Climbing Gannett Peak in 4 Days

Gannett Peak is considered to be in the top 5 hardest highpoints in the U.S. It is located in the Wind River Range of western Wyoming.

Two of my best friends and I decided we wanted to go for it and get some big mountain experience. So we took a couple of days off from work to make it into a long weekend to make it do-able. We left from the Black Hills on Thursday afternoon once we got off work. The drive was a little over six hours to get to Glacier Trailhead, driving was uneventful and we made a stop or two to get some gas station pizza and fuel. We made it to the trailhead around 11 PM, set up a quick camp in an open area near the trailhead and called it a night. 

We woke up to clear skies, crisp mountain air that started warming up quickly. We started by making a very hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, brats, all wrapped up in tortillas with cheese and sriracha! Caleb dubbed it, ‘the breakfast of champions, because he is a champion and anything he eats is breakfast of champions.”  We made one last check to see if we had all our gear and then hit the trail around 8:40. Our goal for the day was about 12 miles. The going was good, but eventually we hit a section of switchbacks, 30 switchbacks actually, gaining over 2,000 feet in about 4 miles, at the top of Arrow Pass we took a break and met a guy who was doing a solo 6-day trip along the continental divide. His name was Alex, but I misheard and thought he originally said Malex. We hiked with him for a while but we got to a point where Alex was going to start his off-trail adventure for the next couple days. We eventually made it to Star Lake where we set up camp around midafternoon, relaxed for the evening and had plenty to eat! When it comes to backpacking, Caleb says he has a super power of putting the food down!  We even had a first and a second supper, while trying to keep the mosquitos at bay. We ended up doing about 12 trail miles. 

The next morning was Saturday, we got up and leisurely packed up camp and had another solid breakfast but not as extravagant as the day before. We hit the trail just after 9 AM, our goal for the day was to get to Tarn’s Camp at the base of Gannett. From Star Lake we had a pretty good descent of nearly 1,000 feet over the course of about 2 miles. Then the rest of the way to Tarn’s camp was just gradual uphill. One of my favorite parts was going through Downs Fork Meadows, it was an amazing valley that stretch for a couple of miles and had sheer rock walls towering above and Dinwoody Creek winding through the meadows along the trail. Our trail eventually intersected with Ink Wells Trail which we had heard was an amazing trail with outrageous views. It wasn’t until we were 18 miles in that we finally got a glimpse of Gannett Peak. seeing the peak came at a good time, we were losing steam and getting tired, but it brought back some of the stoke we had from the beginning of the trip. As we got closer to 10,000 feet we were approaching the treeline and we started seeing more patches of snow! The last mile to Tarn’s camp was the toughest of the day, it was all boulder hopping and slow going. We knew we had arrived at Tarn’s because there were more than a dozen tents set up in the scree field. We found a not level spot, as we were dropping our bags and stretching our sore muscles, a guy from a nearby camp came over introduced himself as Josh, a guide from San Jaun Mountain Guides, he welcomed us and pointed us to a couple level spots that would work for our camp, and he offered to give us beta on the mountain after we set up. 

We took our time to set up camp, made plenty of dinner, Caleb and Vaughn were in charge of the main meals and I had a lot of the snacks and additions. My addition to our dehydrated meals was a large portion of loaded mashed potatoes that hit the spot! While we were cooking, Vaughn and I took our boots off too let them dry, but the problem was we didn’t have any other shoes… We did notice Josh had a pair of super slick puffy booties from the North Face, that gave Vaughn and I the idea to use our crampon cases as booties. We looked so ridiculous, so much so that I nearly peed my pants from laughing so hard when I saw Vaughn walking around in his square, neon colored makeshift booties! But they made a difference, we were able to walk around the cold wet sandy area around our camp. We eventually went over to get some beta from Josh on the route up Gannett, he had done Gannett 5 times previous and this would be number 6. He reassured us on the route, gave us a few pointers, and then went on to say he and his group he was guiding were going to start around 2:30 AM. Vaughn, Caleb and I went back to our area, then came up with a gameplan: leave around 2:45, (that way we could follow Josh) take our rope, harnesses, crampons, ice axes, headlamps, snacks, extra layers into two packs, and we also got our breakfast of cold oats ready so we could just get up, eat, grab our gear and go. We were in our tent ready for bed by 8:30, which I slept pretty well for the first couple of hours, but I eventually woke up because my sleeping pad had sadly acquired a pin hole somehow. And we each had to pee in the middle of the night too.

It was a short night of sleep, we were out of the tent at 2:00 AM, we ate our cold oats breakfast, and took a morning poop, so we were ready by 2:30, but Josh and his crew were a little slow, so we tried to wait for them, but didn’t like sitting around so we started our route up at 2:45. The moon was full, there was no wind, and it was cool, but not too chilly. The first section was more boulder hopping along glacier water cascading down the mountain. We eventually made it to our first snow chute, we put our crampons on grabbed out ice axes and went for it. Caleb caught on really quick and was able to cruise up that section. Vaughn had a hard time getting his crampons tight enough on his boot, consequently his toe would slide out of the toe box on the crampons. We eventually got the crampon situation sorted out and working the way they should. We weren’t sure what our pace should be or of the exact route, but we had a very good idea, but some areas we straight lined up instead of traversing switchbacks up the glacier. There was one section where it got quite steep and we had to watch out for the bergschrund on the Dinwoody Glacier. The crevasse was pretty big on one side, but we had a large section of the snowbridge still intact and solid that we could cross on. From there we were able to gain the summit ridge and we were making great time. As the morning light started creeping in from the East we could see a few groups of headlamps following far below, at one point Josh and his group had gained on us but then they must have taken a break because they didn’t get close to us again. We reached the summit at 6:10 am, a little less than four hours after we started, we weren’t sure how long it would actually take since we had 3 miles and 3,000 feet of elevation, and from our previous research we found that most people take 8-10 hours to summit. Just as we were getting to the top the sun started to rise above the horizon and the clouds! It was such an incredible experience, we enjoyed our time, took some photos, and signed the summit registry. We started our descent at 6:40, the way down we were able to maintain a good pace again and was easier going with full light instead of moonlight. As we were going down, we met a couple groups coming up, one was a mountaineering class from Casper College. We made it back to our tent and gear by 9:10. Almost immediately after getting back to camp, a gentleman (we found out was 70!) and his son came over to chat with us and they even congratulated us on making such good time! They had summited the previous day and were taking a rest day. We did not have time to sit around and relax. 

We had to be back to work in 2 days, so we packed up our gear, took a little time to eat and then started back toward the trailhead. The rest of the day was kind of a blur, we didn’t take in the scenery nearly as much and we originally did, we slowly and steadily made our way. We were thankful walking downhill, flat was do-able, but any sort of uphill was plain awful. When it came to crossing a couple of the creeks Vaughn and I didn’t take our boots off, which our boots were kind of wet already but that made them completely wet and we paid for it in the price of blisters. We stopped occasionally for snacks and water breaks but tried out best to tough out the hike because we had a goal of getting to Double Lake. The last 3 miles were completely heinous, we felt like quitting, we hit a section of uphill and swtichbacks that felt like it went on and on, but we finally crested that and had a decent downhill to Double Lake, where we took the first campsite we came across, we were not picky. By the time we got to the lake we were hardly talking to each other, and Vaughn and I were walking tenderly because we had developed blisters on the balls of our feet, so I had the idea as soon as we got to the lake to cool my feet off in the cold water, it felt good for a bit, but it immediately started to chill my whole body, Caleb followed my lead but was hit worse by the chills and got really cold and very lethargic, he ended up going to bed without eating anything more than a bit or two of an RX Bar. Vaughn and I got nervous about Caleb and his condition, we started weighing our options to get help or how to get Caleb out the last 10 miles. Shortly after eating and cleaning up Vaughn and I joined Caleb in the tent. I prayed that Caleb would come out of his funk and feel better in the morning.

We woke up feeling relieved because Caleb did in fact feel much better and was ready to take on the day. Vaughn and I felt rested, but our feet were screaming at us! I did the best as I could with the small first aid kit and the little bit of moleskin I had to take care of our feet. We hit the last stretch of the trail and tried our best to keep our minds off of how tired we were from the day before hiking 18+ miles along with getting up at 2 AM. We shared in conversation talked about what mountains we wanted to climb next and most importantly what food were we going to eat when we got to a town. Our pace was not blazing fast by any means, but we made it to the trailhead and we were so thankful to have made it to the top of Wyoming and back with no big issues. 


If you are interested in doing Gannet Peak from the Eastern approach then check out this link.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Isaac Parsons

I love massive trees, sitting on the edge of a cliff, and chasing waterfalls! I reside in the Black Hills of South Dakota, which I think is a hidden gem in this amazing world.