Resembling a huge, jagged meat cleaver, this rugged and remote peak, Montana's highest, is one of the most difficult of the state highpoints to climb. Besides some talus-strewn class 3 and 4 climbing, Granite Peak is
notorious for the brutal thunderstorms that lash its slopes with predictable monotony on summer afternoons. Lack of a good high camp, a horrible access road, a short but dangerous ridge of snow, and lots of rotten rock are other
factors making even the easiest route on this monster a real adventure.
The most common approach to Granite Peak is from the West Rosebud trailhead, at the end of a long, dusty, washboarded road beginning near Fishtail, MT. A good trail leads uphill a few miles to Mystic Lake and its
hydroelectric dam, a popular destination for fishermen. From the east shore of the lake another trail leads steeply uphill to a notch at the northern end of the barren, rock-strewn plateau of Froze-to-Death Mountain. This low notch can also be reached from the East Rosebud trailhead, but the distance and elevation gain are both greater.
From the notch, an infrequently-cairned route leads south and southwest across the desolate, wind-swept expanse of the plateau. The actual summit of Froze-to-Death Mountain (11,765') is off to the right. The eventual goal is a fairly prominent "gateway", a small notch on the side of the plateau where the route leaves the rolling surface and starts to slab down towards Granite Peak itself. The Peak is visible for the first time from the "gateway". If the sight of this monster's sheer north face and the inevitable thunderstorm have dissuaded you at this point, you can stroll south to Tempest Mountain (12,478'), the high point of the plateau.
An exceptional party could perhaps make Granite a day hike, but it's best to seek shelter from the afternoon storms by pitching a tent before you get to the "gateway"--there are some rough stone walls that offer some
protection from the incessant wind. Just watch out for lightning strikes on the flat, exposed plateau.
From the gateway, follow a rough path slabbing down to the col between the plateau and Granite Peak. From there ascend about 800' up a triangular slope of steep, blocky talus to near its top, where you will be near the incredibly jagged crest of Granite's east summit ridge. The idea is to stay to the south of the ridge, as close to the crest as possible, crossing over several rock ribs and avoiding falling to your death by slipping on all the loose rock. The only really hairy part of this section is where the route actually goes along the ridge for ten feet at a narrow saddle. There's quite a drop-off on both sides, and if the saddle is snow-covered, a belay and an ice-axe are strongly advised--presence of snow is a factor of snowpack depth and season, but I think that by mid-August in most years the snow is gone.
Eventually the route leads you to a point about 75' below the summit. It looks pretty sheer from there, and good rock climbers may want to try the chimney that leads directly up to the top. The easiest route winds around to the right (as you look up), and it involves hanging on to a big crack on a short traverse. Confident scramblers shouldn't have any problems, but the timid may want a rope. Once past the lower parts, a minute of easy rock-
hopping brings you to the summit of Montana.
The summit naturally offers a fantastic view of the desolate high tablelands of the wild Beartooth-Absoroka wilderness, but you shouldn't tarry too long--thunderstorms are often on their way, and its best to be back on the Froze-to-Death plateau by 1 PM or so. Granite Peak itself, with it's steep sections of loose rock, is no place to be when it gets wet or the lightning bolts are flying. A strong party should be able to make it back to their cars after summiting in the morning, but everyone should at least try to get down to Mystic Lake to avoid another hellish night on the windswept plateau.
There are other approach routes: You can reach the Granite-plateau col from the brushy Huckleberry Valley to the north, or via a long overland haul from Cooke City. Either way, the route from the col along the summit ridge is the same, unless you want some serious rock-climbing challenge on the much more jagged east ridge or the sheer north face. This face features a constant rain of rockfall cascading down to the small glacier at its feet.