Welcome to SP!  -
Southwest Couloir Route

Southwest Couloir Route

  Featured on the Front Page
Southwest Couloir Route

Page Type: Route

Location: Montana, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 45.16318°N / 109.80823°W

Object Title: Southwest Couloir Route

Route Type: Mountaineering

Season: Summer, Fall

Time Required: A few days

Rock Difficulty: Class 3

Route Quality: 
 - 5 Votes


Page By: reboyles, Matt Lemke

Created/Edited: Feb 16, 2004 / Dec 3, 2014

Object ID: 160092

Hits: 32343 

Page Score: 90.13%  - 31 Votes 

Vote: Log in to vote



Round trip distance: approx 28 miles
Elevation gain: approx 4500'
Difficulty: Class 3

We learned about this route in the Highpointers Club newsletter, 2nd quarter, 1992. Although it is less popular than the standard route, it may be an easier climb. It has been said that, "an agile dog could make it." And in fact, a dog did summit on 8/7/14, with a little help. The main danger in this route is the loose rock in the couloir that is the crux of the climb. Various family members including myself attempted the route in 1998 and 2000, but were stopped short of the summit both times by bad weather. Many thanks to various SP members who have contributed valuable information on this page, via comments or external reports. Read splattski's 2007 Trip Report here.

And don't miss Steve Eckert's excellent route page on climber.org. Steve provides detailed maps and waypoints on this Class 3 route.

Also see the 2013 discussion on the Idaho Summits forum Granite Peak car-to-car in a day?

Allow two days for round trip, plus a day to sit out bad weather if necessary. One way distance from trailhead to summit, depending on your exact route (much of this route is off-trail) is about 13-14 miles.

The entire approach is scenic and wild. It features alpine meadows bursting with flowers in the summer, extensive boulder hopping, a couple long hills, and more than one significant stream crossing. Come prepared -- it will excite you and wear you out!

NOTE: If you get off route or are careless, this route has the potential to be quite dangerous. It is not a walk-up, nor a walk in the park. The risk of rockfall is high on this route and helmets are recommended. See the comments in the Additions & Corrections section for more information.

Getting There

The Lady of the Lake Trailhead
The Lady of the Lake Trailhead

Getting to this trailhead seems to be the most difficult piece of route finding.

(Last updated September 2008, with thanks to SP member jimboa From Cooke City, drive east a little less than 2 miles, to Lulu Pass Road. The distance on Lulu Pass Road to your turnoff is about 2.3 miles. You should go straight past a large gravel quarry. Continue on the main road past several spur roads until you cross the Fisher Creek bridge (note the old mill on your right). A good landmark for parking is where the Goose Creek Jeep Trail branches off to the right. You can park here, but it is about 1/2 mile to the real trailhead.

Turn hard-right immediately after the bridge on a rough road that passes above the old mill. Continue past an old shack, and across a creek (or walk this short section). The trailhead for Lady of the Lake is well marked and there is space for parking. The trailhead is to the left.

Trailhead Access
Lulu Pass Road

The Long Approach

Lower Aero Lake
Lower Aero Lake
Southwest Couloir
Heartbreak Hill
Lady of the Lake in about two miles. Follow the good trail north, along the west side of the lake. A quarter mile past the lake, the trail veers west and then forks. Make sure you get on the right hand fork, and continue north across level ground for a mile or more. When you come to a creek crossing/junction, proceed due north up Zimmer Creek, cross it to the east, then climb the long, steep "Heartbreak Hill" until you reach Lower Aero Lake. Once at the lake, there is no longer a real trail. You can choose the north side or the south side of the lake. The north route is more direct and easier, but requires a stream crossing above the lake. The south route is slower, but features a fascinating, balanced rock along the way. Consider camping at Upper Aero Lake. Be prepared for the goats.
Southwest Couloir Approach Map
Alternate Approach Map

Continue along the south and east sides of Upper Aero Lake. Northeast of the lake, climb a few hundred feet to the saddle. Here you get your first glimpse of Granite Peak -- and an impressive peak it is from here. You cannot see the crux of your route yet, however. Cross the flat valley and hike three more miles to the base of the Peak.
Balanced Rock
Balanced Rock

Alternate approach: When you reach the creek crossing/junction, cross the creek and go downstream on a good path along Broadwater River. After about a mile, the trail turns and heads up Sky Top Creek. Follow the intermittent trail to Lone Elk Lake in about 5.5 miles. From Lone Elk, follow the open terrain into the upper basin. Pass Rough Lake on the south, then shortcut over the ridge to the north to gain Sky Top Lakes. Stay on the west side of the lakes as you rejoin the previously-described route (see the map in the Images section).

Route Description

Approach route to SW Couloir
Approaching the Couloir
Route photo
Southwest couloir route

From the valley southwest of Granite Peak, aim for the lower right corner of a massive slab on the southwest face. Scramble up the talus to the base of the slab. Traverse to the left along the base of the slab. At the left edge is a hidden couloir. Finding this couloir is the key to the route. Scramble up the couloir on the loose, steep rock, being ultra careful not to rain boulders down on your fellow climbers below. Most of the couloir is straight-forward. At the top, you will be in a steep amphitheater. Move to climber's right for the easiest terrain. When you gain the ridge, move up and watch for a traverse to the left that keeps the scrambling easy. If it's 4th class, you are off route.

Be sure to read Bobber's route detail in the comment section below.

Southwest Couloir Route from Upper Aero
Southwest Couloir Route from Upper Aero

Essential Gear

Helmet, waterproof hiking boots, rain gear, strong tent, containers to protect food from bears and goats, extra time and food to wait out the prevalent storms. Ice ax and crampons may be necessary in the couloir, depending on conditions.

Other Links

Additions and Corrections

[ Post an Addition or Correction ]
Viewing: 1-15 of 15    
jimboaSW Couloir Trailhead


Hasn't voted

The actual distance up Lulu Pass Rd. to the turn off/parking is only about 2.3 miles. A good landmark for parking is where the Goose Creek Jeep Trail branches off to the right. Park here (unless driving a 4X4) and take the hard right there to continue to the trailhead 1/2 mile further down a rough road and back across Fisher Creek. There is a well marked trailhead there for Lady of the Lake trail as well as a parking area for 4X4 vehicles.
Posted Aug 29, 2008 12:42 pm
Larry VThanks ...

Larry V

Hasn't voted

for the updated information on getting to the trailhead! I have incorporated your comments on the route page. It is confusing, and seems to have changed since I was there 10 years ago.
Posted Sep 6, 2008 5:46 pm
phattyRound Lake cuttoff


Hasn't voted

for those with 4x4 vehicle, you can continue north to round lake. about .3 miles past round lake there is a spur trail from the main road that cuts down (north easth) to the lady of the lake trail (1.3 miles i think). This would shave a few miles off the approach.
Posted Jul 3, 2013 12:46 pm
splattskiRe: Round Lake cuttoff


Voted 10/10

It's a beautiful area. Why burn gasoline and miss the experience?
Posted Jul 3, 2013 10:49 pm
ClimbingRandyRe: Round Lake cuttoff


Hasn't voted

Phatty - Have you done this approach before? Or just spyed the topo?

Anyone else?

Posted Nov 30, 2013 9:02 pm
admiralbrownRe: Round Lake cuttoff


Hasn't voted

I did Granite in August 2013 starting from the parking off Lulu Pass Road. Three day solo. Much easier than going over Froze to Death Plateau. This will become the official route for the High Pointers Club. When Don Holmes wrote his book, he got mired in snow trying this route and never mentioned this route again.

Avoid the cutoff past the Aero Lakes and instead stay to the east to Rough Lake. Keep Rough Lake on your right and take the lowest saddle to the Sky Top Lakes. Very rocky trying to hike past the the Aero Lakes. Easy trail to follow to the Sky Top Lakes, lots of people camping and fishing.

I took the Ramp up and not the Couloir, the Ramp is just to the right of the Couloir at the base of the Slab. Key note is three quarters of the way up the Ramp, you exit to the right over a saddle and follow between the Ramp and the Gash to the Summit.

Day one hike to Sky Top Lakes, day two summit, day three hike out.
Posted Apr 3, 2014 1:37 pm


Hasn't voted

The Lady of the Lake TH is just past the cutoff road that goes left to the southeast foot of Henderson Mountain. There have been many changes to this area since 2011. The Sawmill Road TH way is shut with private property/no trespassing signs. A Forest Service employee told me the Lulu Pass TH cuts 3 miles off the hike to Lady of the Lake. The new TH is a larger parking area with a well marked TH sign and new gravel surface. Too bad so much confusion is associated with this trail head. Just spotting from the Henderson foothills shows that there is still a lot of snow up there. Villard looks like it might be doable right now. Admiralbrown, have you climbed over the cutoff past Upper Aero? Anyone been up this year?
Posted Jul 16, 2014 10:11 pm
BobberIt's the Forest Service employee that is confused


Hasn't voted

The standard way in to the start of the Granite Peak trail is still there and open. There are no "No trespassing" signs. Park right there by the old cabin as usual. The Lady of the Lake is only about a mile and a half from the Lady of the Lake trail head which is about 1/2 mile below the cabin. I don't see how you can save 3 miles on a mile and a half hike. Perhaps the FS person is confusing Lulu Pass Rd which the Lady of the Lake trailhead is on with Lulu Pass. Don't start at Lulu Pass!!!!

We topped out on August 7, 2014. There were 2 of us and a dog and the dog made it to the summit. My friend did help the pup up a through the big rocks in the couloir and lowered it by rope connected to the handle on the dog pack here and there on the way down. There was the typical 2 snow/ice sections in the couloir. The lower small one was really easy and someone had left a sling to help you over the big rock at the top of that one. They cut in some real nice steps in the larger upper one and we felt pretty safe through these with no gear at all. At first we didn't see them and almost turned back because it was really difficult avoiding this one. There IS loose rock almost everywhere in the couloir so we went one at a time in those tricky places. Knocked a few loose too!

Also...When you are walking along the use trail at the bottom of the big granite slab there are 2 small gullies just past the black stain both of which lead to the main couloir. The 2nd one is easier and someone had left a rope there to help get you over the rocks.

Also the couloir splits into 2 narrow gullies separated by a good rock band near the top so stay on the right side like others posted. At the top of the couloir where others said to turn right aim for that notch on the right. It looks like a crazy knife edge from below but there is a pretty good goat trail just on the other side. It's actually the easiest part of the couloir and it will start heading left like they said. I went under the giant rock to connect with this on the way down from the summit.

The entire summit day was a wonderful, intense and very strenuous one. Ain't nuttin easy about it. The goats walking around and pawing at our tent at Rough Lake all that night were a PIA!!!!!

And your dog better be really trail hardened to make this trip. It was my friends dog and he was adamant about taking him but I wouldn't do it. That dang dog was also on top of Gannett Peak in Wyoming about 2 weeks before so he is quite the mountaineermutt. My friend said Gannett was easier. You will need a good dog pack so you can help the pup out and you will help him out a fair bit and that will slow you down.
Posted Aug 9, 2014 4:44 pm
Larry Vadopt?

Larry V

Hasn't voted

This is a great route and it deserves an owner who can better maintain the route page. I will probably never get back to Granite Peak. If you know the route and want to maintain this popular page, please adopt it from me.
Posted Aug 25, 2014 9:43 pm
splattskiRe: adopt?


Voted 10/10


I recommend reboyles

Posted Aug 27, 2014 11:42 am
reboylesRe: adopt?


Voted 10/10

Sure, I'll take it. Other than some minor editing it looks pretty good to me.

Posted Aug 27, 2014 1:39 pm

Hasn't voted

I work for Beartooth Mountain Guides in Red Lodge, and Ive noticed a lot of questions about this route recently. THIS ROUTE HAS SIGNIFICANT ROCKFALL HAZARD!!! While it may be considered "less technical" than the East Ridge standard route, in the couloir you are exposed to rockfall potential from humans, goats, etc. I would consider it rolling the dice, some people (and their pet) may be fine-others may not. Weigh that risk seriously when attempting this route. It has been intentionally left out of many Granite Peak publications because author's did not feel that it was safe to recommend. The Beartooth Ranger District is on the same page. If you still feel compelled to attempt this route, please take extreme caution with loose rock, as everyone below you-even those unseen-could be harmed if you are not. AND PLEASE WEAR A UIAA APPROVED HELMET!
Posted Sep 10, 2014 5:51 pm


Voted 10/10

I'm with Bobber here and strongly disagree with this post; yes, there is rockfall hazard, but I will take that any day compared to a technical route. Any serious peakbagger with scrambling skills on loose rock will be fine on this route - just take the obvious precautions (like a helmet - duh) and enjoy this great way up an amazing mountain! Maybe the guide services don't recommend it because they'll lose business as more and more people use the easiest route on the mountain...
Posted Sep 13, 2014 1:35 am
BobberIt's not that dangerous


Hasn't voted

I have to disagree with Gaddilacs post. I know of several people who have climbed the standard route without any gear and that is far more dangerous because of the extreme exposure. I haven't done it that way but I've seen all the pics here and elsewhere and it's much harder and scarier for those without a rock climbing background. This way is far easier (but still a bitch) and really not technical at all except for those snow patches and in late season with an average snow year they would be melted away. We were never in fear of falling to our deaths. And with so many easier summits that still have a rockfall hazard this is just part of the risk we take. Just go one at a time through those questionable sections and you will be OK. I really believe it is a disservice to the climbing community not to include this easier route in your guide.

My 2 cents.
Posted Sep 12, 2014 11:27 am
musicman82Re: It's not that dangerous


Voted 10/10

Well said!
Posted Sep 13, 2014 1:35 am

Viewing: 1-15 of 15