Elephant Head (Wyoming), Ellingwood Peak (Wyoming), Fremont Peak (Wyoming), Gannet Peak (Wyoming)
In High Places
By: Burton A. Falk
The Grand Teton, for all its fame and splendor, is not the loftiest peak inWyoming. Nosiree, the high point of the Cowboy State is the visually obscure13,804' Gannett Peak, lying in the Wind River Range, approximately 70 miles tothe S.E. of the Tetons (French for "Sweater Girl Mountains.")
The Wind River Range (a.k.a. the Wind Rivers, the Winds) was named, lessimaginatively, for the nearby Wind River, which flows in a south-easterlydirection along its eastern slopes. Suffering picturesque comparison with thesoaring Tetons, the Wind Rivers rise up from a broad 10,000' shelf, therebyconcealing much of their innate ruggedness from low-land view. The difference ismuch akin to observing the Sierra Nevada from its gently inclined western slopesversus eying the range's steep east-side escarpment from the Owens Valley.
My Wind River trip started one fine morning in July last summer. Meeting twoColorado climbing friends, Charlie Winger and Randy Murphy, in Denver, we beganour drive to Pinedale, WY, the gateway to the west side of the range. Arrivingin that small town about 4:30 p.m., I at once became enamored of the place. Thenatives were friendly, it possessed a well-stocked grocery-hardware store, asparkling green park and it had a river that ran through it.
After checking into the Sundance Motel (where the proprietress sellshome-made fudge), we drove nine miles out of town, up the plateau, to the BaldMountain Pack Station, where we left the bulk of our gear and food to be packedin by mule the next day. We then headed back to Pinedale, where we had beenadvised to have dinner at MacGregor's Pub, located on Franklin St., just northof the main drag. And was it good. Our three dinners were equally delicious, andwe especially enjoyed a skillet full of broiled mushrooms which we ordered as anappetizer. During our eight days in the Winds we dwelled at length on thecelebratory dinner we would have at MacGregor's on our return.
On Monday morning, July 22, leaving our van at the 9,550' pack station, westarted off on foot, heading first northeast up the Pole Creek Trail, then northon the Seneca Lake Trail, on what turned out to be a 15 mile day. The entirehike was through a forested plateau, and, except for the first couple of milesof easy gain, we followed an undulating trail which never dipped below 10,000'and never rose above 11,000'. That afternoon we met our packer near the junctionof the Titcomb Basin Trail and the Indian Pass Trail, and nearby we set up ourfirst camp. Unfortunately, it became immediately and annoyingly clear that thelocal mosquitoes were all alive and well. Should you think about visiting theWinds in July, take along plenty of repellent.
Next morning, July 23, we began double packing our gear some three milesinto the north-south running Titcomb Basin, setting up our base camp on an abovetimerline knell between the Lower and Upper Titcomb Lakes. The followingmorning, July 24, arising at 4 a.m., we set off at 5 a.m. for our assault onGannett Peak, the primary objective of our venture.
Gannett Peak, due to its remote location, difficulty of approach and generalobscurity, was not climbed until 1922. However, as Joe Kelsey, in his "Climbingand Hiking in the Wind River Mountains" states, it is "a noble peak--asnow peak in a range of rock peaks--(perhaps) the most alpine mountain in theAmerican Rockies." As for me, stopping for a brief rest at 6 a.m., thenobility of the peak seemed of dubious concern. Looking up the frozen 40 degreeslopes toward Dinwoody Pass, fifteen hundred feet above, I figured we were infor a long day.
And I was right. Employing crampons and ice axes, it took us nearly an hourand a half to crunch up the south side of the pass, which was still deep inearly morning shadows. From the wind blown crest of the 13,000' pass (on whichthere are a few miserable campsites), we could look beyond and see what the restof the climb held in store. Fourteen hundred feet below stretched the DinwoodyGlacier, to which we had to descend. Beyond that the climb began once again,rising along the curving crest of a windblown ice ridge, zig-zagging up thesteep slopes and across the bergschrund of the Gooseneck Glacier, clamberingthrough rocks below the Gooseneck Pinnacle, and finally ascending the long, butfairly level snow-covered summit ridge to the peak's 13,804' apex.
It took us until noon--four and a half hours--to cover the distance betweenDinwoody Pass and the top of Gannett Peak. Once comfortably ensconced on thepeak's commodious summit, we snacked, chatted with a threesome of climbers fromSpearfish, SD, and scanned the spectacular mountain scenery. We noted thatGannett Peak is protected, like sand traps protecting a green, by five glacierstheDinwoody, Gooseneck, Gannett, Mammoth and Minor--which almost completelysurround it's base. We also observed that the skies were beginning to cloudover, a normal afternoon occurrence in the Rockies, so we began our descent.
It took us five and a half hours to make our return--versus the seven ittook to climb the peak--mainly because we had 2,400' less gain, and also becausewe were able to glissade down portions of the Gooseneck Glacier and the southside of Dinwoody Pass which had been warmed in the mid-day sun. Still, it was myfirst big climb of the season and because of the 6,500' of total gain during theday, I was dragging by the time I got back to camp at 6 p.m.. Although we hadbrought along a bottle of wine to enjoy with our victory dinner, we had neitherthe energy nor the desire to drink more than a couple of gulps each.
The next day, July 25, we slept in until 7 a.m., then made a leisurely,snow-free class 3 climb of the southwest slopes of 13,745' Fremont Peak, thethird highest peak in Wyoming. The ascent of this peak, towering just to theeast of our campsite, was enlivened by a thunder, hail and lightning storm whichdrove us under cover just short of the summit. Waiting under a rock for a halfan hour, the storm finally passed, and we were at last able to gain the top andsign the register.
On Friday, July 26, we had planned to climb the south summit of Sacagawea(Hey, that's the way it's spelled on the topo), however due to wet rock, theresult of an overnight rain, we decided to forgo the multi-pitch 5.5 ascent.Instead, we scrambled up an unnamed 12,000+' peak on the west side of theTitcomb Basin, from which we had a view of the dramatic line of peaks along theopposite side of the glacially-hewn valley. Farthest north stood 13,620' Mt.Helen, which, according to Kelsey is "one the range's most interestingpeaks," with "routes for all tastes: old classic, big wall, easy snowand difficult ice." Next, to the south, lay 13,569' Sacagawea, the sheerwestern face of which affords many fine rock climbs. Last in the line up cameFremont Peak, which was first climbed in 1842 by John C. Fremont, who at thetime believed he was climbing not only the highest peak in the Wind Rivers, butthe highest peak in the Rockies as well.
The following day we double packed down to the Titcomb Basin Trail/ IndianPass Trail Junction, then up the latter about a mile to a spot where we set upour final camp. On Sunday, July 28, Charlie and Randy arose at 5 a.m., and setoff at 6 to climb 13,502' Ellingwood Peak (a.k.a.Harrower Peak) via a fifteenpitch, 5.6 climb of its north face. Although I was invited to join them, Ideclined due to my lack of recent rock climbing experience (Charlie and Randy,on the other hand, do a lot of rock, including a yearly week-long trip to JoshuaTree). Instead, I slept in for another hour, then started off at 7 to climbEllingwood by its class 4 Southwest Ridge--a route by which most rock climbersdescend. This was an exhilarating experience during which managed to incur majoradrenalin rushes on at least two occasions. Reaching the summit two or threehours before my companions, I left them a bottle of water and bag of TraderJoe's Double Chocolate Chip Cookies for their summit celebration, then returnedthe same way I had ascended, crossed a saddle and climbed 12, 160' Elephant Head(a.k.a. Cairn Peak) by its class 4 East Ridge. Interestingly, I found the top ofthis peak to be absolutely flat, like a mesa, perhaps an eighth of a mile indiameter. It also possessed a huge summit cairn, which no doubt accounts for itsalias.
Maybe it's just me, but climbing an exposed route alone seems to be a lotmore exciting then when doing the same climb with a fellow climber or two. Afterrinsing out my shorts at the bottom of the peak, I started back for camp, whichreached at 4 p.m. Charlie and Randy pulled in about an hour later, and within afew minutes of their arrival it began to pour. That evening we prepared dinnerby extending one arm only (mine) out to the stove, which somehow kept litthroughout the torrential downpour.
Monday, July 30, we double packed down to the Titcomb Basin/indian Passtrail junction, where we left all our gear for an early afternoon pick up by ourpacker. Beginning our hike out at 11:30 a.m., we arrived at the Pole CreekTrailhead about 4:30 p.m.
Yes, we did return to MacGregor's that evening, and. yes, our meals wereonce again superb. The beer was pretty darn good, too.
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