Backpack the Glacier Trail and Summit Gannett Peak

Backpack the Glacier Trail and Summit Gannett Peak

Rate this Adventure 704 Trail Lake Road

Distance

50 Miles

Elevation Gain

8000 Feet

Activities

Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking

Skill

Advanced

Season

Summer

Type

Out-and-Back

Added by

Isaac Parsons

Forest
Lake
River
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Wildlife

Gannett Peak is the highest point in Wyoming at 13,804 feet above sea level. It is said that Gannett Peak is in the Top 5 for most difficult state high points to summit.

The trail to get to the summit of Gannett Peak is not for the faint of heart. It is a 50+ mile round trip with over 10,000 feet of elevation gain/loss.  Late June through August are the best times to climb Gannett, but if you go too late in the summer and it has been a hot one, then there is a chance the snow bridge and the bergschund might be impassable. 

The Glacier Trail starts at the New Glacier/Bomber Trailhead about 15 miles SE of Dubois at about 7,600 ft. 

When first starting the trail, you ease in with some mild switchbacks for the first 2-3 miles, but eventually you get into some serious switchbacks, approximately 30 of them to climb (about 2,000 feet within those switchbacks). At about 8 miles you will come across Arrow Pass, it is approximately 10,900 feet. Then there will be some downhill until Double Lake, which is a pristine high alpine lake, and will make a great camp for the first night. It is about 11 miles in from the trailhead and has an elevation of 9,900 feet. Immediately after Double Lake will be some more, less intense switchbacks up to Star Lake, which makes another prime spot to have a first camp, because its about 12 miles in and sets you up for a 10-11 mile 2nd day, right on track to get to Tarn's camp for a summit bit on the 3rd day. 

Day 2 from Star Lake is a relatively flat day with some elevation gain but nothing too bad, even though it is about 1,200 feet of overall elevation gain, but there are some downhill switchbacks then steady uphill while on the Glacier Trail. There are plenty of beautiful views and places to stop to snack or take breaks. Eventually you will cross Dinwoody Creek - it is a graciously-sized creek, but there is a bridge that spans most of the creek, and you will have to find spots to cross a few straggler sections of the creek. There are numerous waterfalls and areas where the creeks just continuously cascade down the mountainsides and valleys - some are very spectacular.

Eventually you will come upon an amazing high mountain valley called Big Meadows, wonderful views, sheer cliffs, and Dinwoody Creek, flowing smoothly along the trail. Be sure to follow the main section of the trail, there are a few other little sections of trail that people have created that lead you directly to and through the creek, but you do not have to cross the main creek. (Although there will be several other small creeks you will have to cross). At mile 18.5 you will see a fork in the trail and a bridge over the creek - the left in the fork is for Ink Wells Trail; stay to the right to continue on to Tarn's Camp and Gannett Peak. 

Tarn's Camp is about 22 miles from the trailhead and a great place to make camp for your second night plus set you up for an "easier" summit the next day. At Tarn's Camp there are numerous sites built into the boulder fields and next to the glaciers. Several of the sites have rock walls set up to help block the wind. Once in camp, you will be looking up at the mountain you came to conquer; it takes most people an average of 6-8 hours to summit, then half that time to return back to base camp. It is a good idea to get an early start so the snow is relatively solid and safe to travel on before the sun hits it and softens it. (When we climbed it, we left at 2:45 AM and summited at 6:10 AM, just in time to catch the sunrise. Then we were back in camp by 9:10 AM. - we were moving quick and didn't take a lot of breaks.) In base camp, it is a good time to meet new people. Most are very friendly and some can even offer advice, sometimes there are guides in the Tarn's Camp area with clients, but they are willing to give beta and advice. (Shoutout to Josh from SJMG who gave us some advice!)

From the camp, it is approximately 3 miles and 3,000 ft. of vertical climb. You will follow a stream of water cascading from the Gooseneck Glacier. You will then follow the Gooseneck Pinnacle, for some of it you will follow the ridge of the pinnacle and eventually you will ascend through a couloir - here is where you do need to be cautious, maybe even rope up to your climbing partners. One reason to be cautious is because of a bergschund in the glacier. Earlier in the season the crevasse isn't as open, but late in the summer it can be wide open. This is the only crevasse you really need to watch out for, but it is easy to spot. Going up through the couloir is quite steep so groups send a lead climber to set up a rope and everyone else can use the rope to help them safely ascend. You will need crampons to travel over the glacier. It would be nearly impossible to climb without them; there are a few places you will remove them because you will travel over rocks quite a good distance, but you could keep your crampons on also, just a personal preference. Once out of the couloir, you will then scale the ridge to then follow the summit ridge where you will soon come to the peak! Enjoy the view! Sign your name in the climbers log. Get some snacks, water and take a break!

Going down is easier and quicker, but watch your step. The snow does get a lot more slippery, even after just a few minutes of the sun shining on it. 

Once you make it back to your basecamp, you can take the rest of the day to take it easy. Or if you are a glutton for punishment like my buddies and me, you can start hiking back out. We made it all the way back to Double Lake, but we definitely paid for it . . .we had blisters and were dog-tired once we finally got to camp at Double Lake. But totally worth it - Double Lake is amazing and has incredible views!

Pro Tip: we did start extremely early on our hike to the summit of Gannett. It would have been more difficult, but fortunately we had a good understanding of the route from a guide we talked to, so getting help is not a bad thing. Another thing that helped us is that we had a full moon, so it was relatively "bright" for the night; it helped us to distinguish what was snow and rock as we looked up the mountain so we could see our route better than if it was pitch black. In summary, it might be helpful to time your hike with the moon cycles if it is your first time and you are getting an early start. 

Plan wisely, hike smart, drink lots of water, and enjoy the beauty.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations.

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Distance

50 Miles

Elevation Gain

8000 Feet

Activities

Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking

Skill

Advanced

Season

Summer

Type

Out-and-Back

Added by

Isaac Parsons

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