Half of the 353-degree panorama (approximately East to South to WSW).
July 13, 2003.
Photo by Paul Klenke
Granite Peak is the highest point in Montana and is considered one of the most difficult highpoints in the lower 48 states. Located in the Beartooth Range in the Rockies, Granite Peak lives up to it’s name as a large chunk of granite towering over the southern Rockies of Montana. Climbing Granite Peak is a time consuming endeavor which should not be taken lightly. Although climbing Granite as a day hike is possible, most climb it as an overnighter using a high camp. The standard route to the summit involves a strenuous 10 -12 mile, 6300 ft, hike followed by sections of exposed class 3 and 4 rock climbing. This mountain is not recommended for the novice peak bagger and novices should gain experience on less challenging peaks before tackling Granite. Although people climb Granite Peak without a rope, the exposure on the final 200 ft. of the summit block dictates that most at least use a rope for the descent. If not comfortable with extreme exposure, a rope, harness, slings, and a rappel device is highly recommended.
Climbing History of Granite PeakGranite Peak’s first ascent was made by Elers Koch on August 29, 1923 after several failed attempts by others. It was the last of the state highpoints to be climbed.
First Women Reaches Summit in 1947: Miriam Underhill was the first women to climb to the top of Granite Peak. Mariam was a pioneer for women montaineers. She was born in 1900 and made the FIRST traverse of the Grepon led by a woman and made the FIRST complete traverse of the Aiguille du Diable. In 1927 in the Torre Grande in the Dolomites she pioneered what became known as the Via Miriam. She made many climbs without men and in 1931 climbed the Jungfrau.
Register Box Placed at top in 1964: A year after James Whitman passed away the Forest Service placed a register box on top of Granite Peak. James was an employee of the Forest Service and was a member of the first group of climbers to reach the summit during the 1923 attempt. His initials were engraved into the top of the box.
Youngest to reach the Summit, 9 years old: In August 2012, 9 year-old Gavin Morgan of Billings climbed to the summit by the standard route. (Photo submitted) Congratulations Gavin!
This information courtesy of and written by Gordon Aycock (edited by Alan Ellis 9-10-12)
Here is a recent on-line article from the Helena Independent Record newspaper about rescue history and accidents on Granite Peak. Link provided by SP member Alpinist.
Newspaper Article of First Ascent Dated September 1, 1923
Photos of newspaper article courtesy of Gordon Aycock and the Billings Gazette
Getting ThereOther than a few corrections, most of this information in this section is quoted directly from the U.S. Forest Service Granite Peak site.
There are two trailheads from which embark for a trek to Granite Peak's South Face via East Ridge (Standard Route), the West Rosebud and East Rosebud trailheads. West Rosebud is the most popular approach, slighter shorter, and gains less in elevation than the East Rosebud route. From the East Rosebud Trailhead, climbers can use the Phantom Creek Trail #17 to reach Froze-to-Death Plateau, and the base of Tempest Mountain, a common spot used for basecamp. From the West Rosebud Trailhead, climbers can either reach the Froze-to-Death Plateau by traveling up Phantom Creek Trail where it meets Mystic Lake, or up the Huckleberry Creek drainage, located at the far western end of Mystic Lake.
EAST ROSEBUD TRAILHEAD
The East Rosebud Valley is one of the most scenic in the Beartooths, filled with lakes, streams and waterfalls. The trailhead has a campground, toilet facilities, and a large parking area where climbers can leave their vehicles.
To reach the trailhead, take the Columbus exit from Interstate 90, and take Montana Highway 78 south 29 miles to Roscoe. From the north of Roscoe, the pavement runs out, and at approximately 7 miles crosses the East Rosebud Creek. After the bridge, take a right at the fork in the road, and continue another 7.5 miles to the East Rosebud trailhead (14.5 miles total from Roscoe).
East Rosebud Approach Sept 2007 Update: East Rosebud trailhead has been split into 3 lots, the new trailhead for Phantom Creek Trail has parking for 10 cars (more in area or at old trailhead) and no toilet. It is correctly shown on the USGS map near 45° 12.5'N, 109° 38.6'W. East Rosebud Campground is now $9, Jimmy Joe free but closes after Labor Day, Sand Dunes picnic only. There is excellent camping at a meadow at about 8700' on Phantom Creek Trail with water about .1 mi away in large brook, also lovely meadows just below treeline but no obvious water source in fall. (Courtesy of royswkr)
There are three trails at the East Rosebud trailhead. Follow trail #17, the Phantom Creek Trail, which begins on the west side of the road. This trail gains about 3,900 feet in just over 7 miles to the saddle between Prairie View Mountain and Froze to Death Mountain. This is the point of departure from Phantom Creek Trail #17 to the Froze-to-Death plateau approach to Granite Peak (see below for details on the Froze-to-Death Plateau route to basecamp). See the left side-bar for the comprehensive route description which starts from the saddle between Tempest Mountain and Granite Peak.
The West Rosebud Trailhead is located approximately 80 miles southwest of Billings. To reach the trailhead, take the Columbus exit from Interstate 90, and take Montana Highway 78 through Absaroka and turn west (right) toward Fishtail (approximately 17 miles from Columbus).
From Fishtail, drive west and south for 1 mile, turn south (left) on West Rosebud Road. Follow this paved road for 6.3 miles until reaching a fork in the road and a large brown Forest Service sign. The sign will indicate West Rosebud Lake Road #72. Turn left here and follow the dirt road for 14 miles until reaching the trailhead. The trailhead has toilet facilities, and a parking area where climbers can leave their cars.
The trail actually begins up the road about 200 yards, and is reached by walking through the Montana Power Company facilities where the trailhead is clearly marked with a Forest Service sign. From there, the trail leads toward Mystic Lake (7637 ft.), one of the most popular day hikes on the Custer National Forest. The trail is relatively flat for about the first two miles, leading to switchbacks that eventually bring the hiker to a point looking over Mystic Lake Dam. The total elevation gain is about 1,200 feet over 3 miles. Once at the dam overlook, descend down to Mystic Lake and continue hiking for a half mile (0.5 miles) until reaching an intersection for the Phantom Creek Trail #17 branching to the left (south). There is a new sign at the intersection. Follow this trail up through the switchbacks until reaching a huge cairn above treeline. Just past the cairn, leave the trail to the south and head uphill to the plateau. Once on the plateau you will see cairns in the distance heading southwest.
UPDATE 7/17/11: As of 7/16/11, the road coming up from West Rosebud is closed from Emerald Lake to the Montana State Power Plant, due to a wash out situation of the road and flooding from all the run-off, adding 2.5 miles each way to the hike. So hikers must camp and park at Emerald Lake. (Info thanks to kteichert)
APPROACHES TO GRANITE PEAK
There are basically two approaches to a suitable basecamp from which to launch a bid for the summit of Granite Peak; either across the subalpine meadows and boulder fields of Froze-to-Death Plateau (10,500 to 12,000 ft.) to the base of Tempest Mountain; or up the Huckleberry Creek drainage to the col between Tempest Mountain and Granite Peak, near Avalanche Lake (10,000 ft.). Opinions vary, but Huckleberry Creek seems to be the more treacherous route, requiring navigation across massive boulder fields which rise steeply toward the base of Granite Peak. However, the route up from Mystic Lake to the saddle between Froze-to-Death and Prairie View Mountains is also known as "The Switchbacks from Hell," (26 in all) by hikers familiar with the steep hike out of the Mystic Lake basin, which rises from 7637 foot Mystic Lake to the 10,000 foot saddle between the two mountains in less than three miles.
FROZE-TO-DEATH PLATEAU: Whether coming from the East Rosebud side of Phantom Creek Trail, or from the west via Mystic Lake, the jumping off point from Phantom Creek Trail is the same: the saddle between Froze-to-Death and Prairie View Mountains (10,000 ft.). Anyone attempting either of these routes should ensure they have a copy of the USGS Granite Peak Quadrangle map.
Navigation across the plateau can be very difficult, even for experienced backcountry travelers. The proliferation of rock cairns across the plateau can make it very confusing for hikers. DO NOT RELY ON THE CAIRNS to find your way across Froze-to-Death Plateau. Route-finding and compass skills are ESSENTIAL for navigation across this route.
The basic route leads southwest from the saddle, around the north side of Froze-to-Death mountain. Although the plateau is relatively level, there is plenty of scrambling over glacial moraine, and depending on the time of year, ice fields which require crossing.
The goal of most climbers is an 11,600 area to the west of Tempest Mountain. There are a few relatively flat areas which are clear of boulders and make a suitable, if not particularly comfortable, basecamp This area is delicate Wilderness habitat, so please pay strict attention to minimum impact camping ethics.
From the Tempest Mountain basecamp, a climbing trail leads down the south side of Tempest to the col between Tempest and Granite. From here, one can see the climbing trail which leads up the knife-edged route toward the summit. Please note, it is a good idea to stock up on water, as availability on the Plateau is limited to run-off from snowfields. There is often no water to be found once near the col, or on the actual climbing trail. See the left side-bar for the comprehensive route description which starts from the saddle between Tempest Mountain and Granite Peak. Also, here is a link to a map of the route across Froze-to-Death Plateau.
HUCKLEBERRY CREEK/AVALANCHE LAKE APPROACH: Click here or the route sidebar for a comprehensive approach description via Huckleberry Creek. Courtesy of Matt (the fargoan).
Also see the left side-bar for the comprehensive route description which starts from the saddle between Tempest Mountain and Granite Peak.
Check out this link for great virtual maps of the Huckleberry Creek/Avalanche Lake approach complete with photos and maps.
Approach and Trailhead for the Southern Route: From Cooke City, drive east 2 miles, turn north onto Lulu Pass Road. Go 2.5 miles (mostly gravel) to a short road off to the right. Turn off, cross a creek and park your vehicle. This is the trailhead. Courtesy of Larry Versaw.
Red TapeGranite Peak is located in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Custer National Forest, Beartooth Ranger District. No fees are required to climb, hike, or camp. You must have a permit to cut live trees for firewood. No mechanized vehicles allowed in the wilderness area. Beartooth Ranger Station in Red Lodge (406) 446-2103.
When To ClimbSummer climbing season is short in Montana. Late July through early September are the months that are most snow-free. However, expect some snow on the mountain any time of the year. Expect any type of weather any time of the year. Violent thunderstorms are a common daily occurance. Get an early start to avoid afternoon thunderstorms. Storms develop very fast and tend to come from the south or west.
There are several Forest Service campgrounds near the trailheads. East Rosebud has three campgrounds with 34 sites. East Rosebud has water and an $8.00/night fee (May - Sept). Before reaching West Rosebud trailhead, there are two campgrounds with 78 sites, water, and an $8.00/night fee (May - Sept).
There are several places to set up base camps. The top of the switchbacks have some potential camp/bivy spots but are exposed to storms and wind. The base of Tempest Mountain is another good base camp site. There are a few clusters of rock shelters on the plateau including west of point 11,792, and just before leaving the plateau down to the Tempest/Granite saddle. Water is sometimes available in the afternoons from snow-melt from fields at some sites up on the plateau, on the N/NE face of Tempest, and from a field left of the ridgeline between the Tempest/Granite saddle and the snow-bridge.
On the upper part of the route, rock fall is very common. A helmet is recommended for the section beginning between Granite and Tempest before the first ridge climb and the snow bridge. Once on the rock section of the upper route, a snow bridge exists on the south side of Granite. This is a year-round snow bridge which varies in size and shape depending on the year. An ice axe is recommended for this section. Call the Beartooth Ranger Station at (406) 446-2103 for latest conditions. Check here for latest weather conditons.
- Granite Peak Summit - Success! (7/29/03)
- A Climb of Granite Peak: August 2003
Join Eric, Martin Cash, Mishell, and Alan Ellis for a climb of Granite Peak. Complete with photos and route description.
- TerraTopo Maps
Check out these 3D maps of the Avalanche Lake approach.
- Guidebook: Select Peaks of the Greater Yellowstone Area
This is a new guidebook which features Granite Peak.
- Granite Peak Climbing Guide and Map
New climbing guide and map for climbing Granite Peak (August 2006).
- www.Friendsof Granite.com
Route photos and information.