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Day 1 – We begin the climb to Gannett Peak
We rose before the sun and quickly broke down Jimmy’s tent.  Mine was already packed so in no time we were on our way after a light breakfast.  As we struggled to lift the heavy 70lb packs onto our backs we realized just how difficult the path ahead would be.  Despite the weight of the packs we were making great time.  The Pole Creek Trail began with only a slight incline and twisted and turned toward the east through heavy forest.  Not long into the hike we noticed signs for cross country skiing trails diverging from the one that we were on.  Just before entering the Bridger Wilderness Area we took our first break, stopping briefly to adjust our packs and eat a granola bar.

Just after hiking along the trail into a open clearing Jimmy and I were over taken by a team of Llamas packing in supplies to campers at Island lake.  It was an interesting and unexpected surprise.  We actually were keeping up with them until they suddenly departed the main trail for an unmarked one diverging to the left.  We opted to stick with the main trail even though our destination was the same.  This turned out to be the right choice as it was hours later before we noticed llama footprints on the trail again. 

A while later we reached Photographers Point and were treated to a spectacular view as the morning sun rose higher in the sky.  After taking a couple of snap shots as the name recommended we were on our way once again.  The wildlife was quite active all along the trail.  We must have passed hundreds of squirrels and chipmunks along with a lone grouse which looked quite like a mountain chicken.  Soon after the grouse spotting we turned onto the Seneca Lake trail where the scenery really became impressive.  Almost immediately the trail opened up to the clearing around Barbara Lake and the spectacular mountains of exposed rock and pine trees became the dominant feature of the surroundings.

During our snack stop at Barbara Lake we met a couple of other hikers who were planning on climbing Gannett the same day as ourselves.  We chatted with them for a while as we hiked with them up the trail.  Matt was the more experienced of the two having spent a great deal of time enjoying the sport of vertical ice climbing.  His companion Sven, was from Germany and just visiting the states for a couple of weeks.  When we ran low on water and needed to refill our filter bottles we parted ways and agreed to look for each other on the summit.

As the hiking continued I was more and more in awe of how wild and beautiful the surrounding wilderness had become.  I remarked to Jimmy that, “it was like hiking through a dream.”  The trail climbed steadily with lots of ups and downs through the wilderness.  As advertised, there were countless small lakes in every direction.  It took a lot of willpower not to stop every 10 feet to take a picture, but we kept a fast pace and were making good time.  Somewhere between Hobbs Lake and Seneca Lake we were passed by four horses.  The guide was leading an extra horse with supplies and the two customers were also planning on summiting Gannett the same day as us. 

After completing the very long and very steep climb from Hobbs Lake to Seneca Lake it was definitely time for lunch.  The first couple of places that looked like a nice place to stop already had fellow backpackers dinning at them.  It was really quite amazing how many other hikers were on the trail.  It was just lunch time and we had already passed three dozen or more hikers.  This was on a Wednesday!  We kept hiking and halfway down the section of trail passing by the lake we found a nice place for a rest stop.  At this point we sure did need it!  The heavy packs seemed even heavier than when we started almost six hours earlier.  We found some 5oz packs of seasoned tuna in the grocery store and brought six each for lunches.  After making the mistake of not having enough fool on Granite we made sure we had plenty regardless of how long we had to stay on the mountain.

After lunch the trail became much steeper.  We wound past a half dozen other lakes and about that many hikers as we climbed higher and higher into the wilderness.  By now the trees were much thinner and the giant rock mounds more plentiful.  We passed the horsemen we had seen earlier returning home with the other three unburdened horses in a green open pass.  He told us the climb to Island Lake was over; the trail was short and downhill the rest of the way.  This was a very good thing since the sky was darkening and we were starting to get sprinkled on. 

It was around 3:00 pm when we finally made camp at Island Lake having traveled 13 some odd miles.  We were able to quickly get our tent set up in a nice dirt clearing overlooking the lake before any serious rain hit.  In fact, we would have to endure only a little light rain before the clouds mostly cleared; most of this time we spent napping in the tent, exhausted from the long day. 

As the clouds cleared the temperature inside the tent rose dramatically, soon making it impossibly uncomfortable to continue resting inside.  Once awake, I greeted the clear weather as any passionate amateur photographer would and quickly made my way down to the shoreline to try my best at capturing the amazing landscape to share with all.  The lighting conditions were a bit of a challenge, but the hardest part was just deciding which direction to point the camera.  Surround by so much natural beauty I was quickly depleting the storage space on my compact flash card.  Realizing this and resolving to save space for the remainder of the trail and the sunset I holstered my Canon Rebel XTi and returned to the camp to make dinner.

We had no less than 10 dehydrated meal packages to choose from for dinner, but both decided on lasagna having found it so delectable on Granite Peak.  The JetBoil camping stove made quick work of heating the water and in no time we were replenishing the calories expended along the trail that day.  With the Eastern sky darkening and the clouds starting to show more signs of color, I grabbed my camera and the remainder of my meal and headed back to the waters edge.  Despite the remaining cloud cover, the sunset was stunning and the overall setting of Island Lake enchanting.  I couldn’t wait to see what it looked like at sunrise.

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Map of US HighPoints
KEY: States: Green - summited, Yellow - attempted, White - Not visited
Dots: Green - State Lowpoint, Red - State Highpoint

 

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©2008 Kyle E. Hoelscher. All rights reserved.

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