Ascent of Granite Peak on 2008-08-02

Climber: Ben Lostracco

Others in Party:guides Nate and Kathryn
plus Doug
Date:Saturday, August 2, 2008
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Granite Peak
    Elevation:12799 ft / 3901 m

Ascent Trip Report

Today I can confirm that "Third time is a charm". I finally SUMMITTED GRANITE PEAK, ELEV 12799', Montana's highest point and MY 48TH CONTIGUOUS HIGHPOINT, after 2 earlier failed attempts. This was not only my 48th but the most difficult exposed rock scramble/climb of all the contiguous highpoints and the only highpoint that I had to repeat, all the others were summitted on the first try.

I arrived here - the Abasaroka/Beartooth Wilderness, W Rosebud Valley, Emerald Lake Canpground, 2 miles below the Mystic Lake Electric Power Plant - on the 25th of July. I did 4 acclimatization climbs before starting out for the summit attempt.
I had signed up with JHMG for a 4 day Group Climb with 3 other Highpointers - Doug Urban (WI), Tim Starr (CO) and Jeffrey Doerschler (CT). The guides I would find out were Nate Opp and Kathryn Hess - I was expecting just one guide. We got together to share the cost of two porters for two days. They would carry all the camp gear provided by JHMG (4 tents,stoves and fuel, cooking pots and food) up to Camp 1 & 2. We would all share the load on the way down.

I want to note here that in this report it is not my intention to provide the reader with the exact lapsed times or to describe the fine details of the route - there are many good guide books/reports out there for that reason. This is a general outline of my experience.

DAY #1 - We met at the W Rosebud TH at the Electric Power Plant on July 31st at 8h00 hrs. After getting acquainted, the gear distributed to the porters and the guides checking out our gear to ensure all was ok, WE LEFT THE TH PARKING, ELEV 6558, AT 9H15 HRS. I estimated my pack at 35 lbs.
We followed the W Rosebud Trail up to the Mystic Lake Dam, elev 7800', where we picked up the Phantom Creek Trail, with its famous 26 long switchbacks up the N slope of the FROZE TO DEATH(FTD) PLATEAU. Once on the Plateau a CAMPSITE about a half mile SW of the saddle was chosen, ELEV 10300'. We had put in abt 7 miles in 5 1/2 hrs.
A number of large puddles of water from a recent melted snowfield would be our water source. We filtered the water. Ground squirrels are real problem at this site, they chew into your gear, we had to continuously be aware of their whereabouts. Brandon, one of the porters, was throwing rocks at them all night long.

DAY #2 - Yesterday Aug 1st was a short 3 3/4 hr day. We hiked SW Xcountry over the undulating Plateau at a slow pace, the odd cairn leading the way. The guides followed a line much higher than the cairns, the terrain here was mostly loose rock/boulders/slabs, lot of rock hopping and unsafe footing. I lost my balance a few times. I didn't think that this route was much better than the Huckleberry route and at the end of the hike I informed the guides of my opinion (on the return we would follow the line of the cairn, much less rock and much safer).
HIGH CAMP WAS SET UP BY 13H30 HRS, at a campsite located between the FTD Mountain/Tempest Mountain, ELEV 11700'. The awesome rocky top of Granite Peak could be seen in the distance above the highest point of the FTD, a number of other campsites it this area, U-shaped rock walls about 2-3 ft high acted as the tents wind break. Once the tents were all set up the porters descended to the TH parking, their job was finished. We would carry the gear back down.
A herd of about 10 goats visited us from time to time, looking for nourishment, they like the urines salty taste. They dont cause any problems, not like the ground squirrels. Our water source was at the bottom of a large snow field, about 150 meters down a steep slope, S side of the FTD plateau. I filtered my water, some of the others didn't. It was fairly windy all PM. Everyone tried to relax.
After dinner Nate and Kathryn briefed the group on today's summit day. They'll have breakfast ready at 5AM, we will leave at 6AM.
An EXECEPTIONALLY STRONG WIND flapped the tents as we laid down for the evening.

DAY #3 SUMMIT DAY - I hardly slept last night, noisy tent and preoccupied thoughts. I slowly started to get ready at 4 oclock, the wind still very strong, a few drops of rain. Didn't look good.
Just before 5 oclock Kathryn informs us "ITS A NO-GO", we'll have to sit around and see what happens. F..., not again ! ! ! I was not a happy camper ! ! ! another failed attempt ! !! Jeff had been telling me that he is bad luck as he has failed on a number of climbs ! ! ! I kept telling him to be positive and that we will make it, however at this point it looked as if he was right ! ! !
By 6 oclock the winds had subsided somewhat and the fast moving clouds partly cleared the skies, a major improvement from an hour ago. Kathryn informs us "ITS A GO". We rushed breakfast, and LEFT CAMP AT 6H45 HRS, only 45 min behind the original plan ! ! ! all right ! ! !
We continued on a SW line on the FTD PLATEAU TO ITS HIGHEST POINT, JUST N OF TEMPEST MTN, AT ABOUT 12000' (location of the last available campsite). Here we got our first view of the challenge that lay ahead, the rocky range of Granite Peak with its East Ridge and the vertical N wall, a spectacular site.
Continuing SW we traversed a long rocky/scree slope DOWN TO THE SADDLE, between Tempest/Granite Mtns, AT ABOUT 11500'. We regrouped here before starting the climb up the long East Ridge, an exposed class 3 rock scramble. Staying to the left of the Ridge (South face) we followed a faint climber users trail to the top of the Ridge and our first obstacle, THE SNOWBRIDGE AT ABOUT 12300'. I had to take a number of granny breaks to here.
WE ROPED UP before crossing the snowbridge, Nate had Doug, Tim and Jeff and I with Kathryn. I guess they judged me the weakest, requiring the most attention - which was the case on the climbs, I huffed and puffed and required granny breaks. From here on the guides belayed us at all times.
We crossed the snowbridge on a slight descent, to the base of the first chimney. We ascended 3 fairly vertical chimneys, exposed rock scramble, to the top of a short ridge then down to a depression/gully section. Another chimney scramble brings you to a notch. The climbing moves to here are class 3 & 4 with short sections a bit more difficult. The route has evidence of use and was easily followed by the guides, it could be another matter for novices. Very little wind, partly open skies, a beautifull climbing day.
From the notch the route finding/climbing gets a more difficult. We continued to climb by traversing in different directions, always following the line of the least difficulty, the odd cairn helped to lead the way. We scrambled up some exposed class 4+ chimneys/faces, finally reaching exposed class 3 scramble to the summit.
I had no technical problems with the climb, I felt strong and confortable thruout the climb - no question that Kathryn's belay thruout the climb secured my moves. I saw a number of climbers ascend/descend without a belay. To my way of thinking they are an accident in waiting - no matter how technically strong they are. Why not be safe when you can ?
I shouted "YES" AS WE SUMMITTED GRANITE PEAK, ELEV 12799' AT 11H45 HRS, after a 5 hr climb, extremely pleased with MY 48TH CONTIGUOUS HIGHPOINT. Doug, Tim and Jeff felt the same, we all congratulated each other, I hugged Nate and Kathryn.
An awesome small summit, the actual summit is a a 4x8 flat rock slab. The 360 degree panorama with all its rocky spires and its lakes/tarns down below is spectacular, I loved it. We had a beautifull day, hardly any wind. Other groups ascended/descended as we had our lunch break. We took a group photo.
After a 3/4 hr break WE DESCENDED VIA THE SAME ROUTE, down climbing or being lowered in the longer chimney drops, much faster. Kathryn and Nate were again super, wouldn't allow us to descend without a belay, even when down climbing.
Once we crossed the snowbridge we did away with the ropes, descended the East Ridge to the Saddle and traversed back up the rocky/scree slope to the FTD Plateau highpoint. We took a break before descending SAFELY TO OUR HIGH CAMP AT 16H15 HRS. Feeling great, pleased and not at all too tired after a 9 1/2 hr day, although I wanted to lay down and enjoy the horizontal position. Poor Nate and Kathryn had to prepare dinner.

DAY #4 - Tomorrow Aug 3, 8h15 hrs, we would BREAK CAMP AND START OUR DESCENT down the undulating FTD Plateau to the Phantom Creek Trail at the N saddle, we followed the cairns for a much better/safer footing. We shed our warm clothes, I followed Jeff down the PHANTOM CREEK TRAIL, the others bringing up the rear (the reverse was the case on the way up). After a short BREAK AT MYSTIC LAKE, where we met another JHMG group on their way up, we continued with the rest of the descent to W ROSEBUD TH PARKING, ARRIVING AT 13H30 HRS after an 5 1/4 hr descent (the climb up to high camp took 9 1/4 hrs).
Tim provided beers for everyone, we exchanged email addresses and promised to share photos, said our goodbyes and drove out of W Rosebud Valley for the last time. At the first village "Fishtail" I called my wife Rose with the good news.

I want to note that we had a great group led by our very competent, hard working guides, Nate and Kathryn. Doug, Tim and Jeff are great people/team mates. For the second time I am very satisfied with the services and competence provided by JHMG.

I brought back 3 small pieces of granite from the summit of Granite Peak. I will give one to each of my children's family with the challenge "to return it to the summit".

Click on photo for original larger-size version.
Montana's apex, Granite Peak, from the Froze-to-Death plateau (2008-08-02). Photo by Ben Lostracco.
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:2099 ft / 639 m
    Extra Gain:500 ft / 152 m
    Distance:5 mi / 8 km
    Route:exposed scramble up E ridge/summit, hpt #48
    Trailhead:campsite at S End FTD Plateau  11700 ft / 3566 m
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Open Country, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
    Gear Used:
Rope, Guide, Tent Camp
    Weather:Pleasant, Windy, Partly Cloudy

Other Photos

Click on photo for original larger-size version.
Celebrating on the summit of Granite Peak (2008-08-02). Photo by Ben Lostracco.
Click here for larger-size photo.

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