Saturday, July 21, 2012

Granite Peak, Montana

Granite Peak from near the top of Tempest Peak in the Beartooth Range.

Known as the most technical of the state high-points, Granite Peak stands out for a number of reasons: remoteness, rock quality, scenery (on the drive, approach and from the summit), ruggedness and... spiders (more on that later).

I wanted to climb Granite in a day to assess the terrain, route, difficulty and conditions. Guidebook author Tom Turiano's words still ring in my ears "interminable boulders." And yes, boulder hopping was what I did for what seems like most of the day, both up and down.

Mystic Lake greeted my dawn 3 miles up the trail, with it's all too impressive over-the-brink dam.

The lake was quiet further on, and the going easy on the maintained trail. Ease was not to be the word of the day from the moment I headed up the Huckleberry drainage on a faint and wandering, sometimes choked climbers' trail. Following a series of difficult near-bushwhacks and boulder-hops, from lake to lake, climbing 500 to 1000 feet between each, I finally wrapped around the corner enough to see my ultimate destination. Here, the boulder hopping would begin in earnest, and continue for hours on end, taking me around the east (right) shore of Avalanche Lake, pictured below. After the lakeshore boulder hopping, if it looks like a long way over loose rock to the head of the drainage, well, it is.

One funny thing about traveling through boulders in this part of Montana is that spiders seem to thrive, and they build these massive webs from a 'high line' sometimes spanning 8-10 feet between high points on boulders. Somewhere in the middle the spider would have build the classic spiral 'net' to catch its meals, and she would lie in wait in the center, often setting her web to vibrate as I stepped on nearby rocks (a web-preservation maneuver?).

At first, due to the inherent 'ick' factor, as well as some small consideration for the creature's hard work, I avoided these webs, but sometimes I wouldn't see them until it was too late, or they were practically unavoidable. So I gave in to practicality and simply crashed through them. Given that there were webs between virtually every rock, unless I was rock-hopping on the tops, I'd find webs virtually every step of the way. In this fashion, I must have crashed through a few hundred spider webs in one day.

 There were virtually no bugs down low, but as I got up to the middle elevations, around 8500-10000 ft, there were swarms of mosquitoes that would leap off of the vegetation and launch in my general direction, just as soon as I passed by. Fortunately these were the dumb and slow variety, so simply picking up my pace allowed me to 'get away.'  In this fashion, I think I avoided bug bites all day.

I also fancied I trailed a few bugs into spider webs, hopefully in reparation for the damage to the webs.

At the top of the Huckleberry drainage, scrambling and climbing began in earnest. The route to the summit has about 4 minor cruxes and one major one, a climb of about 50 feet. It was all very do-able, and fun to boot.

Sharing the summit with me here is Clara's pet finger puppet, Pekka the Pika.

Despite the presence of a fair bit of loose rock, the rock that was in place was very solid. Every time you needed a hold, there was one waiting. You just had to find it. And when you did, you had a solid hold. Despite vigorous testing, I found no rocks willing to part with their mountain.

The boulders were similarly solid. While occasionally misjudging a rock's stability is par for the course, there were very few rocks or boulders that shifted underfoot, leading me to theorize that weathering 'locks the rocks in place' as water stays longer where rocks contact each other.

On my way down from the summit, I encountered a mother goat and kid, both very good climbers, despite the lack of modern equipment. While scampering apparently unphased by the massive exposure, I continued to move cautiously, albeit inspired by the natives.

Salt-starved Froze-to-Death mountain goats, looking for some of my pee to lick up, saying, 'While you're at it, got some for the 'kids'?'

On my way out, I took the Froz-to-Death Plateau route, a broad, flat-ish expanse between 10,000 and 11,000 ft. It may have been well marked at one time, but wind, snow, and weather must have conspired to leave it largely unmarked. Still I found a reasonable descent route and got back to the Mystic overlook in time for some sunset tranquility, and back to the car before dark.

In all, I covered 6242 ft. and 24 miles in 16 hours, and my muscles and joints will attest to it, at least for a couple of days ; ).


  1. Wow! A recon trip for our adventure in late August? How cool. I hope you didn't level out a few hundred yards of boulders, I want to experience all the pain. Great report, thanks for sharing. Looking forward to the adventure and summit in August. Matt W.

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