Ascent of Granite Peak on 2021-07-30

Climber: William Musser

Others in Party:Ian Dodd
Date:Friday, July 30, 2021
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Granite Peak
    Elevation:12799 ft / 3901 m

Ascent Trip Report

Overall Summary:

27 miles round trip to get Granite my 47th state highpoint, and we did it in 2 days. I added a 3 miles extra credit trip to grab Prarieview Mountain so our total was 30 miles in 2 days. Hiked up in late morning up to the lower high camp then got up at 4:30 am and successfully ascended the summit and back to high camp in about 8 hours. Raced up from the lower high camp camp leaving in 4:30 AM morning and then on the way down added the extra credit peak and then got back to the car in the dark. Used Beartooth Mountain Guides and had a very efficient successful trip. Guide told me I was his first client to bag the peak in 2 days car to car that all of his other clients took 3 to 4 days with 4 days as the standard so I was feeling quite accomplished with the effort on the verge of my 60th birthday.

Review of Beartooth Guides:

I booked the trip through owner Austin Hart. He was flexible and allowed me to book the trip with the standard 4 day booking but not because I wanted/needed the two day approach and acclimation camping followed by the third night at high camp, but I wanted extra time to ensure that if the notorious lightning weather rolled in I wanted more than one day to summit the peak if needed. And if we got down early (which we did) the ability to grab some extra credit peaks in the area. Austin completed my required half day of pre-trip training on the ropes and gear and then introduced me to my guide who was Ian Dodd. Both were very professional, safety conscience, and displayed good guide to client demeanors. I was very pleased with their service and accommodations. I would recommend either for a guided trip.

I would also note that getting to the TH is an issue. This guide service does not transport the clients to the TH for insurance reasons and renting a car out of Billings right now is obscene. the cheapest I could rent a small car for 4 days was over $1000. One option to be aware of is Guide Ian Dodds does run a taxi service on the side that when I priced him against the local taxi service he was both more competitively priced than the local Red Lodge taxi service and much easier to deal with. So I advise all to price transportation carefully before coming. I ended up renting a car for 4 days and at the cheapest rate of $1,100 totally ridiculous. Because got down early I was able to return the car early and save some money but a taxing service priced cheaper. This guide service tends to rely heavily on the "highpointing" community with clients trying to get the one of the 3 hardest state HPs which is fine but they are eager to guide other technical destinations like the 10 tallest peaks in MT which are all in their regulated, allowable, service area. I would use them again and pursue another peaks in the future like Woods Mountain. They have not yet tapped the full peakbagger market but for those that complete the CO 14ers, CA 14ers etc and would like some technical assistance they would be ideal for hire.

Overall Summary of Peak:

Disclaimer, I was fortunate to have good weather (no lightening) and early snow melt, so the snow bridge was a non issue so I might be influenced by having ideal conditions. I also climbed Gannett and Rainier when I peakbagged out of the FL and was in far less impressive shape and was not as acclimated as I am today. As a person that resides now in Colorado and thus comparing climbing Granite in my current state of fitness and pre-acclimated state, to those two monsters is a bit unfair and uncalibrated but............for me, Granite was far less strenuous and scary than my trips up the other two. Everyone debates which is hardest, and I would have to say in order: Rainier with a very close second Gannett and Granite to me was the clear third. Rainier contains serious snow, deep life threatening crevasses, full mountaineering gear challenges and many have died climbing it so to me it stands alone for the 48 contiguous states as the hardest and most dangerous. And of course, course Denali is the undisputable most difficult state highpoint if you go beyond the contiguous US states. Gannett has a very long backpacking approach (unless one uses the native American reservation route). The technical challenges include wind, snow, crevasses, Bergschrund, rockslides, mixed, snow and rock climbing so it is a close second or a tie for me. Despite my opinion, there is not doubt that this is the third hardest/most dangerous climb of the contiguous 48 states and the only other one that I recommend requires a guide unless you are really proficient at technical climbs and route finding. Be roped up!

I heard guides kicking out crux moves as high as class 5.6 but I would debate those as being too high. So my personal opinion to my peakbagging colleagues is to expect a few crux moves in the 5.0 to 5.3 range but never higher. But to say the peak can be climbed as a class 4 seems like the way California rates peaks. MT and CO climbers It has been my experience and thus my impression, that class ratings are very prejudiced by region and not consistent. I found the locals in Montana to be more like Colorado and using a more granular ratings scale allowing for recognition of lower class 5 whereas I have found CA peaks tend stick to class 4 and then suddenly pop up to class 5.5 as if lower class 5 (5.0 to 5.5 do not exist they are simply variations of class 4 which is not helpful to the peakbagger that is not a rockclimber and sure as hell knows the difference). So in my opinion, I will say this climb has a few class 5 moves. Granite is a technically challenging mountain if you do not come up the loose gully route and that standard NE route is mischaracterized in most literature as class 4. If that peak were in Colorado it would be described as having a lot of continuous class 3 and class 3+ exposed, with numerous class 4 motion and a few crux moves of easy class 5.

Day 1

I was required to do a 2 hour climbing course and gear check. This has been required for me any time I have hired a guide for a more technical climb where they had not been up with me before so I was expecting the requirement despite having done one of these courses about ten times. I am never bummed by that because the review is great since I only do a technical climb like this every other year and each climb uses slightly different techniques, ropes, gear etc.. and I like to know what to expect from the guides and they from me. Austin took me outside of Red Lodge to a limestone wall nearby and we practiced. I expected more of a rappelling and knot tying review but the first thing he did was point to limestone wall of about 70 to 80 degrees with bolts and climbed it and set protection and asked me to climb it and clean it. I looked at it and it had so much character I guessed it was like a 5.2 or 5.3 and he laughed and said it was more like a 5.6 or 5.7 in places. We both were wearing full hiking boots not climbing shoes and I was surprised how vertical it was and how places did not have the foot holds I wanted but amazing eroded pits that made for great hand holds. I would guess most of the route was 5.1 to 5.3 but there were a couple of smoother vertical places where my hiking boots were struggling to be comfortable climbing and I was OK saying the crux was at least 5.5 to 5.6 and all I wanted with a boot for climbing shoes. We practiced a couple of belays and types of rappels including an in-line rigged set up where we were both clipped in and he would go down weighting me and then I would follow him unweighted. Austin did a fine job of instruction was patient, and good demeanor.

Day 2 First day of climbing:

I met my summit climber, Ian Dodds on day two. I expected an alpine start at 4 am but they are accustomed to start day one at 6:30 AM. SO we met up, disused the day and then drove separate cars to the trailhead about 1 hour and 15 minutes away. I think we actually started hiking around 9AM and I was worried about setting up camp on the high sandy site with rain and thunder but we dispatched the 11 miles and major gain with packs fast. We passed the normal lower camps site and headed up to the lower high site that they call sandy site. That is the last site with always running water before the upper saddle. We got there barely in time to set up tents before the rain came. It rained 3 times but let up long enough to cook our food and chat in Ian's tent.

Since the last time I was up on the plateau, the "wild" mountain goats have become even more ridiculously tame to man. About a dozen goats greeted us immediately begging for our salt and minerals. Several large males and even a nanny with her yearling kid (cute as hell). Finally nature called and I could not hold back and longer and walked away from the goats and found a rock and relived myself but before I could complete the task at hand (no pun intended) I had 5 goats pushed up against me fighting for the liquid salts. One large male goat was pushing up against me and you are in an uncompromising position at that moment so reading their body language I simply did not move and did not make any sudden motions and slowly backed away. One thing I learned on this trip - if you go to go, wait till they are not around (which is almost never), move away fast and pretend you are not going to pee, and then do it quick! but even then they watch you and come fast and expect them to be up against you as complete unless you are really fast and stealthy. It is the most peculiar behavior I have ever seen with mountain goats and particular to Granite and its base camps so be ready for it. It is wonderful to be up so close to wild goats but a bit unnerving when their horns are right there looking sharp and dangerous at the same time.

Day 3 (but Day of the actual climb)

so Left the lower high camp (sand camp at 4:30 AM with headlamps). Passed the highest camp on the saddle by Tempest and then descended the nasty talus trail in the dark. It was much easier coming back in the light. Down to the col between Tempest and Granite and the beginning of the fun part of the route. As one heads up the NE ridge adjacent to Granite Glacier the route should be thought of as two halves. The lower half is easier mostly class 2,2+ and 3. Today, the snow was down low and we used the rocky ridge climbing enjoyable class 2+ and class 3 equally but no technical challenges. Once you poke through the a small pinnacle you get the first reveal and a great view of the peak ahead and the famous snow bridge. This is where the second half of the technical climb begins and the guide service will rope you up the rest of the way. The climbing here is a mixture of 2+, 3, 3+ , 4 and some 5. The entire trip from camp to summit is 2.5 miles exactly so I would guess that you have about 0.6 miles of non technical 2+ and 3 below the bridge and about 0.5 miles of mostly 3+ with some 4 and 5 above the snow bridge. Although there are some short rope sections where I did not feel I needed to be roped it was simply the guide service being cautious and protecting their client, there were many section of class 4 or harder that roping up was exactly what I was paying for. That day the only other party we encountered were to guides (brothers one from AZ one from MT) and both of them chose to rope up most of the way as well so that gives you some indication that this is not your typical class 4 climb it without protection type of peak.

There are 2 or 3 chimneys that are a lot of fun to climb. Very tall weakness features that were 25 to 50 feet tall that comprised of exposed steep class 2+ and 3 climbing with a few stop and think class 4 to lower class 5 moves that were quite fun. I would say the crux of the trip was an inconspicuously hidden gully that to get it in you had to up climb a large boulder and get on a tiny ledge with a sharp knife edge flake. Below you was a sheer fall of 20 feet or more that would be best rappelled later in the day (and we did) but above you a wall so you were exposed tight rope walking on the flake. The key is there is a 1 to 2 inch hand rail above your head but I missed it and with out it is was the most harrowing part of the climb for me. As it turned out all of the guides knew about it or found it but me and thus dispatched the move without hesitation but it was tough place for me to get through and then later I learned that the 6 inch wide exposed ledge had a hand rail above! For that section I was very happy I was on a rope.

We summited signed the register and were up there in just under 4 hours from the lower high camp (sand camp) and weather was better than expected but we came down soon thereafter and Ian was taking his time repairing many of the fixed slings and webbing that some roof rats had been gnawing on. They were new protection set early this climbing season but the pesty rodents had compromised several. I would guess that Ian replaced 4 on the way down. The two brothers (guides) were helpful along the way and also very professional not pushing me to move faster when I was holding them up and I enjoyed the summit with 3 great men in conversation and jokes.

On the way down we made it back to the camp, broke camp and headed down and instead of spending another night we took the long way to the major trail saddle and I asked to extra climb Saddle back but my phone was now dead and my GPS map was gone so we were not sure which of the three bumps it was. We climbed the fist obvious point and scrambled up the second which was actually Praireview but it was getting late so I called it a day and we headed down. Instead of camping at Mystic Lake we elected to get out early and got out totally to back to the car on day two. As a result summit day turned out to be 19 miles and we got back to the cars in the dark sometime after 9 PM

It was a very successful trip!

Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:8464 ft / 2579 m
    Total Elevation Loss:2200 ft / 670 m
    Round-Trip Distance:27 mi / 43.5 km
    Grade/Class:1 thru lower 5
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Rock Climb
    Gear Used:
Rope, Headlamp, Ski Poles, Guide
    Weather:Raining, Pleasant, Calm, Partly Cloudy
see TR
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:7364 ft / 2244 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 6264 ft / 1910 m; Extra: 1100 ft / 335m
    Loss on way in:1100 ft / 335 m
    Distance:13 mi / 20.9 km
    Route:Mystic Lake approach
    Start Trailhead:Mystic Lake TH Parking Lot  6535 ft / 1991 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:1100 ft / 335 m
    Gain on way out:1100 ft / 335 m
    Distance:14 mi / 22.5 km
Ascent Part of Trip: Granite

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Granite Peak2021-07-30 a8464 ft / 2580 m
2Prairieview Mountain2021-07-30 b500 ft / 152 m
Total Trip Gain: 8964 ft / 2732 m    Total Trip Loss: 2265 ft / 691 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by William Musser
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