Ascent of Granite Peak on 2012-07-31

Climber: Brian Friedrich

Others in Party:Laura Friedrich
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Granite Peak
    Elevation:12799 ft / 3901 m

Ascent Trip Report

Originally we had planned on ascending the "popular" FTD plateau and E ridge route, but while getting a little more beta about the mountain the day before setting off we read about a relatively little known route that heads up from the south side. Given the generally unhappiness we'd read about the FTD traverse, and some positive reports we noted about access from the south, we thought we'd give it a go - in summary, we're very glad we did.

The route begins by following a dirt road up from just east of Cooke City, MT (signposted to Lulu Pass Trail) to a parking area near old prospector cabins and the start of the "Lady of the Lake" trail. Follow this trail up and, sadly, somewhat down (which, of course, sucks on the return) past the lake, then crossing Star Creek, and along Zimmer Creek to a crossing (from west to east) over some logs. The easy-to-follow trail then goes steeply upwards to Lower Aero Lake where a much fainter trail leads you around the north side of this lake. At the far north end of the lake, follow the west side of the shallow inlet past a couple of attractive waterfalls to reach a crossing point for the creek between Lower and Upper Aero Lakes. This was the only spot where we took boots off to cross a waterway - cold, but only about mid-calf deep. There are good camping (and fishing) spots at the south end of Upper Aero Lake. We continued on the southeast side of this lake gaining some elevation fairly quickly and traversing broad plateaus above the lake toward the pass between The Spires and P11379. You can likely stay low around the lakeshore later in the year, but with several snow sections extending into the water (and having calved off), it just made more sense to us to stay high and traverse around that way. Once in the pass, we descended fairly steep snow into the Sky Top Lakes basin and promptly ran into a family of 4 mountain goats who were as surprised to see us as we were of them. No one blinked in the close range staring contest and then we all just parted ways again. We crossed between lakes to the east side fairly soon and then followed the basin to what seems to be about the last camp spot before the south face - next to a very small lake and waterfall just south of the small lake shown on the topo before the face (but not the one under Sky Top Glacier, which is really just a dirty pool). There is room for 1 or 2 small tents here, and the vegetation is very fragile, so care is needed. Not a lot of other flat spots abound, save for about 1km back in the basin or camping on the snowfield below the face itself, which would have been our preference had we known - next time... We started the day at about 6:30AM and reached this camp at about 3:30PM - with a pretty decent haul of stuff, which turned out to be too much, and also not trying to go super fast. The scenery - lakes, creeks, high mountains, spires, and wildflowers are stunning all the along! (This was exactly why we elected to do this route on the mountain - the views and experience to this point paid off nicely, and not a bad deal to have water access for the entire trip).

The next day we woke up at around 4:45 and then leisurely got ready to go at first light - starting off at around 6AM again. It's an easy walk across some boulder and snow fields to the start of the route, and obvious snow gully that drops low off the face. Although we'd brought crampons and ice tools, we decided to save some time putting them on and taking them off by avoiding the short, but icy in the morning, snow gully we'd read about by scrambling up some class 2 rock on its left side. This worked well and also by-passed some loose rock at the top of the gully. We then continued up toward a huge rock slab coming off the face and followed this left to its terminus (about 150m) - a very dark, triangular section of the slab (very obvious and clearly visible from camp onwards). This section is little more than a steep hike along a trail, but be aware that you're exposed to a significant rockfall hazard from above the entire time. Experienced climbers will cringe passing through this area (and for most of the route, in fact, knowing that all the loose rock at the bottom and in the gullies/couloir had to come from somewhere - just look up to see where from...).

At the end of the slab, scramble up easy class 3 rock (10m) to the right and into the couloir. We then followed roughly the right side of the couloir, scrambling on class 2-3 rock as we went because it was firmer - so faster and safer - than taking the line up the bottom of the gully. In about 50-60m we reached the crux of the route, a 10m ice patch chocking the couloir. You may: (i) climb past this on either side via fairly polished class 3+/4 rock; (ii) put on crampons and head straight up - then doing a move or three of stiff class 3 rock to get over the top (and avoid dumping a chute full of loose rock on your climbing buddy below you); or (iii) chop away about 30cm of the ice along the left side so that you can continue to follow rock and then still have the couple of stiff class 3 moves at the top to contend with. We chose option (iii) in an effort to skip the whole crampon thing and try saving a little time. Not sure if we saved time on the ascent, probably not, but it did make for a much quicker descent now that a full rock route was available again (and hopefully helped future parties this year anyways...).

After the icy section, the route continues as it did before to a wall which can be ascended directly (class 4) or scrambled past to the right (class 3) toward a gendarme and then heading left once atop the wall in either case, along a ridglet to the summit ridge (class 2-3). The rock you're scrambling on is moderate, but pretty much everything is loose, and seeing that you're in fairly confined space, take extra care not to let anything loose on those below you. This is not an easy task on this face - pretend you're a ballerina or something :)

We spent about 45 minutes enjoying the top to ourselves before retracing the route down without incident. Routefinding is very straight-forward - just look around a little if it seems something is too exposed - there are numerous ways around the minor obstacles you reach. We debated whether this route was class 3 or class 3-, so conservatively called it a 3. There as no debate, however, in considering the objective rockfall hazard to be high. Bring a rope only if you really must and limit it to some short rappels. Climbing with one will only magnify the rockfall hazard. If you're not comfortable without a rope on class 3, you should really not attempt this route. Also, keep parties small and close together so that rocks don't have a chance to pick up speed and become unpredictable pinballs down the couloir (and obviously no trundling...should go without saying, but only a couple of days earlier I heard another party "bragging" about how fun it was to do this on another mountain without having any idea of who else might be climbing on the route they were pushing boulders off...on popular Borah Peak no less...scary).

Once back at camp, we packed up and made for the long trek back to the car. Our progress was only slowed by a series of four, brief thunderstorms passing through the area - the only ones we'd seen up there - and bringing a little hail and rain (maybe 10 minutes of intense activity at a time). The last part of the trail from Lady of the Lake to the car was a miserable slog of up and down (amazing how your perspective changes in a day!). All said though, this was a gorgeous hike through some wonderful, pristine wilderness. The cutthroat trout were spawning up the creeks and the mosquitoes were generally held at bay by the breeze. We would recommend this route as a viable alternative to the E ridge. Folks who are prepared to do that route are certainly capable of this one, and may even find it more aesthetic. Maybe someone who's done both can write up a comparison at some point. :)

PS: It may be possible to 4x4 past Round Lake and take a trail down to Lady of the Lake from just before Long Lake. This would save a lot of distance in-and-out, would make the "in" to Lady of the Lake downhill only, but would also mean the "out" from there is up only (about 250m, but consistently up instead of rolling). Just another random thought to throw out there...

Furthermore, this route could be done in a long day if you're not loaded down with overnight gear and if the weather holds for you - as it did for us on Day 1 (but not Day 2).
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:9215 ft / 2807 m
    Extra Gain:2608 ft / 794 m
    Distance:23.5 mi / 37.8 km
    Route:South Face
    Trailhead:Lady of the Lake trailhead  8800 ft / 2682 m
    Grade/Class:Class 3
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Stream Ford, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Ski Poles, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:1 nights away from roads
    Weather:Thunderstorm, Cool, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
Day 1 and first-half of Day 2 were perfect, then 4 short thunderstorms passed over us on the return
Ascent Statistics
    Time Up:13 Hours 8 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time Down:10 Hours 5 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Brian Friedrich
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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