Granite Peak, 12,799 ft
Date climbed: August 16, 2008 10:10am
Matthew and I decided a fitting end to our summer bike ride (3500 miles from Prudhoe Bay, AK to Montana) would be to climb the highest mountains in Montana and Wyoming – Granite and Gannett Peaks. We’re trying to climb the highest mountain in every state, and these two would bring our count to about 30 states so far. After biking in to Great Falls, MT we met up with Darren and headed down to Granite Peak in his big suburban. We had originally planned to bike all the way to the peak, but to get it in before school started it made more sense to load up the bikes in the truck and drive to the trailhead.
We picked up some climbing gear we had mailed to the Roscoe post office and made it to the mystic lake trailhead just as a pouring rain started. Instead of hiking in a few miles and getting soaked for the rest of the trip, we decided to ride out the storm in the truck, which was conveniently big enough for all three of us to sleep in that night.
Trip reports of the mountain rated the crux of the climb everything from class 3 to 5.7, with the general consensus class 4+. Darren didn’t want to take any chances, so we packed a good portion of his climbing rack just in case.
We headed up the trail on Friday morning passing Mystic Lake and eventually gaining the aptly-named Froze to Death Plateau by lunch time. This was where we left the trail and trekked across the boulder-ladden plateau towards base camp. It was pretty chilly up there and we noticed patches of fresh snow everywhere, probably from the previous night when we had gotten rained on in the valley. We passed two other parties before reaching our base camp at a level spot below Tempest Mountain.
Here we got our first look at Granite Peak, and it looked almost impossible. Granted, we were looking at the rarely-climbed north face and our route was on the opposite face. Matthew looked at the GPS and noted that the summit was only 0.9 line-of-sight miles away and 400 feet above us (we were at 12,400ft). Sounds easy, but that didn’t take into account dropping 500 ft to a saddle and doing some technical climbing.
Before we went to bed that night we had to make the tough decision of which two lucky climbers would get the tent and who would have to bivy outside. Matthew and I only had a 1.5-man tent that we could squeeze two people in and Darren didn’t own a tent, so that was our dilemma. We collectively decided to punish Darren first outside for not having a tent, and we would each take turns afterwards for the next mountain.
Next morning we were woken up at the reasonable hour of 5am by another party passing by, and we reluctantly decided to get up. We dropped down a boulder field to the tempest saddle, then began the climb up the talus fields. By about 7:30 we reached the snow-bridge saddle, which was the first sketchy part of the climb. There was a narrow snowbrige with a very exposed drop on the south side and a possible cliff on the north. The party in front of us crossed with ice axes, but since we left our ice axes and crampons in the truck but had plenty of climbing gear we decided to belay each other across.
Darren went first and soon realized that there in fact was not a cliff on the north side and the exposed
area was only about 5 ft long. He promptly threw off the rope and told me to break down the anchor because we were being way too cautious.
After Matthew and I crossed we began climbing a series of chimneys that we later read in our summitpost climbing guide were class 4. The climbing was fun because there were always good holds, just a bit of exposure if you looked back.
Eventually we reached the crux part of the climb, which
the party ahead of us was pitching out. It didn’t look that much harder than what we’d already climbed, but since we had hauled all that climbing gear up we decided might as well use it. Darren led the way placing in a few cams, Matthew followed on a butterfly knot in the middle of the rope, and I cleaned at the end. There was definitely one move past an overhanging rock that I was glad to have the rope for, so I’d probably agree with the “class 4+” rating.
After this pitch we packed away the rope and passed the other group as they continued to pitch out the climb. We made the top by about 8:30am and had it all to ourselves. Amazingly there was zero wind and not a cloud in the sky. We could even see Grand Teton
about 100 miles south of us.
It turned out the party we passed was actually a surveying party with fancy GPS equipment to find the exact elevation of the summit. Apparently the elevation had only been calculated by sighting the summit from other mountains, and never precisely with a GPS. The guys said they needed to leave the equipment on the summit for two hours, and then send the data to some official agency to have the error removed. I gave them my email so they can tell me whether the summit is still 12,799ft or if the maps need to be revised.
We spent about 2 hours at the summit and then started descending. Luckily there were rappell rings for most of the way,
so we didn’t have to do too much down climbing. When we got to the top of the crux move we met a solo climber on his way down. From the looks of it he had nothing with him – no food, water, rope, nothing. He looked a little worried about downclimbing that sketchy part, and we offerred to let him rappell down our rope. Darren made him a harness out of spare webbing and we lent him an ATC, which we pulled back up the rope when he finished.
The rest of the descent was pretty fun rappelling most of the way to the snow bridge. We passed a mountain goat cooling off in the snow and saw another one walking around base camp. After packing up we started hiking down the 12 miles to the trailhead and got to the truck at about 9:30pm. Time for a good sleep at the trailhead before our next mountain in Wyoming.