Gannett may be the best mountain you’ve never heard of. At 13,804′ it is the highest in Wyoming (the Grand Teton is slightly lower), and is in the heart of the rugged Wind River Range. It’s remote – requires a 40 mile round-trip – and rugged – requires glacier travel and some rock scrambling. On August 1, Peter Bakwin established the Fastest Known Time on this fine mountain, a splendid 12 hrs, 39 mins.
Gannett is always approached from Elkhart Basin, then up Titcomb Basin and over Bonney Pass; or from Trail Lakes, which involves not just one but two passes to go over … all before starting up the actual peak.
Peter and I decided to do Gannett in 2004. I took one look at that map, and wondered why the heck everyone was doing what they were doing. All routes came in from the East, which is the leeward side, which means the glaciers have cut steep cirques in the mountainsides, the valleys are really deep, and the rivers rage. The West being windward, has gentler topography (the snow gets blown off and doesn’t accumulate into as active of glaciers). Yet there were no trails going in from the West, and almost no route descriptions.
The map however, clearly shows a potential route going up Wells Creek. Apparently almost no one does this. Not knowing why, we had no hesitation in doing it.
The route went great, except there was one tricky section, called the “Cleft” (Peter’s Trip Report is very good). As long as you can climb 120′ of stiff, exposed 5.6, the run in was very quick (along the CDT), and the glacier travel and the peak afforded moderate passage from this side. Plus there was no chance of seeing so much as a footprint.
We had a wonderful day, took our time, and easily could have established a quick time if we had set our minds to it. A return trip was inevitable.
But unfortunately, not with me. While a knee injury and other issues sidelining me, Peter had a go, this time up the adjacent Tourist Creek. This has the advantage of being non-technical, but the disadvantage of having to climb over a small divide and descend into Wells Creek above the technical section. His report:
“I started at the GRL TH at 4:22 a.m. and ascended via Tourist Creek. To gain the summit it is about 10-11 miles (depending on how you do it) of basically flat trail (gains 300′ net), followed by another 8 (?) miles of off trail, which gains a total of another 6500′ or so. Including the drop of 500-700′ down to Scott Lake, which you have to reclimb on the way back, the total vert for the route is over 7300′.
“I made the summit in exactly 7 hours. Spent 10 minutes up there admiring the view, then down in about 5h30m, a total time of 12h39m29s. Conditions were very good. My knowledge of the route was limited to having ascended Wells Creek with Buzz Burrell in August 2004 (the Tourist Creek route intersects upper Wells Creek near Scott Lake, at about 10,500′), so there were some inefficiencies, but mostly I made good choices. The guidebook has one paragraph on the route (which turned out to be more misleading than helpful), and Tourist Creek is not described on summitpost.com (Note – it is now; Peter just listed it).
“Tourist Creek is a tough route! There is a mind- and quad-blowing amount of rock hopping. Once you leave the flat Highline Trail there is virtually no easy going. This route is seldom done because few people are fit enough (or dumb enough) to attempt it in one day, but if you go for the backpack you either camp at the 10 mile point, and still have a brutal day ahead of you, or you schlep your pack up 2000 vertical feet in 1.5 miles of viscious rock hopping and scrambling to a high camp at 10,200′. Above that you will encounter more rock hopping and talus, glacier travel and moderately steep snow climbing, and class 4 scrambling at above 13,500′. Tough stuff.
“Wells Creek is more direct and has about 1000′ less climbing that Tourist Creek, and so should be faster provided one were comfortable soloing exposed 5.6 (up & down) in a remote backcountry setting. I am not.
“Normally I’m a runner, but this year I have really been enjoying the high peaks more, and so my “training” was pretty good for this effort. This summer I climbed a bunch of 14ers and high 13ers in Colo, and Exum Ridge on the Grand Teton on 7/30. In all, I had a fun day on a beautiful, remote and challenging mountain.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.” — John Muir
Splits (elapsed time from 4:22 a.m. start, 8/1/09):
bridge over Green River 2:02
Wells/Touist divide 4:35
Minor Glacier 5:45
arrive summit 7:00
leave summit 7:10
off Minor Glacier 7:51
Wells/Tourist divide 8:54
bridge over Green River 10:57
GRL TH 12:39:29