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Ascent of Granite Peak on 2014-08-20

Climber: Gustav Sexauer

Others in Party:Artski and Al
Date:Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Granite Peak
    Location:USA-Montana
    Elevation:12799 ft / 3901 m

Ascent Trip Report

Al, Artski, and I at breakfast at the Bistro in Cooke City right after it opened at 6am. I figured pancakes would be a good way to start the day. We had been planing this hike for a year now, however we still had trouble getting the mountain condition report. No one in town seemed to have a clue, or even know about the southern alternate route known as the Southwest Ramp which we planned to take to the top. We instead just had to go off the great 2012 report from Steve Eckert.

At 8:20am we left the trailhead with our packs stuffed. Al and Artski had done some backpacking many years ago, and I hadn't hiked more than a couple miles with a pack full of camping gear because I almost always do day hikes. This hike was to test what we were made of, and help us gauge how to handle future hikes such as Gannet. We left the Lady of the Lake Trailhead by going east through the parking lot and then heading north past a few stones that served as a roadblock to cars. Right away there was a bride over a creek. a few minutes later we came across the Mill Trailhead which we realized we could have parked at to shave off 5-10 minutes each way. There was a sign that read "1 Lady of the Lake" and we began in that direction. There was no confusion in where we were going because there weren't any side trails and the main trail is used by donkeys or horses and is well beaten at the beginning. It took us a full hour to get to Lady of the Lake, and we aren't sure what the "1" on the sign meant, because it was definitely over two miles to get there. In the lake we saw some rainbow trout swimming. The morning started out sunny just as we planned and we soon came to our first real stream crossing after the lake. This one had adequate rocks and was shallow enough to just walk over. We brought water shoes, but would come to find that we wouldn't use them the entire time. After the first crossing we went over a rise and then took a break. When I sat down on a log I planted my hand on a sharp branch and poked my palm in two spots. It wasn't a major issue, but it did stop me from pushing too hard off rocks later in the hike with my right hand. After the break we hiked north a bit farther until we crossed the Broadwater River which had two logs across it to use. The trail then hooked east and descended before regaining the elevation as it paralleled Sky Top Creek. The guys couldn't believe that we were barely above the trailhead after a few hours of hiking when we checked in this section. We stopped to rest at a nice spot where the creek from Lower Aero Lake meets Sky Top creek. This creek crossing was much wider and only one of the two logs in place was stable. We met a biologist from MSU here that was hiking alone to camp with some friends who had hiked Granite that day. He hiked with us as we continued on up the drainage through a narrow section where the trail intermittently dipped into the boggy creek west of Pneumonia Lake. Artski was really getting annoyed by the mosquitoes at this point. We had forgot to wear or bring bug spray. Artski never handles the bugs very well, so that became our first real challenge. Storm clouds then rolled in as we followed the trail up to Lone Elk Lake. A fisherman was there that we chatted with. The peak still isn't visible from this point, which was frustrating since we still had never seen it and had no good information on the conditions. I heard some thunder in the distance here, but not from the clouds over us. We crossed our first bit of snow on the edge of Lone Elk Lake and then hat to put our raincoats on at the north end. The usual afternoon rain had begun. We followed a faint trail past the next lake up the drainage and found a weird place to cross the creek. We jumped onto a big island rock at the bottom end of Rough Lake, but knew that we couldn't come back this same way due to the jumping point. From here on up there was a lot of boulder traversing and occasional snow. We finally met a group that had climbed Granite that morning that was heading down seven hours into our hike. They said it was scary, but worth it. They said there's some webbing to help in the worst spot, and that we should change the date in the register that they wrote because they were a day off. We continued on and came to the widest stream crossing of the trip above Rough Lake. We crossed it at a long angle, spending some time walking through the boulders in the water plants in the middle of the stream. We made it alright, but Al put a foot in at one point. On the other side we hiked up a grassy strip on the left of the middle bump in this large saddle which is only half made up of the creek drainage on the right. On this pitch we were sleeted and then hailed on. The hail wasn't big, but I took partial cover under a slightly overhanging rock. This lasted maybe five minutes and then we continued. We passed the basin lake to the west and then finally came to see Granite Peak itself around a corner. From here we tried to follow cairns as best we could because the easiest way was not obvious. the Sky Top Lakes were very beautiful and we even saw a few ducks swimming in them. Along the largest lake we encountered a tricky snow section. We called it the "slip and slide" because it was a steep pitch of snow that went directly to the lake. It was pretty hard snow, too, so we double pole planted firmly on every step on the way across. I wish I could have skied into the lake in a completely different situation. Next we came upon the biologist at the end of the big lake with his friends. He had gone past us hours earlier when us three took a break. we made it past the next two lakes by switching to the east side of the water. We talked to another group of three that included a geologist from Missoula that were doing the hike with four nights of camping and were going to try for the summit tomorrow as well. We went higher than them and we searched a bit for a good flat place to camp. I found a spot at 10,600' in some grass with a little pitch, but not too bad. We had the tent up at 7pm and then I went back down to the lake to fill our water bottles. This particular lake was still ~80% snow covered mid August! I was impressed. Our tent was in an exposed area, but the rain had stopped long before we arrived and we only had a bit of wind in the night. It didn't get nearly as cold as we expected.

In the morning Artski was raring to go, much to our surprise, seeing as he was hinting at not going with us to the summit. It's great that he did, because I don't think I would have made it without his support. He got going about twenty minutes before Al and I did. We caught up to him as we traversed a talus slope made of large boulders. We saw that it might have been easier to follow the water drainge and to walk on the snow, but then we thought of busting through into the lake, and were fine with our route choice. We did end up on land-covering snow which was fairly easy to walk on and that took us almost to the base of the steep mass that is Granite Peak. I started out working my way up the right hand wall going up to the snow tongue. Al followed and Artski took a long break. I skirted half of the snow tongue (it was melted into two parts) on the left and then found a weird hole to push my pack and then myself through to get between the snow. Al came up next and did a very exposed crawl over a flat rock to avoid the tunnel. Artski came up third and we found that we missed the easy trail which went looker's left of the lower tongue and up some small loose rocks which almost resembled a trail. There were cairns for that way too. We then put our ski poles on our packs (maybe we should have left them in the tent. Al's hit some rocks while he was looking for hand holds and almost knocked him off his feet) and continued up the right hand transition between the rock wall and the dirt/pebbles that are the trail. We then came upon the southwest ramp which is the first way up to the right. It looks fairly intimidating from the bottom, but we noticed right away that there was a rope set up to get us over a little rock overhang. It would be possible to go around this without a rope, but the rock doesn't have great holds, is smooth, and is exposed. We used the rope, but I tried to only use it as a back up. We then walked on loose rocks higher up the chute with Artski leading the way. He relayed back to us the best way to navigate each section. The real crux of the SW Ramp was the snow patch in the middle of the chute which had overhanging rock about four feet above it. We were able to make foothold on the right side of the snow and then grab a chain of webbing which helped us get over the overhang with a hint of safety. I don't think I would have done that part without the webbing. We came up on the left side of the rock, but without the webbing, the right would have been the way to go probably. Maybe it's better either way. The left puts you on the edge of a drop standing on very mobile rock. We pretty much had to swim-hike up fifteen feet before we felt secure at all. From here it seems like it's a straight shot to the top, but it's not that easy. We eventually made it to a dirt pad just under a steep stack of big boulders straight up from the center of the chute. we had to do a rock climbing move to step up the wall and get to the next boulder. We then went straight up, missing the cairns to the left. I found a big triangular rock that moved and then slammed my knee into it on accident. My knee hurt, but I was able to ignore it. We were then at the edge of the gash and noticed that the rocks we were on were stacked overhanging it. Yipes! We saw three guys coming off of the summit across the gash and headed back down to Froze to Death Plateau. We clamored around some more rocks and made the arc shaped path to the ridge of the peak and then went down and back up to the top rock. We found the benchmark and the register and half celebrated because we were all a bit scared to go down. I had gotten especially scared when the other two had gotten far ahead of me as we neared the Gash and were out of earshot. Anyway, we got our pictures and ate some snacks white looking around at the jagged peaks and the steep drop to the north. I had a salted nut roll by the recommendation of John Wissing, which really hit the spot. This was Al's first state highpoint, and the 8th for Artski and I. It was important to me to get this one before I graduated from college in Bozeman. It was important to Artski to climb Granite while he's still able to go from living at 1000' and hike at high altitude successfully.

We noticed some clouds rolling in from the SW that looked to be coming right at the ramp. We hurried off the summit and sure enough the sunshine vanished as we came back to the top of the ramp. We had to wait a few minutes for the three person team we met the day before to pass us. One of the women seemed alright, the other was a bit scared. The man said he wasn't having fun. Artski lead the way down as he did on the way up, but unfortunately he got far ahead of us and I swung my foot around to a hold and knocked some rocks off. I had to concentrate on my own balance, but Al saw a rock headed for Artski. We yelled rock twice and Artski lurched about five feet to the right hand wall. The rock, maybe bowling ball sized, passed right where his pack was about one second earlier. Once we got onto the loose rocks, it was quick travel down to the webbing. It seemed a lot safer going down for some reason. The clouds did roll in, though, and the summit got socked in. We worried about that other group. It started to flurry as well. At the webbing we came down the left side which was easier than the drop to the right. We found little trouble following the path down after sliding down the snow patch. Al actually head up the tail because he was moving slowly, surprisingly. The hike was uneventful back to the flat snow below the peak's principle uplift. On the snow we celebrated as the main danger of the hike was over. we tried to follow the snow down lower than before and avoid the cross slope talus travel. I punched in to my knee once which was not great as I ran part of the way. We then had to get to our tent and picked the wrong grassy mound to hike up. We were still way above it and could see it as it began to rain. The landscape looked like what we believe Scotland to look like. Just as we got to the tent a massive downpour fell which was good in that we took our time to consume a lot of calories before heading back to the cars about 11 miles away. when the rain stopped we came out of the tent and found blue sky and a clear view of the peak. Hopefully those others were able to weather out the storm and not have slippery rocks to deal with. After we took the stakes for the tent out, the tent was grabbed in the wind and took off. I caught it just before it went off the edge of our grassy hill. Once packed up, we navigated the rock paths down the Sky Top basin. I felt like crap and had to stop when I was already behind the other two to drink from the lake with the filter straw. I probably drank for over five minutes. After that I crossed the slip-n-slide and met the other two. I felt better after drinking and that turned out to be the time I felt the worst the whole way, not at the end. We continued on and probably streamlined our route a bit, finding more cairns than on the way up. Once we got to the big Sky Top stream crossing we had a bit of a spat and Al and I decided to go our own way rather than hop rocks in the tip-roll style of Artski. I tripped up on one step and put most of a boot in the water. Being good boots, though, my feet didn't get wet. We then went across intermittent snow, rock, and dirt and passed under Rough Lake by a falls and then went over the last snow patch by Lone Elk Lake. The way down seemed to drag on and on, but I had a good mindset going for me. My body switched over to just hiking, so that all it knew was that I hike, and that's all I do. The other two were not as mentally strong and needed some cheering up. We all forgot about the 600' uphill back to the Broadwater River Crossing which did not help morale. Artski was seriously feeling his pack at this point and his feet were wet because he didn't have waterproof boots. Al hadn't eaten since the tent site and was low on energy. We pressed on as it was getting dark and finally halfway by Lady of the Lake we put on headlamps. We then found out Al didn't bring one, so he had to walk in the middle. It was just "one" mile back from Lady of the Lake, but actually it's closer to three despite the misleading sign at the mill. This was a long trek of uphills that kept coming each time we though we had crested the hill the last time. We finally made it back to the car at 10pm, about an hour after full darkness. We were beat, but we drove into Cooke City and hoped some place would be open. We stopped at the Prospector Bar and although they were closed they made us sandwiches and got us water. I called mom from the pay phone and we took a picture at the table. This was the toughest hike any of us had ever done, but as Al said, it showed us what we were made of. We were a solid gold group, I thought. After hobbling out of the Prospector we parked just off the road in Silver City for the night.

8:20am-7pm camp
7am-10:40am summit
11am-1:30pm descent
1:30pm-2pm camp tear down
2pm-10pm car
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:6943 ft / 2115 m
    Total Elevation Loss:6943 ft / 2115 m
    Round-Trip Distance:24.7 mi / 39.8 km
    Grade/Class:Class 3
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Stream Ford, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Rock Climb
    Gear Used:
Rope, Ski Poles, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:1 nights away from roads
    Weather:Rain, snow, sleet, hail, cool, pleasant, calm, breezy, clear, partly cloudy, overcast, low clouds
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:5410 ft / 1648 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 4067 ft / 1240 m; Extra: 1343 ft / 409m
    Loss on way in:1343 ft / 409 m
    Distance:12.5 mi / 20.1 km
    Route:Southwest Ramp
    Start Trailhead:Lady of the Lake Trailhead  8732 ft / 2661 m
    Time:14 Hours 20 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:5600 ft / 1706 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 4067 ft / 1240 m; Extra: 1533 ft / 467m
    Gain on way out:1533 ft / 467 m
    Distance:12.2 mi / 19.6 km
    Route:Southwest Ramp
    End Trailhead:Lady of the Lake Trailhead  8732 ft / 2661 m
    Time:10 Hours 30 Minutes



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