I made plans to climb Granite Peak in September 2010 with SP member GaryPJ almost a year in advance, and as Labor Day weekend approached, we added my friends Terry and Jan as climbing partners for the trip. Jan and I were fresh off of our conquest of Gannett Peak a few weeks earlier, and I was excited to have a go at my second state highpoint. Gary had attempted Granite once before, and had had an unpleasant experience with weather on Froze-to-Death Plateau, so we decided to attempt the peak via the Huckleberry Creek approach. Our plan was to hike in as far as possible on Friday, establish camp near Avalanche Lake on Saturday, summit early Sunday morning, and come out Sunday evening or Monday morning. We were leaving open the option of trying to summit on Saturday if the weather was good, and as the last weather forecast we got before leaving showed a system moving in on Sunday morning, we were kind of shooting for an earlier climb.
Due to work schedules, we all arrived at the trailhead at different times on Friday afternoon, and Gary and Terry got a head start on Jan and me. The hike to Mystic Lake went quickly for us, and we caught up to the other guys just past where the Froze-to-Death trail branches off of the main trail. We ate dinner at dusk and then located the climber’s trail that leads left up into the Huckleberry Creek drainage. We followed this trail up through the forest, eventually using headlamps in the increasing darkness. We hoped to find a suitable spot to camp once the trail leveled out next to the lake, but we ended up in boulder fields that were treacherous to negotiate in dark. We finally gave up trying to find a place to pitch one tent, much less two, and decided to just sleep out under the stars on a few small strips of grass right next to one of the few places where we found some semblance of a trail. It wasn’t too cold, but our bags were a little dewy and soggy the next morning.
We got an early start on Saturday and found the going much easier in the daylight, and we refilled our water at the north outlet of Island Lake. From here we had some tricky stream crossings on logs as we made our way around the east side of the lake, and we climbed up the steep slopes leading to the next small lake, after which the terrain turned to boulder hopping for the rest of the way to Avalanche Lake.
We set up camp about 11:00 at a nice spot on the north shores of the lake, and decided that since the weather still looked good, we’d have a go at the peak after a quick bite to eat.
We set out onto some of the worst boulder fields I’ve ever been on; even the car-sized ones would sometimes move when stepped on, and it was very tricky to move in some spots. While the peak looked close, it soon became apparent that given the terrain, the party’s varying levels of comfort moving over it, and a cloud system that came out of nowhere, we weren’t going to get close to the ridge, much less summit the peak. We were all back to camp by 3:00, by which time the small storm had moved through and Gary and I decided to summit the unnamed mountain next to camp.
We had an enjoyable scramble and were rewarded with spectacular views of Granite Peak and the lakes around the area. By the time we made it back to camp, another storm system had moved in, and snow had started to fall in a hurry. We had a decadent meal, which included some excellent cheesecake from a freeze-dried package!
Sunday and final thoughtsWe woke up the next morning to a little snow falling and thick clouds, which soon parted a little to reveal that Granite had received quite a bit of snow up high; we decided to admit defeat and packed up camp.
The ensuing mile of slick, wet boulders back down to the next lake confirmed that our decision to turn around was the correct one, and we made it back to Mystic Lake around midday.
Gary decided to stay by himself and camp another night and get in some R&R before heading back to civilization, while Jan, Terry, and I split up and hiked out at our own respective speeds. I was back in Powell by around 6:00, vowing to return again someday.
I definitely learned some things from this trip; if I attempt the peak again from the West Rosebud trailhead I will go by Froze-to-Death instead of Huckleberry. I know it is exposed up high and the weather is an issue, but the speed of travel in the Huckleberry drainage is just a drag, even for an experienced rock-hopper. I’m actually thinking now that I’d rather try the Southwest Couloir route, so that’s on my list for next summer. I had never been in that part of the Beartooths before this trip, and it is a stunningly beautiful place! I also learned to never assume that there will be camp sites next to a lake, especially if you are heading there in the dark. At least it was clear and the stars were nice!