Day 9: Wind River Glaciers

I began brewing coffee at 4:45 AM this morning so I had a little incentive to get up early to enjoy the distant orange glow of the clear sky sunrise out my open tent door.

The rest of the Crew started stirring an hour later, and we quickly packed up camp and made our last (and for some of us, our fourth!) trip across the Miserable Mile of the Dinwoody Moraine.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s I worked on a mountaineering high route project here from Indian Pass to the Continental Glacier and I was excited to revisit a portion of it today: the traverse from West Sentinel Pass to the Grasshopper Glacier.

After leaving the Dinwoody Moraine, we climbed the thousand foot pass immediately west of West Sentinel Peak, thrusting us back up to the thin air of 12,000 feet in short order.

We then crossed the Gannett Glacier east of Mount Koven, involving a variety of ice, snow, talus, and a steep crampon climb up the col immediately west of Peak 12025. Descending steep ice down the west side of the col allowed us to avoid icky glacial mid and scree, so we held a contour of about 11,800′ on hard snow and ice, underneath the seemingly overhanging cliffs (dripping with glacial melt waterfalls) that form the buttress SE of Bastion Peak.

We then began the long, steady climb out of the Gannett Glacier complex, skirting around the dramatically steep toe of Bastion Peak’s east ridge, and took our first big break of the day on a rock outcropping adjacent to a snowmelt trickle at an elevation of more than 12,000′. We stayed here quite some time eating, rehydrating, and resting our legs from carrying the big packs across steep, icy, glaciated terrain.

From here, we proceeded north on large snowfields, adjoining them with brief bits of glacial talus, until we found ourselves due east of 13,340′-Pedestal Peak on the Klondike Glacier, approaching the southern end of the Grasshopper Glacier complex.

Northeast of Pedestal Peak, steep cliffs protecting a huge flat plateau that straddles the Continental Divide house giant cornices in the winter and what amounts to a significant snow cliff in the summer. The cliff calves rock and snow as the afternoons warm and traveling under it in the heat of the day is a bit hazardous. Add to this the fact that the route traverses through the Pedestal Peak icefall, a steep, complicated jumble of hidden crevasses going every which direction. To add drama, the traverse skirts above a giant icy glacial lake, with its shoreline abruptly composed of a 100-foot ice cliff of the glacier feeding it. This route is not only a very serious mountaineering objective, but a beautiful and complicated one as well, with an interesting, exposed, and exciting traverse.

So for this part of the traverse we donned helmets (and managed to avoid one large boulder whipping its way down the glacier in front of us), and roped up.

On the lead in the first rope team, I managed to find a dozen hidden crevasses, two of which were large enough underneath to swallow a bus. While a bit scary and exciting, most of the snow bridges were thick and firm and our traverse proceeded without incident. We then inched our way up to the 12,500′ pass leading to the headwaters of Tourist Creek to the west.

We took another long break at this wide pass straddling the Divide, scouting the route down, and worked our way westward towards our exit.

The descent into the headwaters of Tourist Creek is one of the most beautiful and interesting routes I’ve ever completed in this range.

After “crossing” the pass – a half mile of flat talus sitting atop a giant pool of snowmelt – we walked down blocky talus and granite ledges to a glacial blue tarn sitting at the top of the bench that begins the descent to Tourist Creek proper.

When standing at this lip, you note that more than a thousand feet below you lies a beautiful lake with green grassy shores – a veritable oasis compared to the snow, ice, and rock we’ve been traveling over for the past several days.

As tempting as the lake looks, however, one mustn’t forget that its reward must be earned.

Descending into the headwaters of Tourist Creek is not for the faint of heart. At first, you are lured by grassy ledges that appear quite benign. Oh if the entire route could have been like this! Eventually the ledges run out and a steep and precarious scree descent drops you into a snow-choked gully that turns into a canyon filled with car-sized talus and holes underneath them big enough that a fall into them would require one or two Mississippi’s to be counted between the slip and the thud.

Exiting the canyon, more talus then deposits you (thankfully) onto lush green benches and a beautiful cascading creek that leads you down to the lake.

The most redeeming part of this descent is that you are rewarded with incredible views of the isolated lake basin, its adjacent peaks, and the awe-inspiring ruggedness of the topography you are traveling through. But oh my – woe to the fool who elects to ascend this route…

We arrived on the lakeshore at just under 11,000′ with an hour of sun remaining. We dropped our packs and soaked it in, resting our weary feet after an 11 hour trekking day. Dinner and shelter pitching were slow and laborious affairs as a variety of aches and pains revealed themselves during the course of the last five days of travel through icy cold storms, ascents of Fremont and Gannett Peaks, and a glacier traverse.

We are tired and our feet are sore but we are exceedingly happy to have accomplished what we set out to do, and surprisingly thrilled to be encamped at this incredibly remote and beautiful alpine lake, inaccessible by trail, and earned by heartache and pain, whether from the top or bottom.

Tomorrow, we’ll experience what promises to be an interesting bushwhack out of this basin as we make our way down to the Green River for our final night.

Godspeed,
RJ

(No photo tonite, sat reception is poor as we are in a cirque surrounded by high peaks!)

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