Climbing Gannett Peak Wyoming with Jackson Hole Mountain Guides
Ink Wells Trail, 5 days, 13,804 ft., 34 miles
A Visit to the Last Best Place in America
September 6, 2014
Gannet Peak and the Wind River Range from High Camp
“If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.”
President Lyndon B. Johnson, at the signing of the Wilderness Act of 1964
I came to climb Gannett with friend and guide extraordinaire, Kenny Gasch, and hopefully complete highpoint 42 – and I did; but this climb turned out to be a lot more than just that. This was my first trip to the Wind River Mountain Range, and the furthest “off grid” that my peripatetic highpointing had taken me – and the deepest into any Federal Wilderness.
The Wind River Range is built of an ancient (1 billion + years) granite batholith, the rocks are hard, complex, full of apparent contradictions and a whole lot of fun; the face of the mountain is cut by a series of dikes and hydrothermal vein deposits producing a kaleidoscope of metamorphic minerals. But at the same time the place is very young – at least in terms of human history.
We entered via a much appreciated (and very expensive) truck trip across the Wind River Indian Reservation from the town of Crowheart. Crowheart is named for a locally famous battle in 1866 between the Crow tribe and Shoshone & Bannock tribes over hunting rights. After a 4 day battle around the local Mesa, the Shoshone Chief (Washakie) challenged the Crow Chief (Big Robber) to a 1-on-1 battle to determine the outcome, and avert further bloodshed. Washakie won, and cut out his opponent’s heart – either eating it or sticking it on the end of his lance – depending upon whose version of the legend you believe. Meanwhile, back East, the nation was cleaning up from the Civil War and preparing to finance the American Industrial Revolution.
Gannett Peak was named in 1906 for Henry Gannett, Chief Geographer of the US Geological Society, and was first climbed by Arthur Tate and Floyd Stahlnaker in 1922, making it the next-to-last US highpoint to be climbed (Granite Peak, Montana was last).
The 15 mile Ink Wells Trail climbs the aptly named Scenic Pass, and then heads down into the Valley to the first overnight at an alpine meadow by a horse camp. This was a two day trip in both directions, and with a 60 pound pack, providing an opportunity for forced acclimatization and physical conditioning. I had done inadequate physical preparation for this climb, spending my time studying oncology nursing texts in a period of OCD focused activity. Needless to say, I regretted this training regimen every step into and out from Gannett.
View from Scenic Pass
View toward Gannett from Scenic Pass
View up the Valley to Gannett from Horse Camp
Washakie Needles and Badlands from Scenic Pass
Alpine Glow on Gannett
Joe at Horse Camp
Rory at High Camp
The team was largely a bunch of older guys – with most retired or nearing. You never know who will be with you on these group trips, and we really lucked out on this one – a great bunch of guys, all of whom had a life-long devotion to the out-of-doors. They offered up a wealth of experience and diverse opinions, and it was a real pleasure to spend a few days climbing together.
High Camp was just below the terminal moraine – at least the former terminal moraine; the glaciers here are in full retreat and the terminal moraine is a lonely vestige of a cooler climate. Summit day dawned with some inauspicious weather, but we made it to the summit and back down before the rain and snow blew in.
Kenny on summit day
Red sky in morning – near the summit of Gannett
View from the top
The climb was a mix of snow, ice and rock on crampons; with the fresh snow creating some tough going due to frequent post-holing. It was more frustrating than dangerous, and was pretty tiring. We arrived at the summit to the distant rumble of thunder, and prudently beat feet down the hill for lunch, dry clothes and a warm drink.
Bighorn Sheep at High Camp
Climbers on the glacier on Gannett Peak
Sunrise down the valley – Washakie Needles on the horizon
The trip out was a long day (10+ miles) of pain hiking down to Horse Camp and then up to Scenic Pass, and then a short day down from Scenic Pass to the truck pick up point. This was my second climb with Kenny and the JHMG team, and I can recommend them without reservation. We had a great team, fairly good weather and overall a terrific experience.
A great team, a terrific climb
Adios, from Gannett Peak