Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Gannett in a day!

Probably the biggest adventure of the year so far (right up there with Bryce Canyon) was an attempt I made to climb Gannett Peak, wyoming in one day. Gannett is the highest peak in Wyoming and is usually climbed in 4-6 days. A one day attempt is very rare and most would consider it crazy. It would require nearly 24 hours of straight running/hiking and climbing and I think rivals a lot of ultra marathons out there. I was not successful in my attempt to reach the summit, due to energy and altitude issues, but my three friends all made it to the peak and back. I did end up doing 40 miles that day with some serious elevation gain (9K) and most of that at above 10,000 feet. I was awake and on the trail for about 21 out of 26 hours that we were out. Here is my report:

Gannett Peak has always been my favorite mountain, well, at least since I first discovered it around 1997. I first reached the summit in 2001 and I'll never forget the chills that ran down my spine the first time I got a good look at it from Scenic Pass. Intimidated would be an understatement. I have heard of a few people doing Gannett in a day, but I thought they were crazy. The shortest route to the peak is 44 miles round trip and that covers some serious elevation over wicked terrain, and climbing the peak is far from a walk up.

Our group consisted of me, MatthewVH, Joe B. and Jake. All of us have a lot of exeperience in the mountains, and have climbed most of the peaks in the Wasatch. Joe had also climbed Gannett before, but did it in 3 days a few years back. It was a really good group and we all had a lot of fun.

We got a hotel in Pinedale on Friday around 6:00 PM. We hoped to get a few hours of sleep before we left for the trail around midnight. A few of us took some sleep aids to try and catch some Z's, but it was tough. It seemed like someone was constantly getting up to use the bathroom or making some other odd noise, but I did get to share a bed with Matt (a highlight :) ). I finally dozed for what seemed like less than an hour when Matt's alarm went off at 11:20. We all got ready and were at the trailhead at 12:30 AM Saturday morning. It was cold, but I didn't put on a jacket because I knew I would heat up quickly. We signed in and headed up the trail. After a few minutes of hiking Matt started to run and the next 11 miles we ran where we could and hiked pretty fast where it was steep. The conversation was good and there were a lot of laughs.

The trail was pretty wet and there were puddles all over. It was a pain and we really had to focus on the trail. Running was really hard in places because of all of the mud, puddles and rocks. The stars were brilliant and I would catch a glimpse when I could, but we were moving most of the time. We did take a few breaks, but only for a minute or two.
At Seneca Lake (mile 10) we cached some food and drinks for the return trip and we all re-applied deet. So far the bugs were not bad, but we knew they probably would be in a few hours. I will never forget our approach to Island Lake (about mile 12). It was still dark, but the first rays of the sun along with the moonlight were spectacular. We could see the shadows of the rocky spires in Titcomb basin and the lake was really cool. Along the lake there is a beach with nice white sand and we stopped there to take a break.

When we finally reached the lower Titcomb basin (mile 13, 5.5 hours in) the sun was just starting to come up and the views were so incredible that it is hard to describe. They are as good as anything anywhere in the world. I was in awe. I made a few videos and we all took some pictures. There are two really big lakes and a few smaller lakes in the Titcomb basin and we made our way around the lakes, while taking in the views. We finally stopped to take a break at the upper Titcomb lake (mile 17) to refill our water and replace some of our energy because we would be climbing up to Bonny Pass over the next two miles. So far I had been taking a gel every hour and an S-Cap every other and I was feeling really good.

The climb to Bonny Pass (12,700) is over 2K in elevation and you do it in about two miles from the upper lake. I was feeling really good and strong for the first mile and I was leading the pack. The climb up to the pass was horrendous! It is a huge pile of loose, steep rock with an occasional snowfield mixed in. There were so many places where you would take a step up only to slide two steps back. It was frustrating and it was on the upper half of this climb where I lost my energy. I have suffered from altitude sickness many times and I was worried that I was getting it. The desire to move is gone and it takes everything to you have just to put one foot in front of the other. Everyone passed me and pretty soon they were all out of sight. I lost sight of Matt on the upper 1/4 of the climb and I was moving very slow. I started to think that I may be done for the day because I knew that once on top of the pass, I still had at least 6 hours of serious climbing to summit Gannett and get back to the pass, and then I would have to hike out 20 more miles to the car. I knew if I didn't start to get back my energy I would not risk going further.

I finally made it to the pass (mile 19.25) and I felt like I was going to puke. I had zero energy and the guys had been waiting for me for at least 25 minutes and they were freezing up there. I felt really bad that I had made them wait, but I was moving as fast as I could. I think it was the lack of sleep, some exhaustion, combined with the altitude making a terrible cocktail of 'feeling like crap'. I was shooting some video as I got to the top and the battery on my camera died, and things were just not looking good. I told the guys that unless I felt better in a few minutes I was not going to make it. They were too cold to wait and I can't blame them at all. I told them I would sit down and try and eat something if I could. Having climbed Gannett before I knew what it would take to reach the summit and then get all the way back out and it just isn't something a sane person should attempt without feeling really good and having energy. Matt gave me a two-way radio so we could communicate and they were gone, headed down to the glacier 1300 feet below.

I sat down in a wind break (a stack of rocks) and just stared at Gannett for a few minutes. The views from Titcomb are spectacular, but I think they are even better from Bonny Pass. The pictures do not do it justice. Unreal. I actually felt worse and now I was getting really cold too. I couldn't eat anything. I ended up sitting there for 45 minutes. I didn't feel any better and now I was freezing and my feet were getting numb, so I knew I had to get down. I was disappointed, but knew it was the right decision. No question about it.

I descended back down the pass slowly and I made sure of every step. The rocks are just loose everywhere. It was bad. I went down about 1,300 feet and took a nice rest on a rock. My appetite came back, so I pulled out a burrito and some taco sauce and ate it fast. Still hungry I ate another and then downed a peanut butter cup. I felt so much better, but climbing Gannett was now out of the question, so I found a rock and decided I would take a nap. I feel asleep for a few minutes, but woke up because I was soooo cold. At that point I just wanted to get down, so I slowly made my way back down into the basin.

I spent the next few hours talking to some groups heading up, and also some time under a big boulder during a lighting/hail storm that moved through. I caught a small cat nap under the boulder and it kept me nice and dry. I slowly hiked about about 5 miles, taking a lot of breaks to chat with other climbers and take in the views. I spent about an hour talking to a few guys we had met on the trail earlier in the day, and I finally decided to stop and wait at one of the lower lakes. I didn't see the guys again until about 5:00 PM. I was shocked when they came up the trail. They all looked shattered and we still had to hike out another 14 miles. They all made it to the summit and I was happy for them. We didn't talk much at all. In fact, we would go an hour without saying a word. They were all hiking really slow and getting out of there was going to take forever. I was actually feeling really good and fresh until we reached our cache at Seneca Lake. After that I just felt really fatigued. My entire body was just plain tired. Luckily my legs didn't hurt at all, but my back was killing me.

The last 5 miles were HELL. I'm sure the other guys felt a lot worse, but we had been at it for almost 24 hours and my pack that I thought felt light at the start was actually feeling like a ton of bricks. My shoulders and back were just on fire. I really didn't think it would ever end, but at about 1:45 AM we finally reached the trailhead. It was over 25 hours and for the other 3 it had been continuous running/hiking or climbing with very few breaks. We were all worked. Jake wanted to get home, so he drove all the way back to SLC (I am not sure how) and we arrived back at Joe's just after 7:00 AM. I will never forget this day as long as I live. I am now beating myself up for not continuing on to the summit, but I know I made the right call. I'll be back to Gannett again, but I doubt I will ever try it again in a day. To the other 3 guys, congrats. Well done.

Here is a trip report written by Matt and Joe with some really good pics:

Here are some videos that I made from the trip:

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