Wind River Range - 2020 (Part 1)

They said it couldn’t be done! In the summer of 2020, Ross and I went back to the Winds for a third helping of getting whipped by thin air and rugged terrain. This time we dialed back our backpacking goals and dialed up our climbing goals. Ross had recently left his position at Boston Scientific to move into the back of his truck. Some are calling it a “lateral move”, I’m not so sure. In all seriousness, I was extremely happy for him. I think taking a sabbatical to relax and experience nature is good for the soul. Also his departure lined up with my break between school semesters so we were able to get two full weeks to play around in Wyoming.

Preparation

We were aiming to spend about a week in Titcomb Basin, attempting the North Ridge of Mount Ellingwood and the summit of Gannett Peak. From there we’d hike out, drive around to a different trailhead, and hike into Deep Lake near the Cirque of the Towers. We had originally planned to go climb in the Cirque as well but crowds forced us to more remote areas.

This is what 5 days of food and gear looks like when you're bad at packing.

Titcomb Basin

Attempting Mount Ellingwood and Gannett Peak over the course of five days meant that we needed a lot of extra gear. In addition to backpacking stuff and food for five days, we needed our full rock climbing kit AND our snow gear - crampons, boots, and axes.

Elk Heart Trailhead to Titcomb Basin

We left from the Elk Heart Trailhead and made our way to Titcomb Basin. After rounding Island Lake, we started up Indian Pass, stopping at a small clearing to pitch our tent. The next morning we would tackle Mount Ellingwood and we wanted to avoid doubling back to the basin carrying our heavy packs.

Home is where you park it.

A short hike away from our tent was a small tairn and a perfect view of our objective the next day - the North Ridge of Mount Ellingwood. Everything looks bigger from the ground and Ellingwood is no exception. We spent the fading evening light visualizing our ascent line and our tentative scramble descent. Our notes on the route warned us that the descent was killer - a few hours of walking through loose rocks to get back around to the base with some spicy scrambles and drop-offs along the way.

Mount Ellingwood

We got an early start - storing our bear cans in the backcountry fridge and setting off with day packs. When we hit what we thought was the base, we started up. A few hours in and we realized we most certainly were NOT on the route. Maybe we should have realized when I broke off holds on the first pitch. Or maybe on the third pitch when I shimmied up a soaking wet offwidth that was at least two grades harder than the route we were supposed to be on. We definitely realized after lunch, when Ross scaled a vertical face and found himself suddenly on-route. A beautiful crack along a ridge with clean rock and epic views.

We topped out after many hours of climbing and way too many pitches.Now we just had to figure out the descent. It was loose and exposed - long drops on either side of poor footing. The worst part was that we had to keep our rock shoes on for most of the descent for fear our hiking boots wouldn’t grip well on the sloping rocks we were working our way down.

So THIS is the route!? No wonder everyone loves it. Only 3 more hours of this!

We got back to camp in the fading summer light - the sunset glowing on Elephant Head Rock as we picked our way across the streams back to our tent. We had planned to move camp that afternoon and set ourselves up for a shorter day to our next objective. But all that was on the docket that night was food and sleep.

Titcomb Basin

We loaded our packs back up - still remarkably heavy - and began the trek into Titcomb Basin. We were aiming for the furthest place we could reasonably pitch a tent as we were trying to get up and over the pass at the far end of the basin. We got in early and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and doing laundry and trying our best to avoid the wind that would come howling through the basin.

We were aiming for that thin sliver of snow on the right side of the mountain ridge on the furthest boundary of Titcomb Basin.

We woke early - or rather we stayed up late - and got moving at 2am for an attempt at summitting Gannett Peak - the tallest mountain in Wyoming at 13,810ft. We’d have to cover over 6,000ft of vertical rise and fall - first crossing Dinwoody Pass then dropping down on to the glacier. It had been really warm recently and we knew the snow conditions would be suspect. To get over Dinwoody Pass and back safely, we wanted the snow to be as firm as possible - hence the early morning start. We crested Dinwoody Pass and saw the sun start to rise over Gannett Peak, our first glimpse of the mammoth rock hung with glaciers.

We scrambled down the pass and onto the glacier. From here we worked our way across the snow and ice and back onto main summit route. As we climbed higher, so did the sun. By 8am, we had been moving for 6 hours non-stop and the heat was turning the snow to slush. We began sinking deeper and deeper in with every step. Ross was beginning to feel the effects of pushing this hard at high altitude and we made the decision to turn back before the snow conditions were dangerous on the return trip. We were about 1,500ft short of the summit so we would have a few more hours of climbing ahead of us.

Luckily the snow help just fine on the way down the backside of Dinwoody and we made it back to our camp in the early afternoon - enough time to try and get in a nap before hiking out the next day.