I originally had the inspiration to write this post almost two years ago, but I’m lazy, so you know, it didn’t happen.
Well, here I am two years later, with a vague memory of why I wanted to write such a post. I’ll do my best to peer back into the foggy, obscured recesses of my mind (this pretty much includes everything that occurred more than a week ago) to remember and express the merit of occasionally forgoing the prime cut of meat for the entrails (haggis, chitlins, mmmmmmm!).
So there I was, in the heart of the Wind River Range, day 7ish of an 8ish day backpacking trip (like I said, my memory is questionable), and we were camped near the outlet of Titcomb Basin, arguably the most popular destination with the most breathtaking vistas in the entire range. A sheer-walled, mountain-lined canyon extending several miles and ending in a cirque, behind which several imposing peaks towered, including the famed Gannett Peak, the tallest in Wyoming, and considered to be one of the most challenging high points of the lower 48 states to reach.
At some point, I had read Anton Krupicka’s trip report of his one-day epic car-to-car 35+ mile summit of Gannett (also earning the FKT for his efforts, I believe). Well, after reading his report, I too wanted to climb the mountain. This detail is almost irrelevant though, because he entered at an entirely different trailhead, and his approach to the mountain did not include going through Titcomb Basin. But there I was, relatively close to the mountain, with a strong desire to find my way to the top of it.
Before I build this up too much, let me deflate the air outta the tires of this forming grand adventure. I did not climb Gannett Peak. I’m not sure I ever really believed that I would climb Gannett on this trip, though I maybe entertained the possibility that it could happen if the universe conspired to make it happen. But being the unprepared bastard I usually am, I didn’t do any research prior to the trip about climbing Gannett from Titcomb, so I’m not really sure what I expected. While I consider it my jam (if I’m being honest, I’m more of a preserves guy, particularly raspberry) to speedily find my way up semi-technical terrain (class IV, low class V) with a limited plan, in this case, I recognized that I was in over my head, with too little time and too little information.
So there I was, enveloped in the heart of Titcomb Basin, humbled by the jagged peaks surrounding me, and very aware that I would not be climbing Gannett that day. But regardless, this was a perfect day. I was deep in this wild, ancient place, spending time with my wife in perfect weather. I did want to get on top of something though. With many pristine and worthy objectives lining the basin to choose from, we laid upon a sun-drenched boulder as we debated which one to climb.
I don’t remember why we chose what we did, but we decided upon a modest, rounded lump, the face of which steeply rose off the floor of the basin, yet there was a more reasonable approach up one of its side ridges. This hump was far from the tallest around but would still provide a good 2000 or so vertical feet to scramble up and get a higher view of our surroundings.
There was no trail heading the direction we were going, resulting in my favorite kind of hiking. The initial approach consisted of traversing rocky slabs with myriad icy, clear streams finding their way down to the lakes at the mouth of the basin. Endless little waterfalls and glistening pools of water so clear it’s startling. Thinking of these natural water features, I imagine those fancy sinks and water faucets that people probably pay too much for, the ones that allow the water flow over a flat surface rather than just come out of a hole. Well, this was cooler than the sink at that nice restaurant.
As the terrain began to steepen, the landscape transformed into sloped grassland intermixed with car-sized boulders heaved down from the cliffs above. Now, I know basically nothing about wildflowers, but I’ll say there were many kinds: red, yellow, purple, pink, t’was a fairly-land up in that bitch (btw, I love me some B-word, I promise I use it with the upmost reverence for the word and for women. I can’t help myself, I use it a lot, so please don’t be offended, or do be offended, but this is my disclaimer).
Beyond the fluffy green slopes, the angle steepened as we made our way up talus-riddled terrain. The higher we climbed, the smaller the rocks became, and we entered my kingdom: I’m talking jenky-ass scree-strewn shit hills. This horrid terrain provides the self-imposed masochistic suffering I live for. Ohhhhh yeah-two feet upwards, slide back down 23 inches while simultaneously filling one’s shoes with cupfuls of loose sand and small rocks (and shake your shoes all you want, you will never get all those fuckers out. One might ask, Sam, do you own trail-running gaiters? Answer-no, because I’m a lazy idiot, and ordering something online from the convenience of my couch is just too inconvenient and too high of a barrier for me to overcome).
Unfortunately, the fun had to end eventually, and the mounds of scree gave way to better quality rock. We were on to the final summit push, making our way up a series of grass-topped granite ledges, really fun but well-protected class 3 maneuvering. With no set or established route, we thoroughly enjoyed picking our own lines, improvising and tapping into our intuition of the alpine terrain to find an appropriate way up. Some choices led us to sections of higher consequence than we wished for, resulting in a few U-turns, but overall, we chose well and found a fairly efficient line up to the top.
There we were, two lumps on top of the lump, with mountains in most directions still 1000+ feet higher than we were. Yet, we had this spectacular, elevated view looking down the basin all the way to island lake, where our camp was located. Behind us, lay rugged ridge lines leading to higher and surely more technical summits. Descending down off the ridgelines were talus fields sliding into snowy, glacial-fed high alpine lakes. Beyond the ridges and peaks we could see hid untold adventure that I couldn’t help but hypothesize about. Oh, and supposedly Gannett Peak, somewhere! Still couldn’t see that fucker.
This day, I didn’t climb anything noteworthy, or even named, for that matter. But the scenery was world-class, the terrain was varied and playful, the weather was ideal, the company was exactly who I wanted, my mood was giddy (probably the most finnicky factor on this list), a real 10/10 kinda day. So sure, go bag those known and respected mountains, but don’t discount the equally good time that can be had on that lesser peak next door. In fact, it may only be lesser in reputation.