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Ascent of Granite Peak on 2014-08-27

Climber: Craig Willis

Others in Party:Joel & Alison Schenk
Kevin O'Laughlin
Date:Wednesday, August 27, 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

This trip represented my completion of the State Highpoints in the Contiguous USA (Lower 48 States). We had a good team and good weather. At least 12-18" of snow had dumped on the mountain within the week leading up to the climb. The morning had icy sections but only a few hours later there were waterfalls and icefall where the ice had been. We even had to chip out a rope buried under ice. I liked the route ("Southwest Ramp") and would recommend it to anyone wanting to attempt the peak... but was uncomfortable with the current conditions (ice & snow breaking away). Still, I never quit and I gradually gained trust in my partners, none of whom I had ever hiked/climbed with prior to this trip.

It seems poetic that my last State Highpoint trip in the Contiguous USA would end like the first one... with me being injured. But unlike that first one, this trip I had great partners who rose to the occasion and really helped me out. During late afternoon on summit day, I laid down in my tent, immediately fell asleep, and soon started coughing. As the night progressed, the coughing became more prevalent. By morning, I had forced myself to spit up phlegm several times to clear my lungs. I likely woke up my climbing partners throughout the night. Joel noticed that the skin under each eye was very puffy. I would occasionally have a slight headache.

This was my first time getting AMS (acute mountain sickness). I never asked for any help but my partners each told me they would take some of my gear weight and I had no say in the matter. They wanted to help me get to a safer elevation because we were camped at 10500' and would be above 10000' for at least several miles. The hike out was a grind for me. My body felt strong yet my efforts at times left me breathless. For the first half of the route from camp, I really struggled to move any distances before taking short breaks to catch my breath. My lungs were congested and my partners kept asking what the congestion looked like when I spit it out; fortunately, it was still only "regular" phlegm color and not foamy or bloody.

My partners kept telling me to keep moving but my body was not allowing me to do so for any great lengths. Every time there was an uphill section, even for a few feet, it was difficult for me to walk before needing to stop and catch my breath again. Several times, I would stop and sit down, only to find myself nodding off. I was very embarassed and apologetic to my partners for the situation; I am certain it was frustrating for them to deal with. About 1/3 of the way back, we encountered a solo hiker ("Eric") also heading back to the same trailhead; Eric and Alison got me to finally do rhythmic breathing routine of exhaling with every right foot step. This breathing pattern really helped with my hiking, overall. With Eric and Alison hiking out with me, Joel and Kevin went ahead. Then, during the last mile, Joel came back and took my backpack to try to help me hike easier. Personally, I did not think the pack weight (or lack thereof) was a hindrance to my progress but my team was not going to take that chance. All things considered, I got back to the trailhead from camp averaging one mile per hour... my slowest hiking ever for a mostly non-snowy trail.

By the time we reached the trailhead, I was feeling better. The headaches had disappeared and the lung congestion was seemingly minimal. I felt better the further west I drove, losing elevation along the way. I was able to drive all the way to Livingston and stayed at a hotel that evening. All things considered, the main thing is that all of the team made it up and down the mountain safely. I would recommend these partners to anyone and I am very appreciative of their support and encouragement during what was an unfortunate and unexpected ordeal. Granite Peak is a great mountain... but I am glad I do not need to go back.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:5449 ft / 1660 m
    Extra Gain:700 ft / 213 m
    Distance:26 mi / 41.8 km
    Route:Southwest Ramp
    Trailhead:Lady of the Lake TH  8750 ft / 2667 m
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Stream Ford, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Rope, Ski Poles, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:2 nights away from roads
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Partly Cloudy



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