Day 11: Exit / Green River Lakes

It was a muggy, rainy night and mosquitoes by the hundreds were positioned and waiting on the outside of the mesh of my inner tent. With the cold, wind, and altitude of the past several days, we’d hardly seen a mosquito since leaving Spider Lake 9 days ago. Now, back in the woods at just over 8,000 feet, it was time once again for headnets.

We packed up quickly this morning, excited to be done and looking forward to a traditional post-trek meal in Jackson. The thought of a giant burger has now dominated our conversation for the past few days.

We covered the final seven miles of trail rapidly, taking a few breaks to pause, turn around, and note the incredible stature of Squaretop Mountain behind us – the Wind Rivers’ version of a Yosemite massif like Half Dome.

At the trailhead, we swam in Lower Green River Lakes not only to rinse off the 11-day old patina of sweat, zinc oxide, and insect repellent, but to make the 9-hour car ride home more tolerable. Certainly the other patrons as the restaurant in Jackson will appreciate it as well.

Exiting a trip like this comes with mixed emotions for me.

I’m ready for a few first world conveniences, like a hot shower with lots of soap suds, the ability to communicate with friends and family and share what we experienced with them, and most of all, the companionship of my wife.

But driving home, I can’t help but think about where my experiences with these young men will go from here, as we begin the process of graduating two of them to college this year, including my own son Chase, and wondering what life transitions will bring Stephanie and I and where those transitions will take us.

So it’s not without some anxiety that I know change is coming, and unsure of what that change will bring. Like Reinhold Messner said, there shall be no adventure without uncertainty.

And then there is that all-too difficult thing called re-entry – dealing with what ultimately amounts to the petty nuances of civilized living, where everything seems urgent but lacks meaning or importance, and where your energy is diverted from surviving an expedition in a wild place to responding to unending requests from others. This is the part of re-entry I fear the most, not only for me, but for the others on this trip. And my past experience always suggests that the harder the adventure, the deeper the engagement with the wild is, the harder re-entry is, and the less anyone who wasn’t there will understand it.

I’m tremendously grateful for the other adults that made this expedition happen – parents who supported their boys, the dads that joined us on the trip, and our Crew Advisor, Eric Vann, who has sacrificed so much to ensure that order came out of chaos and that we were able to set foot on the trail at all. Eric’s friendship and support, and bonds we’ve forged by laughing our way through adversity in the Wilds – I will cherish forever.

Looking back, I can only say that Crew One has become exactly what I hoped it would turn into: a place where boys with a thirst for adventure and willingness to suffer would voluntarily put themselves in a position to guarantee uncertainty and adversity. Watching them face these demons head on, and work together to conquer the challenges has been the most satisfying aspect of my career in Scouting.

Moreover, I fully understand that the experiences they had over the past 11 days revealed only to themselves a little bit about who they are in ways that will impact them for a lifetime.

Finally, it’s a beautiful thing – team partnership – that evolves when suffering adversity together. It’s something that can be built no other way. And the Wind Rivers offered adversity in spades to us this year.

There are three goals, in order, on any climbing expedition: come home alive, come home friends, reach the summit. We accomplished all three and can only count this years Crew One Expedition as a resounding success.

Until next time —

Godspeed,
RJ

Photo: Crew One at the end of our Glacier Traverse on Day 10, on the Continental Divide at 12,500′ above the headwaters of Tourist Creek.

Day 10: Tourist Creek

As idyllic as the upper basin of Tourist Creek is, we have discovered all the more reason why it will forever remain a special place to us.

The very remote entrance from the top is protected by an approach requiring travel over crevassed glaciers and descent of a gully choked with snow, talus, and unstable scree.

But the entrance from the bottom – and our exit today – isn’t for the faint of heart either.

I awoke this morning at 8:15 AM – it felt good to sleep in a little after logging nearly 10k of elevation gain over the last few days. The lake was calm, the eastern sun had begun to kiss the peak faces visible out my tent window, and a few of the early risers were cooking breakfast on the granite slab jutting out into the lake – our kitchen peninsula.

I unzipped my tent door, reached out to fire up the Jetboil, and within 2 minutes had a cup of hot coffee in my hands. Drinking coffee on a crisp mountain morning while I remain in my sleeping bag is one of my cornerstone joys of mountain travel!

We lounged around this morning with no sense of urgency. After all, it was all downhill from here! We finally broke camp “sometime” before 11 AM, and started waltzing our way down grassy benches and granite slabs en route to our evening destination: “somewhere” down in the Green River valley, 2,500 feet of elevation below.

We immediately encountered a few route finding challenges that were time consuming to negotiate with a group but neither dramatic nor complicated. Eventually arriving at the upper basin’s final tarn at 10,090′, near which we saw our first trees in 9 days, we took a long break for lunch, to refill water bottles, and prepare for the day’s crux: a talus and scree descent to the Green River.

At this point, Tourist Creek exits its upper basin underneath a gorge choked with giant talus boulders. We held our elevation contour on a long traverse at the base of a thousand-foot cliff, in order to avoid the bottom of the gorge which would certainly provide more drama than staying above it.

During the mid-afternoon, a lightning storm straddling the Green River valley and positioned right above us pinned us down. As we watched bolts of lightning strike the peaks adjacent to us, thunder boomed and echoed through the valley. Some of us found sheltered perches underneath the overhanging cliff face and the rest of us hid in talus caves.

After enough time to start feeling chilled, and with confidence that the thunderstorm had passed above us, we continued our cautious traverse in the rain across slick talus at around 9,900′ until we reached the top of the infamous Tourist Creek Scree Field – fifteen hundred vertical feet of mountain junk collected over years of cliff decay.

We reached the bottom of the field at the top of a stand of aspens in the early evening, and entered the bush in hopes of discovering a secret but unmaintained path that led another two miles to Beaver Meadows.

This “bush” consisted of a maze of deadfall, deciduous plants soaked by rain, hidden bogs that sucked your shoes down, and other various inconveniences that promised soaking wet clothes, a little bit of bloodletting, and no shortage of emotional challenge.

We took a break in the late evening (around our usual dinner time) along one meandering finger of Tourist Creek beneath a glacial remnant the size of a small apartment complex, and weighed our options: “cross” the Green River (probably a swim in its 40-something degree glacial melt) and find the maintained trail on the other side, or keep searching for the secret path that we had not yet found, and trek our way towards Beaver Meadows.

We chose the latter option, shortly found the path, promptly lost it, and repeated the cycle for the next hour and a half until finally exiting the bush and reaching the highway of the Green River Trail. Other than a short stint of trail between Indian Basin and Titcomb Basin, this is the first trail we have walked since our second day. It felt good to make miles!

And so we walked – well into the night – and finally stopped for dinner and camp at a secluded spot on the west shore of the Green River beneath the east face of Squaretop Mountain. Another long trekking day – 11 hours – brings us closer to our final destination, Green River Lakes, where we’ll go in the morning.

Godspeed,
RJ

(No photo tonite, sat reception is poor as we are camped next to the mammoth Squaretop Mountain which provides too much space shade.)

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!)

// Enjoy live dispatches and photos via satellite from this trip online at http://www.ryanjordan.com/windrivers2015/ and receive updates via @bigskyry at:

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Day 8: Gannett Peak

Our approach to Gannett Peak came from the south (via Bonney Pass) – we are on an eleven-day expedition where a Gannett summit attempt was only one objective. We are weaving a high route from Spider Lake (via Elkhart Park) to Baker Lake (exiting via Green River Lakes), so in addition to our attempts on a few big peaks (Fremont and Gannett, the two highest in the range) they are simply potential cherries on the Wind River Pie we are baking.

Gannett is the Wyoming high point at 13,804′ and is what Kelsey calls “…the most alpine peak in the northern Rockies.” Gannett is remote, generally requires at least a 3,000 foot summit day regardless of the approach, and by its easiest route, demands route finding skills, steep rock scrambling, and a stomach for exposure, with steep snow couloir climbing and a convex summit snowfield that plunges over the dramatic thousand-foot cliffs of its east face.

Add to this the fact that an approach from any direction requires at least 25 miles of backcountry travel and you have what may be the quintessential alpine mountaineering objective in the Continental United States. By any measure, it can be argued that Gannett Peak is the most difficult U.S. state high point climb outside of Alaska (debated with Montana’s Granite Peak and Washington’s Mount Rainier).

We arose at 3:45 AM to attempt a climb of Gannett Peak today from a camp in the beautiful and soft tundra meadows below Elk Lake on Dinwoody Creek’s eastern shore at about 10,800′ in elevation. Gannett’s summit looms 3,000 feet above.

After brewing a pot of coffee, seven members of our Crew set out to hike the Miserable Mile of the Dinwoody moraine once again, but this time with lighter packs, and by headlamp. We left camp at 4:40 AM.

The weather was on our side: a star-studded night sky revealed not a single cloud.

We reached the end of the moraine where Dinwoody Creek crashes down waterfalls from a deep, dark cave in the glacier’s maw. We put on crampons and withdrew our ice axes here, a thousand vertical feet above our camp, and began climbing the Gooseneck Glacier.

Our climb took us across hard glacial ice followed by a steep snow traverse up a seasonal snow finger that skirts the main glacier’s southeastern edge and provides a direct “sneak” option that saves a little ascent time over the standard route.

After completing the sneak ramp and scrambling up a bit of rubble on the lower end of Gooseneck Ridge, we descended down to the southern edge of the Gooseneck Glacier and began our climb to the bottom of the Gooseneck Couloir.

Upon reaching the couloir, we discovered a 10-foot-wide snow bridge over the bergschrund protecting the couloir’s entrance. After crossing the crevasse, we continued our ascent up the 40-degree couloir, on firm snow.

After exiting the couloir at about 13,000 feet, we continued on rock, climbing the remainder of Upper Gooseneck Ridge to its intersection with the steep snow ramp leading to the summit snowfield.

After traversing across the crest of the Gannett snow dome for the length of about three football fields, we stood atop Wyoming’s high point at 9:15 AM. Blue skies and calm winds made our summit hour a pleasant one. We snapped photos and welcomed a party of two young women from Colorado and Utah who were climbing behind us.

To stand on top of a peak like Gannett is a bit surreal. For many, it’s the summit. For others, it’s the bond forged with climbing partners while overcoming the challenge. And still for others, it’s simply the raw beauty of standing where few others have.

For me, it’s all that. But I’m entertained greatly by the technical challenge of the climbing itself, and the sensory load that comes with each moment during the climb.

There is something about enchaining a series of steps across a moraine field while wearing a pair of well-fitting mountain boots – it’s like dancing. Or the scraping of crampon steel on granite as the front points find a hold to stand on while the ice axe pick makes a solid “thwunk…” in soft, white alpine ice. Or the sound of the clicking of a carabiner gate.

Then, at the end of the day, you realize that all those thousands of tiny sensory moments have made up a vastly complex series of movements that has resulted in “the climb” – something that no one can comprehend without experiencing it themselves.

We left the summit a little after 10 AM, which we hypothesized was about the time the rest of our Crew would be waking up down in camp! We could see the tiny tents below and the morning sun had not yet bathed the camp, owing to its shady location in the steep-walled canyon.

Upon our arrival at the top of the Gooseneck Couloir, the sun had already turned the snow to a semi-rotten mush, making the descent down the steep couloir rather precarious.

We carried 75 meters of 5.5 mm Dyneema core static line with us for just such a scenario, so I inched my way down the couloir to a set of anchor slings wrapped around a large granite horn to set up a belay. Eric and I took turns belaying everyone down, including the two girls that were on the mountain with us. I suppose this is the high mountain equivalent of Boy Scouts helping the old lady across the street, except these were chicks with picks and we were a long ways from traffic.

At the bottom of the couloir, we took a northward turn to explore the icefall of the Gooseneck Glacier. We approached a large crevasse from below and crawled over to its lower lip to peer down the cold, blue hole. The crevasse may have been 100 feet deep and its depths struck a bit of terror in those who’d experienced looking down a big crevasse for the first time.

We proceeded to walk around the icefall back to the terminal moraine where we removed our crampons and stowed our axes. Another descent of the Miserable Mile brought us back to camp around 3 PM, just as the rain started falling and the clouds began to swallow Gannett and her sister peaks.

We spent the next few hours rehydrating, refueling, and napping. It was a big effort for everyone and to be down safe in base camp to recover was a welcome relief.

Tomorrow will be a critical day for us. We will attempt to cross the glaciers to our north, spending much of the day above 12,000 feet to reach a pass that will allow us to return to the west side of the Divide – so we can find a reasonable off-trail route to our exit point at Green River Lakes.

Weather will play Sha critical role tomorrow, and bad weather could shut us down and send us down moraine fields to the east to find rtt camping. If that happens, then we’ll have to come up with a Plan B – which does w yet exist, so pray for sun!t

In the meantime, we are planning a 5 AM wakeup tomorrow to get a head start on what may be our longest day yet.

Godspeed,
RJ

PS: No photo today as we are walled in a steep canyon and sat reception is poor.

Day 7: Bonney Pass & Staging for Gannett

“I only experience real adventure when I don’t know what the outcome will be.” – Reinhold Messner

After a freezing cold morning that left a skin of ice on the snowmelt pools near our tents, we left our camp below Helen Peak and successfully made hauled our 40+-lb packs up 2,000 feet of talus and snow over Dinwoody (Bonney) Pass in good weather. The crossing was steep and exposed and we’re thankful to have safely made it over – a confident crossing when wearing mountaineering boots and crampons. It opened our eyes to the possibilities of traveling safely in alpine environments – technical skills worth practicing and mastering – the fruits of our training climbs back in Bozeman.

At the pass we were treated to our team’s first view of Gannett Peak – now less than three miles distant. In spite of that distance, one has the perception while at 12,800-foot Bonney Pass that you can reach out and touch it – it’s a gargantuan peak, with a view of it limited to those who earn it. In spite of its size and bulk and stature as the Wyoming High Point, Gannett isn’t visible from roads visited by the casual tourist.

After snapping many photos of our Gannett view and crossing the pass, we descended talus rubble to the Dinwoody Glacier and crossed our first glacier of the trip – a pleasant traverse through one of the Northern Rockies’ most scenic alpine bowls – rimmed by Skyline Peak, the Sphinx, Mount Woodrow Wilson, and of course, the complex and jagged massif that turns into Gannett’s southern formation. All of these peaks and ridges rise to elevations greater than 13,000 feet. Traveling on the Dinwoody Glacier down below makes one feel small.

After two miles of glacier travel, we removed our crampons and entered Dinwoody’s seemingly interminable terminal moraine – a jumbled mass of more than a mile of unstable, sharp granite with glacial meltwater running underneath. We will travel that “miserable mile” three more times before this trip ends (twice on a Gannett summit attempt and one more on our exit from this base camp).

We settled into a breezy meadow camp on a tundra bench overlooking the milky Dinwoody Creek, below the Elk Lake cirque. We will stage a summit attempt on Gannett from here.

Today was a big effort for our Crew, and the remainder of the trip promises a bigger one if we are to exit on time. In that context, our summit team has dwindled to seven – the remainder will opt to rest tomorrow and conserve their energy.

We will arise in the middle of the night for an “alpine start” to attempt the Wyoming High Point in just a few hours, in hopes of reaching the summit by noon, 3,000 vertical feet above our base camp.

Godspeed,
RJ

PS: No photo today as we are walled in a steep canyon and sat reception is poor.

// Enjoy live dispatches and photos via satellite from this trip online at http://www.ryanjordan.com/windrivers2015/ and receive updates via @bigskyry at:

@bigskyry on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/bigskyry)
Ryan Jordan on Facebook (http://facebook.com/bigskyry)