Montana’s Highest Point – Granite Peak (12,799′)


This past weekend I undertook the formidable challenge of trying to climb what has been speculated as the technically most difficult state high point to climb (I imagine Denali is up there too, but that’s what Tom Turiano says). I was invited last week to go with two friends I met in Montana but grew up less than an hour away from in Colorado and my other good friend and reliable partner, Rob. The plan was to leave Friday morning at 10 am and cross the Froze-to-death Plateau that day and camp at the saddle between Tempest Mountain and Granite Peak. But in typical Bozeman fashion we ended up leaving town at 2 in the afternoon on Friday. This late start resulted in leaving the trailhead after 4 pm to hike 3 miles to Mystic Lake then climb and cross the 5 mile long plateau.

Mystic Lake

Mystic Lake

We put our heads down and cranked out the climb getting to the saddle between East and West Rosebud drainages before sunset. We then set out for another two hours of hiking across the plateau at night with no trail to follow.

Sunset on Froze-to-Death Plateau

Sunset on Froze-to-Death Plateau

We arrived at the base of Froze-to-death Mountain, cooked dinner, drank a little whiskey, and went to bed in sustained 35-45 mph winds.

After a poor night of sleep in the wind, I was the first one up (typical) and decided to go for a short side hike up Froze-to-death Mountain (11,760′). This was nice because we had hiked in the dark and we weren’t 100% sure where to go. I quickly scrambled up some scree to the summit in howling wind (it almost blew me over a couple times) and scouted the route to Granite Peak.

Granite Peak from Froze-to-Death Mountain

Granite Peak from Froze-to-Death Mountain

I returned to camp to find a mountain goat only a few yards from our tents. Apparently, the goat had been there all morning and in my sleepy stupor I walked right past it without noticing. After my hike I was starting to wake up and realized that it was my 25th birthday. What a place to spend a birthday!

Rob Wudlick makes a friend with a mountain goat

Rob Wudlick makes a friend with a mountain goat

The goat was hanging out right next to camp when we woke up.

The goat was hanging out right next to camp when we woke up.

He was still there after we packed up and left.

He was still there after we packed up and left.

We packed up camp and hit the road. We circumnavigated Froze-to-death Mountain and headed directly for Granite Peak.

Rob crossing the Froze-to-Death Plateau

Rob crossing the Froze-to-Death Plateau

Arriving at the final saddle between Tempest Mountain and Granite Peak a little before my comrades I made the quick jaunt up Tempest Mountain (12,486′). From there I could see the East Ridge, our intended route.

Granite Peak from the summit of Tempest Mountain

Granite Peak from the summit of Tempest Mountain

I returned to my group, who was resting near a cairn, and we scrambled down loose scree to the low point between Tempest and Granite. Here we cached our camping gear and set off up a steep scree slope, staying near the ridge. We topped out of the scree field where we had a short scramble to the so called “snow bridge”. This late in the season it wasn’t much of a bridge as more of a narrow sliver of ice 45 degrees steep. There was a fixed line luckily to hold on to, but nonetheless, Chris managed to slip on the slippery ice and was only saved by holding onto the fixed line.

Chris Gold takes a scary slip crossing the snow bridge

Chris Gold takes a scary slip crossing the snow bridge

We then continued to climb a maze of boulders, chimneys, cracks, and ledges to the summit of the mountain. We free climbed the whole way, but it was some of the scariest, most technical climbing I’ve experienced and would rate it with Capitol Peak in Colorado and The Grand Teton.

Rob getting ready for the first pitch

Rob getting ready for the first pitch

Our leader and route finder, Rob, free climbs a section on Granite Peak

Our leader and route finder, Rob, free climbs a section on Granite Peak

Our crew on the summit

Our crew on the summit

Looking sout from Granite Peak's summit towards Yellowstone National Park.

Looking sout from Granite Peak's summit towards Yellowstone National Park.

After a nice break and snack on the summit of Montana’s highest point we began the first of five rappels to get off of the mountain. This was nice because rappelling is relatively easy and you get to just hang out and enjoy the view while you wait for others to rappel down.

Rob on the first Rappel

Rob on the first Rappel

Rob takes a break on the way down.

Rob takes a break on the way down.

Chris Gold takes in the beauty of the Beartooths and Northern Absarokas

Chris Gold takes in the beauty of the Beartooths and Northern Absarokas

Rob on rappel

Rob on rappel

After the rappels came perhaps the biggest challenge of the trip. Our plan was to hike down to Avalanche Lake and camp on the western shore. However, the scree below Granite Glacier was perhaps the worst scree-field I have ever experienced. It took probably two hours to go half a mile where we camped on the eastern edge of Avalanche Lake. That night winds were extremely strong gusting perhaps 50-65 mph, and at one point my tent was blown completely flat by the winds and my tent poles paid the price.

Venus sets over Granite Peak, not a bad way to spend my 25th birthday.

Venus sets over Granite Peak, not a bad way to spend my 25th birthday.

I slept under the stars that night and slept relatively well. I awoke to the sunrising on Granite Peak and enjoyed the spectacular morning in my sleeping bag.

After sleeping under the stars, this is what I awoke to.

After sleeping under the stars, this is what I awoke to.

We started hiking early and “enjoyed” many more miles of scree. At least the views weren’t bad.

Nonstop beauty on the way out.

Nonstop beauty on the way out.

A little oasis we found.  This lake was not on any maps we looked at, but is beautiful and was a great spot to rest a little bit.

A little oasis we found. This lake was not on any maps we looked at, but is beautiful and was a great spot to rest a little bit.

A poor attempt at black and white of a creek just below treeline.

A poor attempt at black and white of a creek just below treeline.

We bypassed some lakes by cutting a corner but ended up dealing with some steep scrambling. We bushwhacked our way through thick forest along Huckleberry Creek and around several lakes before emerging at Mystic Lake.

The Hague towers above Mystic Lake

The Hague towers above Mystic Lake

Rob and Michael are stoked to be back at Mystic Lake

Rob and Michael are stoked to be back at Mystic Lake

We made the hike out fairly quickly enjoying the scenery and the smooth trail. Interestingly, Mystic Lake is also a reservoir that powers a hydroelectric turbine at the West Rosebud Creek trailhead. The system was built over two years and was completed in 1924. Quite an amazing feat for the 1920s, especially the tram, as I have never scene anything like it.

Hydro-power pipeline from Mystic Lake

Hydro-power pipeline from Mystic Lake

The pipeline drops down to a turbine at the trailhead.  Pretty impressive feat for the 1920s, especially the tram that runs all the way to Mystic Lake.

The pipeline drops down to a turbine at the trailhead. Pretty impressive feat for the 1920s, especially the tram that runs all the way to Mystic Lake.

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6 Responses to Montana’s Highest Point – Granite Peak (12,799′)

  1. Tnelson says:

    Hey, I found your blog in a new directory of blogs. I dont know how your blog came up, must have been a typo, anyway cool blog, I bookmarked you. 🙂

  2. samh says:

    Fixed line on the snow bridge: sketch!

  3. Pingback: Return to the Begining « Jon Jay's Travels

  4. Pingback: Return to the Beginning « Jon Jay's Travels

  5. Greeneyes Stephenson says:

    I used to live in one of those little houses next to the powerhouse back in the 1950’s. My dad worked for the Montana Power Company. Our house is no longer there, but we got to go back there about 10 years ago and it still stood. The caretakers let us go through it before they tore it down. That was an awesome place to live as a child. We were there until I was in the 3rd grade. I would not trade that memory for any other place to grow up in. We saw every kind of wildlife you would ever hope to see, up front and personal. It was a hard life, nothing came easy. We were not able to go to town our cars could not make it. So we only had a road-grader to get us out in case of emergency. That part was not fun, but the rest of it was. Snow 9 months of the year. Our phone was a big wooden box on the wall, and our phone number was three longs and a short. You had to wind the crank to get ahold of our neighbors, we only had 6 kids in the little school, and my brother and I was two of those kids. It was awesome, thanks for renewing my memories, I am glad someone got to enjoy the beauty that God made with his hands. It is truly awesome to behold.
    Good luck on your adventures.
    Greeneyes

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