Saturday, August 27, 2011

Gannett Peak Solo Run, IAD

View from Gannett summit
At 13,804 feet, Gannett is the highest point in Wyoming.  That always disappointed me because I thought the Grand should be the highest.  Well, it turns out Gannett is a worthy mountain.  There aren't a lot of easy options when it comes to actually getting to the peak so it is oft referred to as the "hardest" of the lower 48 state high points.  

My pops was heading up to climb it with a local climbing club over 3-4 days.  I thought it would be fun to run the peak in a day and on the way in and out stop by their camp, shoot the breeze, and receive a morale boost from seeing friendly faces over a long solo effort.

Check out the Jay Z tribute/budget Gannett running movie...

Gannett Peak solo in a day from andy dorais on Vimeo.

The route was the long standard path from Elkhart on the Pole Creek Trail, to the Seneca Lake Trail, to the Highline Trail, past Island Lake, into Titcomb Basin, over the Dinwoody/Bonnie Pass, across the Dinwoody Glacier, up the lower ridge of the Gooseneck Pinnacle, across the Gooseneck Glacier, over the berschrund, and then up to the summit along the beautiful thin ridge line.  The exit would be the above in reverse.  

Round trip distance 42.2 miles with near 10,000 feet of gain.  

My goals at the outset were to not get benighted, to not get caught in one of the frequent afternoon electrical storms, to get good pictures and video footage on my point n shoot to make the above movie, and to make the summit of course.  I was faintly aware that the "fastest known time" for Gannett was 12 hours and some change from one of the shorter trails but I wasn't going for speed.  I tried that last weekend and just ended up with a sprained ankle.  Plus, I'm not accustomed to 40+ mile efforts...yet.  

I made the drive through scattered thunderstorms on Thursday and was surprised that it's less than 5 hours to the TH.  I packed up a hefty heap of junk, thinking that since I was solo I should do like the boy scouts and "be prepared".  This led to extras like a puffy, pants, rain shell, roll of tape, lighter, extra food, etc, being added to the pack.  Not cool.  

I chatted with a really kind couple from New York for a few minutes before retiring to my favorite place to sleep - the back of Subaru (if I'm sleeping there, an adventure is imminent).   Constant bursts of lightening resulted in a fitful few hours of sleep before the alarm went off at 3:30a.  A cold breakfast and half an hour later I was off, armed with the memorized directions, chasing the beam of my headlamp.   I ran by feel, judging the gradual ups and downs by my breathing, trying to move at what Jared calls "guide pace" i.e. all day pace.  

Finally getting light
After a couple hours, it was light enough to turn off the lamp and I was struck by the austere beauty of the high alpine lakes and rugged terrain.  Another hour and I intruded into a campsite with a familiar tent and called out my dad's name.  It was 7:00a and I woke the poor guy from what was certainly a poor night's sleep.  We chatted for a few minutes and he pointed me in the right direction.  His summit bid was to be the next day.  I told him I wouldn't do anything stupid like cross a sketchy snow bridge or fall in a crevasse.  

An hour and twenty minutes later, I caught my first glimpse of Gannett and started rock hopping down to the Dinwoody Glacier.  Following in the tracks of prior parties to avoid the very small but present crevasses, I ran across the glacier and obtained the lower Pinnacle Ridge, which served as an easy scramble to the Gooseneck Glacier.  

View from Bonnie Pass, looking toward Gannett
There, I bumped into Tom Egan of JHMG and his two clients.  Tom was one of the nicest guys you could meet in the mountains, offering chocolate then and food in camp later.  I thanked him and said I had a lifetime supply of unpalatable gels and was quickly off to investigate the snow bridge that allows easy passage over the bergschrund.  

The 'schrund was impressive and the snow bridge seemed pathetically small from below.  From above though, it had fallen in on itself and seemed solid enough.  Then, it was a quick scramble/snow traverse along a most gorgeous section of the continental divide to the summit.  6:30 minutes after starting down the dark trail, I was on the summit looking west.  The Tetons were clearly visible but shrouded in dark clouds, motivating me to get out of the high alpine.  

Looking west from Gannet summit toward stormy skies over the Grand Teton

Mistimed this self portrait

First rule of glacier travel...
Reversing the route, I was captivated by a butterfly, partially frozen in the ice, fighting for its life.  Then I poked my leg through a crevasse.  I was getting complacent, thinking I was through any perilous terrain. I still had to go over the pass and try to make it out 20ish miles before the afternoon thunderstorms rolled in.  

Life and death struggle
Back in Titcomb Basin, I stopped by my dad's camp and warmed some water for a 'cup of noodles' that I had brought along.  I casually mentioned that the "Fastest Known Time" for Gannett was 12 hours and change but from a different trailhead.  He tried to convince me to rally out of there since I was at 9 hours and it had taken me 3:15 to get to that point earlier that morning.  Not my goal and feeling like I'd be unlikely to keep that same pace out, I sat down and enjoyed the Ramen noodles.  We chatted a bit longer for a total of around 20 minutes between both stops through his camp.  Then I was off, running and shuffling and running.  

For a while, it looked like I was going to get caught by some gnarly looking storms but the dark clouds miraculously parted, leaving the sun to dehydrate me further.  Around 8 miles to go, I ran out of water and therefore couldn't eat anything else.  Not that I'd done a good job eating since leaving my old man's camp.  Too many gels earlier left me with a sour stomach.  I did my best to hike the rolling up hill and run the rest.  I figured there was no rush since I thought the FKT was out of the bag.  

I began seeing more and more tourists and could feel the end.  Then I could see it.  Then done.  

Final time: 12 hours and 45 minutes and 55 seconds.  
My big watch

Decent for a fun run in which I was able to visit with my dad and other hikers, try and make a budget home movie, and never really rush things.  Turns out, I should have stopped less and run harder since the current speed record is 12 hours and 39 minutes by Peter Bakwin in 2009.  He however, ran the shorter Tourist Creek trail, which measures around 36 miles with less overall vertical.  As an unexpected consolation prize, I'm guessing my run was the fastest to date from the standard trail head.  I think that speaks to the relative paucity of attempts at running Gannet fast.  

Brian Harder has dubbed all things fast regarding the Grand Teton, the Grand Teton Speed Project or GTSP.  Will we see a GPSP?  Sub 9 or 10 seems completely reasonable for a "real" ultra runner, and I know of dozens that are capable.  

The obvious difference between the two is the distance, with Gannet being three times as long.  Also, with significant time on snow/glaciers, I opted to bring along crampons and an ice axe.  Going solo led to me carrying extra gear.  Water is abundant, but over the first/last 10 miles, it was quite stagnant and I chose to suffer in the moment instead of run the risk of future GI discomfort. Longer time out means more risk of being caught by storms.  So many factors must be entered into this equation but at the end of the day, it's just going for a run.


12 gels
2L Gatorade
1 packet Cytomax
Hammer salt tabs
Stale bagel

La Sportiva Skylite running shoes
Mountain Hardware Fluid 18 pack
Kahtoola aluminum crampons
Black Diamond carbon Z poles
Camp Corsa axe
80s glasses
Big Garmin watch

and a bunch of other unused clothes/food/junk


  1. Big solo day on a remote peak, nice work! How necessary were the crampons+axe+zpoles in retrospect... think a pair of microspikes would've sufficed?

  2. Nice run! Dont know you from adam but the run was inspiring. Think ill try something more low key and close to home, Timp. You have a personal speed record for timp?

  3. Good work. Makes me want to return to the Winds. Bryce Thatcher & I fastpacked the Highline/Fremont traverse of the range in the 80's. Great trails and scenery, but yeah those last miles are FLAT out hell.

  4. Thanks everyone,

    Andy, I was glad to see you guys had a good time on the GT that day. Nice pics!

    BK, I like having the axe and crampons on the Gooseneck. The snow was soft and microspikes wouldn't have done anything. The crampons gave more purchase on the ice below and the axe was just in case. If one blew it above the bergschrund it would be bad without one.

    R. John, I guess I've only run Timp once and am not sure of the time. Maybe 2:40 ish? I'll have to do it again as a time trial.

    Hey Jim, I read an article you wrote about fast packing the Winds a while ago. Very cool. We should talk...I am planning a local traverse and could use some advice.


  5. Hey Andy awesome effort, good on ya!

    Quick question. Are your calories accurate on the print outs. I know I am a big guy but not the hulk either. My polar stuff would have me between 700 and 1000cal per hr on the last two trips. 4500 cal in 12 almost 13 hrs?

  6. nice andy!

    though going via tourist creek and green river lakes is shorter, it very well may be harder, with lots of boulder hopping and off trail stuff.

  7. Hey Dane, I think the watch just uses some generic calculator based on mileage and doesn't take into account elevation. My guess is actual calories burned would be a lot more.

    Rando, you're probably right. I bet the other way has much rougher terrain but Peter did choose it for a reason on his speed attempt... It would be interesting to try both and really find out the difference.

  8. Truth. Any idea what Rob Macal's times on Gannett have been?

  9. i. hate. you. and your time off. congrats though.

    looks like you're using you're time off well. thanks for updating the training sheet. it gives me motivation to keep training for who knows what.

  10. Good job on a great mountain.

    That is a long approach but except for the pass is fairly gradual. The other common route is from Trail Lakes, which has 3 significant up/downs.

    By far the most direct route - and potentially fastest - is up Wells Creek from Green River Lakes. It has a 5.6 pitch; Peter and I did this, albeit slowly. When he went back for his FKT, Peter bypassed that section by going up Tourist Creek then back into upper Wells.

  11. Great report. Gannett is a gem. Good job. I'd like to do that route sometime.

  12. Thanks Buzz and Peter, I love the FKT site and am now motivated to go out and try a bunch more of the runs you guys have done. Hope to bump into you guys in the mountains one day...

  13. This is UNREAL. I cant believe you did this.