Iíve Passed My Peak (Gannett Peak that is)
We started up the Glacier Trail in single file. Leading was David, a guide with Exum Mountain Guides with many years experience who had summated Gannett Peak several times previously. Bringing up the rear was Joel, new to Exum and to Gannett, but with much guiding experience elsewhere including 68 trips to the top of Mt. Rainier. On this trip he was the porter; carrying a giant load of our stuff. In the middle Ė me Ė waving goodbye to Dinah and struggling with a 45-50 pound load consisting of my hiking stuff plus a harness, helmet, boots, crampons, ice axe, and climbing rope.
On day one, we hiked from the Trail Lake Ranch trail head at 7,600 feet, up 28 switchbacks to Arrow Pass at 10,895 feet, then back down to Honeymoon Creek where we spent the first night at about 9,800 feet, and almost 14 miles from the trail head. We each had a shelter (I had a generously sized Exum tent, David has a smaller personal tent, and Joel had a bivey sack Ė I would describe it as a waterproof sleeping bag shell - and there was also a pyramid tent that served as the cook shack, dining room, and meeting hall.
By day two the mosquitoes had found us and they stayed with us throughout most of the trip, except near the summit. The trail climbed gradually following Dinwoody Creek through Downs Fork Meadows (where we stopped for a visit at a horse packerís camp) and Big Meadows to Wilson Meadows and upward toward the Dinwoody Glacier. We camped beside the creek at about 10,800 feet. During the night a storm passed through with gusty winds and rain. Thatís when I learned that my tent leaked in several places! I tried to use a large plastic bag to route the water away from my head and sleeping bag, but wasnít able to keep everything dry. I woke David who took a look at the situation, and suggested I move to the cook tent where Joel had also moved for additional shelter. The rain soon stopped, but the wind continued all night, and I woke to find the cook tent collapsing around me, and Joel outside re-anchoring it.
The wind was strong, but the sky was clear as we began day three with breakfast about 3:30AM, then turned on our head lamps, and headed up the trail with lighter packs, carrying only the clothing and equipment we would need to get to the summit. At first the trail is gently sloped in dirt and mud, but soon it reaches a boulder field where one must hop or scramble from rock to rock. By the time it was beginning to get light, and we stopped for a break, I was beat! Clouds were streaming over the mountains, and David was nervous about getting caught in a storm at high elevation. I was concerned that I might not have the umph to make it to the top. We decided to go a little further. After climbing a snow field and a scree slope (scree is loose rock) we took another break beside the Gooseneck Glacier. I was really beat. The weather looked briefly promising, but soon clouds blew in again and David decided it was time to retreat. I wasnít sure I had the energy to reach the top, and was glad to be able to blame my failure to reach it on the weather. We hiked back to camp, and I spent the day resting and reading in my tent, and worrying if I had the energy to try again.
In the early morning hours of day four the wind was calm, the sky was clear, and all was a go for a second attempt. We passed the highest point we had reached the previous day under clear skies. I felt much stronger. On with the crampons and harness and up the glacier! This part of the climb involved steep snow, some rock scrambling, more steep snow, a crevasse, more really steep snow, more rock. David was roped in front of me; Joel was nearby offering instructions or climbing ahead checking out possible routes.
As we climbed steep snow near the summit, I was roped behind David, moving as fast as I could, having to stop frequently for air. David would let me stop for a few seconds, and then would start moving again, and a gentle tug from the rope told me I had to start moving as well. It terms of shear energy output, this was the toughest part of the trip for me. But it was soon over and the three of us were sitting on the summit of Gannett Peak! The highest point is a smallish rock, and the attached picture shows me on that highest rock.
We had the summit to ourselves, but met several climbers heading up as we headed back down. The sun had softened the snow making it less stable. David and Joel used the rope and fixed anchors to protect my decent. At one point I slipped on very steep snow and ended up hanging from my ice axe. When we reached camp, I slept for a large part of the afternoon.
On day five we broke camp and hiked back down through the meadows, stopping for another visit at the horse camp, and continuing past where we had camped the first night to camp at a lake about 1,000 feet higher, and three miles closer to the trail head.
Day six found us hiking the rest of the way up to Arrow Pass, and then down the 28 switchbacks. As we approached the trail head, I spotted Dinah with Lily and Noodle Ė a very welcome sight.
Overall, Gannett is my toughest peak to date, but summit day on Rainier was tougher than summit day on Gannett in part because the pace on Rainier was set for a group, while on Gannett I was the only client, and the pace was set to accommodate me.
This was my first experience hiking with a private guide (actually two private guides), and it definitely has its advantages. David planned and provided the food, checked my clothes and equipment in advance to insure that I was properly equipped, and provided climbing gear and expertise on Gannett. As porter, Joel carried, in addition to his gear, the cook tent, my tent, all the cooking gear and fuel, and almost all of the food. He prepared all of the meals. Between the two of them, most everything was taken care of for me; I still had to hike, climb, and carry my own pack, but once in camp I was able to relax while they did all the work, and Iím sure that contributed to the success of the trip.
I often found myself huffing and puffing up a hill, unable to talk, while David & Joel strolled along carrying on a conversation and seeming not even to be breathing hard!
Forty seven down, one to go!