Ascent of Gannett Peak on 2016-09-08

Climber: Lane Johnson

Others in Party:Ken Johnson
David Johnson
Date:Thursday, September 8, 2016
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Gannett Peak
    Elevation:13804 ft / 4207 m

Ascent Trip Report

My sons Ken and Dave and I started our 6-day expedition to Gannett Peak on Monday, September 5. We put all of our heavy gear in a canoe, which Ken and I paddled across Lower Green River Lake, up the connecting river to Upper Green River Lake, and then on up the stream as far as we could go. We made about five miles while Dave hiked the trail and met up with us where we cached the canoe. Then we put on our big packs and hit the trail, camping in the woods a half-mile short of Three Forks Park.
On Tuesday the 6th we crossed the Park and waded the river, then headed for Wells Creek, believing that it would be (1) possible to get past the infamous “Cleft” because of unusually low water flows, and (2) easier than the incredibly rocky route up Tourist Creek that we had taken twice before. We definitely got “larned.” From the Park to the steep slope up to the Cleft you gain about 1,200 vertical feet to about 9,500 feet. To get to that point we skirted the rocks around to the right and stayed high in the trees. Then we picked our way directly toward the cleft, going up and over big boulders, though it would probably have been better to stay closer to the creek. At the foot of the steep slope we could see daylight above the cleft and thought, “Hey, this isn’t so bad.” But when we got to the top, we saw that there was a lot more of the same. In fact, there were four or five more big ledges to climb over. We had been moseying along, taking a lot of photos and videos; but now we saw that we had better get a move on. Before long we came to the crux of the Cleft—a tight spot where we had to cross a swift-moving channel below a waterfall by jumping from a narrow ledge next to the cliff on the right, to a wider ledge on the other side. It wasn’t too wide, but you had to jump from one small dry spot to another dry spot, since every wet rock in the canyon was treacherously slick. We didn’t want to chance it with our packs on, since a slip into the water could actually be fatal. So Ken broad-jumped across and set up a tight rope to line our packs over, after which Dave and I made the jump, holding onto a length of webbing that Ken could yank on in case we lost our balance. After that we hurried up the remaining cliffs, and came out on Many Bugs Lake just as it got dark. We found a nice grassy camp spot on the right bank, next to the outlet of Scott Lake, at 10,500 feet. It had been quite a hard day, with our packs and all; and my honest assessment as a 72-year-old was that, at best, the Wells Creek route makes the Tourist Creek route seem easy. A younger climber without a big pack might have a different opinion.
On Wednesday the 7th we broke camp and threw some rocks into the shallow connecting stream and crossed over to the north side of Scott Lake. From there we took our sweet time and moved our camp a mile to a beautiful spot at the outlet of the “long, skinny lake” above Scott Lake, at 10,800 feet. The next morning we were up and on our way by 4:00 a.m., hiking around the lake and making the steep climb 900 feet up to the Minor Glacier, arriving there at first light. We crossed the glacier and headed up over a broad ledge and on to the foot of the gully that goes up a thousand feet to the saddle. We had seen from below that the gully was blocked by a steep snow field where the gully turns left, and we elected to stay left and work our way up ledges on the steep cliff. That worked fine until we got right to the corner, where we set up a short belay to get us above the snow. At the saddle the wind was blowing hard, and the wind chill was probably about 15 degrees F. Way back at the Green River Lakes we had noticed that there was significant snow on the high ridges, and that’s what we encountered on the 100-foot cliff that you have to climb to get up to the summit ridge—4 to 8 inches on all the ledges. We decided to set up a belay, just in case, and we went up in three short pitches without trouble. When we were about halfway up, a trail-runner type guy named Bryan came up the cliff alongside us, and went on by climbing like a monkey. He was a very nice guy. He had left the Green River Lakes at 5:00 that morning, and expected to be back by dark!
There was deeper snow on the next 50-foot climb, but we were careful with our handholds and made it to the summit okay. We took our “Rocky” photos at the summit rock, then headed back down. We set up a rappel on the 100-foot cliff—very exciting!—and another short rappel around the snow blockage in the gully. The rest of the way back to camp was simply a long haul over rocks, rocks, rocks, and the glacier.
On Friday morning the 9th we headed out. I for one was determined not to go back via the Wells Creek cleft, down-climbing with a still-big pack. Ken and Dave were dreading Tourist Creek, but it turned out to be not so bad after all, since we already knew most of our way through the steep maze of boulders. The easy way to get to Tourist Creek is to stay high on the mountain side when you leave the skinny lake, avoiding the worst rocks and boulders and aiming for the gap straight ahead. That's the first of three gaps to hike over before the cross-over to Tourist Creek.
That night we camped at the same spot we used on our first night in; and on Saturday the 10th we hiked back down to the canoe, loaded up all the gear, and raced Dave back to the car—it was a tie. Then we headed for Big Piney for 48-ounce drinks and junk food, and arrived back in Salt Lake after dark. What a tremendous climbing experience we had!
(Suggestion: The large log canister at the summit only contains wadded-up remnants of paper. It would be very helpful if the next climbers would take along a small notebook to serve as a log, plus pen/pencil.)
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5825 ft / 1775 m
    Total Elevation Loss:5825 ft / 1775 m
    Round-Trip Distance:39 mi / 62.8 km
    Grade/Class:Class 4+
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Stream Ford, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Rock Climb, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Rope, Ski Poles, Tent Camp
    Weather:Cool, Windy, Clear
Sunny and pleasant
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:5825 ft / 1775 m
    Distance:19 mi / 30.6 km
    Route:Wells Creek
    Start Trailhead:Lower Green River Lake  7979 ft / 2431 m
    Time:3 Days 12 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:5825 ft / 1775 m
    Distance:20 mi / 32.2 km
    Route:Tourist Creek
    End Trailhead:Lower Green River Lake  7979 ft / 2431 m
    Time:2 Days 

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