountains.

Turning around is always a hard decision, and not getting to the summit was definitely a disappointment for all of us. A number of factors kept us from getting to the summit, and we’ve learned a lot about glacier travel and how to increase our possibilities for success. In this case, our goal of getting out safely was paramount to our goal of summiting Gannett Peak.

Day 6: Titcomb Basin to Island Lake
7 miles 643 ft. elevation gain

We had a slow morning after our 20 hour day on Gannett Peak. We ended up packing up and leaving our camp in Titcomb Basin around 11 am. We quickly stopped at Mistake Lake, which the boys had heard often was full of Golden Trout. After an hour or so of fishing (and scaring marmots away from our bags and snacks), we packed back up and continued to Island Lake. At Island Lake, we stopped to refill our water in a stream, and Ben saw some enormous spawning Cutthroat Trout. The boys pulled out their rods and started fishing. Ben caught a beautiful trout before we headed on towards our campsite for the night.

Joe and Ben getting in some fishing at Island Lake

Just over the pass after Island Lake, we found a gorgeous camping spot by a peaceful pond overlooking the mountains. While our other campsites were stunning, this was one of my favorite campsites of the entire trip. Jenny, Joe, and Ben took a dip and had a blast jumping off rocks into the water. As this was a glacier-created lake, it dropped off rather quickly, making it great for jumping into. I opted to stay dry and warm.

Jenny enjoying a dip in a rather chilly lake.

That night we watched the sunset from a nearby rocky outcropping and used our head nets to keep the bugs away, especially over dinner.

 

Ben’s InvisiNet Xtra head net helped keep the bugs off us at night.

In the Winds, our dinners consisted of completely dehydrated freezer-bag meals compiled by yours truly. In this method, I used easily rehydratable ingredients which would cook quickly when we added boiling water. For a base, I used quick cooking carbs (instant rice, instant potatoes and couscous) with freeze-dried chicken and freeze-dried vegetables. We mixed it up by adding different spices. Some favorite meals were Alfredo couscous, Thai peanut rice noodles and Thanksgiving dinner. Keep an eye out for a upcoming blog post containing our favorite recipes!

Enjoying some couscous alfredo!

We ended up eating in 2 shifts. Our first night, I cooked up a large dinner all at once, but we struggled to eat it all. While we knew that we needed the calories, we filled up fast after a full day on the trail. We found it worked best for us to spread dinner out by having it in two courses. That way we could eat right when we broke for camp, then a little later before we had to put up our bear bags. Nutrition is such a personal thing when in the backcountry; you have to do what works best for you.

Day 7: Island Lake to Elkhart Park Trailhead
12.5 miles 1586 ft. elevation gain

When we began our final day in the Wind River Range, we weren’t sure that it would be our last day. We thought we’d go about 7 miles, set up camp, spend some time fishing, and head out the next day. As we began our hike, we realized that we were making very good time. At about noon, we ran into a US Forest Service Backcountry Ranger. While talking to her about other campers wildlife encounters (side note: when we were headed up Gannett Peak, we ran into a party that approached Gannett from the East on the Glacier Trail. They told us that they had been stalked by a Mountain Lion that morning! While it ended up prowling off, it was definitely a scary morning for them.), she mentioned off-handedly that we were only 6 miles or so from the trailhead. Taking into account Ben’s worsening blisters and our growing desire for a burger, we decided to push out that day. After Photographer’s Point, Joe (the fastest hiker in our group) decided to go on ahead and drop his pack at the car, that way he could come back and take Ben’s pack to alleviate the weight on his painful heels. We made it out by about 4 pm, excited for a meal in Pinedale.

One of the many things we learned on this trip was how important it is to take care of injuries and discomforts early. If addressed early, you can prevent little issues from becoming big issues. This kind of prevention ranges from taking care of your nutrition and making sure to eat well before you end up crashing (guilty) to noticing hot spots and blisters early in the trip. When you add 60+ miles and 50+ lbs. to small injuries, they turn into bigger problems. We were so grateful that we went into the backcountry with well stocked first aid kits. Joe made sure that not only did we have small personal first aid kits, but that we also knew everything that was in our group first aid kit.

Needless to say, we loved our Explorer medical kit!

After coming back from a trip like this, where we broke into our medical kits often for blister treatment and treatment for the effects of altitude, it is very important to revisit your kit and refill anything you used on your trip. Nothing is worse than getting out in the backcountry and realizing that you never restocked the piece you need.

Thank you to everyone for following our trip – we truly appreciated all the support and interest! If you have any questions about our trip or how to prepare for something like our trip, please feel free to reach out to us!

About the Author: Chelsea Miller

I’m always scheming my next adventure. Whether it’s this weekend’s hike or an after-work mountain bike ride, I’m constantly daydreaming about my next chance to get outside. I love trip planning, maps, and lists; after ticking off NH’s 48 4,000 footers, I know the trails of the White Mountains like the back of my hand. The opportunity to plan a trip to the Wind River Range was unbelievable. I’ve hiked and climbed all over New England and taken a number of trips across the country and the world to hike and climb.