Granite Peak - 12799
Granite Peak - 12799
|Montana Highpoint Adventure-you gotta want this one!|
Climb Date: 21 August, 2016
Crew: Britt Jones, Logs Rule, Mark Ericson
Mileage: 25 miles
Vertical Feet: 4,000 + extra ups and downs along the route. (Probably closer to 5,000 verts when all said and done.)
Trailhead: Aero Lakes/Sky Tops Lake (Southwest Ramp) on south side.
The title says, "you gotta want this one!" There is nothing easy about climbing Granite Peak. It's a long way coming from Colorado. It's a long approach hike no matter what route you take. There is no easy "walk-up". (Having rock climbing experience is a plus.) And this mountain is known for bad weather year round which can definitely up the danger level quickly!
This was the fourth and final peak of my August State Highpoint Extravaganza that I had set up and posted on the CMC.org website calendar. The three of us had already been successful in Utah, Idaho, and North Dakota during this weekend/week on the road.
This peak had been originally planned with Ian (MountainHiker) and Dorthy (Mountain Hikerette) MacDonald about a year in advance. Ian had selected our Granite Peak summit day based on the full moon. As it turned out, the weather changed our plans with the order of peaks 3 and 4. We were pretty disappinted it when we realized that a storm bringing rain and then 2 inches of snow to Granite Peak. This would be on our exact climbing days! Snow in August with a low of 21 degrees? Seriously? No thanks! We don't want that on Granite Peak. So we changed our scheduled and went to North Dakota first to get White Butte while the storm came through even though it would add many more driving miles for us.
I had researched the route info from Matt Lemke's page on Summit Post:
Ian wanted to do the southwest ramp route since it was suppose to be only Class 3. This route wouldn't require carrying a rope, harness, and pro as the standard East Ridge route does. Ian had emailed me Matt's Southwest Couloir Route:
I had cut and pasted the info into a document that I printed out, as this route had been less known and was suppose to be a bush whack in several places. As it turned out, the directions are spot on and this route description worked great. In fact, the trail up to Rough Lake is now well defined as this is being considered more and more, the "standard route."
When we got to the parking area by the cabin (see info on TH on SummitPost), we were surprised to see that there are now trail signs for the lower part of this route. The SummitPost description says to pass to the left side of the cabin (in back part of photo). The water heater described is right up against the cabin, and the boards in the creek are right directly behind the cabin only a few feet away. After crossing the creek, you bushwack through some willows for no more than 15 yards and the trail is right there. Turn left.
After a good nights sleep at the trailhead, the 1.6 mile hike went quickly up to Lady of the Lake (lake) with our freshly rested legs. Just before the lake we found that there was another trail direction sign (not shown) on the south side. This is one beautiful lake that is about a mile long.
After hiking past the Lady of the Lake there was another trail direction sign. This is where SP descriptions says there is a carin. It's still there. You can see it just the off to the side of the sign which is there. Our route goes straight instead of turning left.
The SummitPost description mentions clearings and all, and we found it just as described.
When we got up to the "Tri-Creek" area mentioned in the SummitPost description where Star Creek and Zimmer Creek come together, it was a little confusing at first. The directions said to get on the north side of Star Creek.
However, you don't cross it here. We actually had to turn right and get back up in the forest heading easterly for about a 100 yards until we finally found a place to cross the creek at this log crossing. The trail is becoming more defined and leading to this downed log. But just know you don't cross at the spot where you first come to the creek.
After crossing the creek over to the north side, the trail drops/heads downhill eastward for about a 15 minute hike as Star Creek becomes more and more faint. This is the area where the SummitPost description says people get lost at night however, the trail is now quite defined once you are on it. Eventually, you will hear the sound of Sky Top Creek come into play and you will know you are on the right path. This hike up into the Sky Top Creek drainage is such a beautiful area.
And all of this trail from the TH is relatively mellow compared to many of the steep Colorado trails and what you will later encounter on Granite Peak.
Treeline in this area in Montana seemed to be around 9500 feet unlike here in Colorado where it's around 11,500-12,000 feet.
Once above treeline, we came upon Lone Elk Lake at about 10,000 where we got our first views of the Villard Spires off in the distance.
After 7 � miles and 5 � hours of hiking, we finally reached our pre-determined camping spot at Rough Lake. The SummitPost description mentions hiking up to mile 9 into the Sky Tops Lakes area. I had thought that would be more than necessary/desired to carry our heavy overnight packs that far.
We knew there would be no trees up here to hang our food in out-of-reach "bear bags". And we knew there were Grizzly's up in nearby Yellowstone and Montana, so we opted to carry bear canisters. Our camp at Rough Lake was peaceful and uneventful.
I wanted to scout the next portion of our route before bed, so we would know how to get into the Sky Top Lakes drainage in the dark. Logs joined me, and we left camp at 5:00pm hiking on up the creek to the cascading waterall. On our way, we passed another camp who explained that two our their party went up the ramp to the left of the cascading water fall. This seemed in conflict with the SummitPost description: Continue around the right (east) side of Rough Lake which sits at 10,140 feet and hike up the right side of its inlet stream through a narrow gorge.
So we went to investigate. We found that you don't have to go up the "narrow gorge" or what I said was the cascading water fall. You are better off crossing the creek to the north side before entering the narrow gorge, to access the obvious grassy ramp to the left of a rocky couloir.
The next morning we were on the trail by 3:30am. I had asked some climbers coming out the previous evening how long they estimated our round trip time would be (Rough Lake to Granite Peak and back). The guy said "at least 10 hours." Woah...I wasn't expecting it to be that much. Usually, 1mph is quite slow for most climbs. This was going to be 9 miles RT and yet he said 10 hours. So we started earlier than I was originally planning. (Stay tuned for how long it actually took us.)
Having the full (almost) moon to hike under really turned out to be a huge asset. Route finding was so much easier than it could have been under complete dark.
By the time we got close to the face of Granite, we had skylight and sunrise. This was my goal as I didn't want to be on the steeper, more difficult terrain, climbing in the dark.
You can see from the size of the talus why this climb takes so long. The majority of the hike along the Sky Top Lakes is NOT on a smooth trail but instead, is slow going talus hoping.
As we got to the base of Granite, I remembered that the SummitPost description said to...
"Make sure you stay right, close to the low saddle between Cairn Mountain and Granite Peak, as the cliffs further left can be 4th class to ascend."
So, I was actually wanting to climb to the saddle. Logs had found foot prints in the snow and had hiked on up. I am so glad he did as we took his route which probably saved us 30 minutes of out of the way climbing. (Image 22 shows this discrepancy and the "red route" which turned out to be the preferred route.)
This is the route up the scree ramp below the lower slab. If you attempt to climb further to the left, there are 4th-5th class cliffy areas.
Mark and Logs climbed up more to the left up this scree-fest. I climbed up right next to the lower slab.
At the top of this scree slope there is a chock stone. It didn't stop Mark! He climbed this exposed section even though there is a carined route that goes around this choke point to the left.
After the chock stone, there is about 100 feet of climbing before reach the infamous upper slab.
You have to climb all the way underneath this rock slab to the end of it to find the southwest ramp...which is the gateway to the summit.
As you get to the end of the slab, look back up to the right for the ramp. There are actually two access points to climb up to the ramp. Either one will go however, I think the second one is a easier with less exposure. Once up and on the "ramp" you will find that the view back is amazing as Mark found out.
About 1/3 of the way up this ramp comes the first place where we found a rope/hand rail. Since we were on dry rock this day, it wasn't needed on the ascent. However, if this route had any rain, ice, or snow, it would definitely be needed.
Above, the views back down the Sky Top Lakes drainage are amazing!
We encountered one of the areas that holds snow year round. However, we easily climbed above it on the right side on the rock.
About halfway up the southwest ramp, we came to the crux move. This spot proved to be more than was anticipated as what is called a Class 3 route. Ha! We all concurred it's at least a Class 4 move...maybe even a low Class 5 move. It was tough to get up this area. The rock has some spots of verglass even though this was in late August. I am guessing it's got ice year round here. Finding ice-free foot placements was a challenge as well as finding hand holds. The rock proved to be a smooth-slabby material which made it close to impossible to get much of a hand hold. That's why there was a rope left in there.
NOTE: The blue anchor webbing in here (August 2016) was torn half-way through. Be careful if you use it. Don't take a hard fall on this! This piece of rotten webbing affected our decision on our down climb.
As we climbed through this crux area, we were all thinking...."how are we going to down climb that?" It's much harder than the photos make it look. Maybe if you consider Logs and Mark's height, that will give you perspective of vertical distance.
After than crux move, this gully/ramp goes for quite a ways of just typical Class 2 and some Class 3 climbing. Until right before the end where it ramps back up to some tough Class 3 moves.
Then....The Gash! At the very top of this ramp, you will eventually cliff out at The Gash! Yup...it's a drop into the abyss! I was holding my arm way out and over to get a photo to try to show this. It's exposure galore!
Once you reach The Gash, you turn left and stay left, off the actual top of the Gash Ridge to the summit. The exposure up there is insane and not needed. You can stay on the left side of the Gash Ridge. It's still got some serious climbing over on the left side that require major concentration and four points of contact. Thus, no photos to show the difficulty. Sorry!
After about 2/3's of this Gash Ridge, the route finally lays back and becomes more sane and less intense. There is now hope of a summit in sight.
As you reach the actual summit ridge, it appears to be a gentle hike over to the highest point in Montana. But gentle....ah no! Mark, in the green helmet seems to be on a gentle hike. Logs in the red helmet...you can see, this is no gentle hike!
Finally, 5 � hours after leaving our high camp and almost non-stop hiking and climbing, we finally made it to the summit of Granite Peak.
We were not sure if we would even make the summit after that storm that came through. However, our schedule change of going to North Dakota first and to Montana after the storm worked out great. Happiness abounds!
Don't let this 12er fool you. This is a significant peak with long approaches and yet with beautiful scenery and views.
We knew we had a long climb down back to camp, and so we only spent 20 minutes on the summit. Soon we were backtracking our way back down the mountain. This is Mark working his way through a narrow rock tunnel.
Once back at the crux, we knew we didn't want to downclimb that vertical move. I had brought my 30 meter rope to help up our odds of being successful. We had stopped at a hardware store back in Bowman, ND and bought a couple of D-Links to put through any pre-existing anchor webbing. On our way up, I had noticed a second anchor made with some red webbing, above the anchor with the frayed blue webbing. So we used the red webbing anchor along with one of our D-links. Rapping down this proved to be smart (and easy) way down this steep sketchy move. It worked great. We used a Muenter hitch since none of use had brought a rappel device like an ATC. From having taking some CMC (Colorado Mountain Club) classes, I had learned and remembered how to rappel using a Muenster hitch. Thanks CMC!
We made it back to camp at 2:30pm. This made our round trip from Rough Lake to the summit and back 11 hours....not 10!
It took us an hour to pack up camp and get back on the trail. Our hike back to the car took 5 hours to cover the 7 3/4 miles. This made for 17 hours and close to 17 miles of hiking on this day. And THEN it took us12 hours of driving to get home after I dropped off Mark and Logs. Long....tough....difficult day, but VERY rewarding as we not only were successful on Granite Peak in Montana, but we were successful in Utah, Idaho, and North Dakota. This made 4 for 4!
I literally read this set of verses the day after I got home from this amazing week of state highpoint climbing. It seemed to speak to me:
vs. 3 Who may climb the mountain of the Lord. Who may stand in his holy place?
vs. 4 Only those who hands and hearts are pure, who do not worship idols and do not tell lies.
vs. 5 They will receive the Lord's blessings and have a right relationship with God their savior.
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