Are We Really Going To Do Granite?That was the question on Friday August 1st, 2014. This peak had been on my mind for the last 4 years. I'm the old guy and this is on my bucket list. I had researched both routes and decided that this one was for me because I'm a hiker not a climber. I was concerned there might still be too much snow because last winter was way above average. But the stars did align for our schedules and the trip was on. My buddy Brandon and the wonderdog Chili had just done Gannett Peak in Wyoming about 2 weeks earlier and there is the possibility that he was the first dog on Gannett. I tried to talk Brandon out taking the pup on this one but he was adamant about it so it was the 3 of us. We left Bozeman about 1 in the afternoon and made it to Cooke City about 5 after stopping in Livingston for lunch. I had lived in Bozeman the last 18 years and been in Yellowstone so much that I rarely go there anymore. So I had the pleasure of paying $25 for a park pass just to drive from Gardiner to Cooke City. That's a pretty expensive toll road!
It had rained a fair amount in Montana just prior to this trip so that last bit of dirt road going to the cabin was slick. Brandon put his Cherokee in 4 wheel drive just to get to the parking area. We parked right there where new gravel was placed just before the cabin. We did not drive across the creek and park on the other side as other posters had done but I guess you could in a high clearance vehicle. There was a big fire ring and lots of firewood so we used this area as a base camp and set up the big family tent there. We planned to leave it up when we did the hike. The mosquitos were really bad here and everywhere except above Skytop Lakes.
I had given Brandon my well used Vasque boots when I purchased Alicos this spring. He summited Gannett in those boots and did Hyalite Peak in them 2 days earlier just for some extra conditioning (for me). I brought some boot seal to give our boots a good coating there at the camp. We were both in our knockaround shoes at this point. He took those old Vasques out of the Jeep and the sole was split all the way down one side. These are a molded sole not a welt style. He said he was going to duct tape them and do the entire hike that way but in the end I gave him my New Balance lightweight hikers that I was wearing then and use as a regular everyday shoe. Interesting that there were 2 of us and all 3 pairs of shoes were mine!
Bring Tevas and Drowned iPhoneWe slept really well, ate breakfast and did our morning rituals. After saying goodbye to the big tent we were on the trail by 8. We crossed the creek just below the cabin on some slippery logs. I have this app called TopoMap on my phone. I was using it to put in waypoints on the trail and put in one there to start. More on this later. The trail has quite a few up and down sections but we passed Lady of the Lake and the big meadow in a few hours. Then we came to Broadwater Creek. Star Creek comes from the west and Zimmer comes from the North and intersect right here which I believe is the start of Broadwater Creek. The creek is just over boot top but mellow right where the trail crosses it. We wasted too much time scouting the southwest side of Broadwater and Star/Zimmer for an easier crossing. We did cross upstream about a hundred yards up S/Z but it was not worth it. We took our boots off and forded the wide stream barefoot and barely made it before my feet froze and those rocks hurt like hell. So take my advice bring Tevas which we did not and cross Broadwater right there where the trail is. The trail is right in front of you and is on the north side of Broadwater.
The trail swings right or east and follows the steeply falling Broadwater (yes, you are going downhill). In about a third of a mile it gets further away from that creek which has turned south and then the trail starts to climb. But lets stop right there. You parked at base camp at about 8800' and you just hiked about 4 or 5 miles so you must be getting some elevation gain, right? Well, congratulations you just bagged about 75'. All that up and down and you got diddly.
But here is where it starts to climb. In about another 1/2 mile you will come the the Aero Creek crossing. Aero flows into Skytop Creek and that's Skytop on your right. There are 2 really slippery logs side by side most of the way across and then convenient boulders. There was no way we would avoid taking a fall off those logs into the boisterous creek and scouted another passage but found none. Then I figured that if we walked on the lower one and held on to the other one it would be OK and it was. As I was stepping off the end of the logs to the boulder I saw both my phone and my camera go kerplunck in the creek. Like a dummy I had put both in my T shirt pocket and I was bending over just a little to far. I yelled out the F word and more and somehow grabbed my camera right away. Brandon was still waiting on the bank and thought I was falling in. Luckily I could see my phone was right there in about a foot deep of clear water and I pulled it out and crossed to the other side. Chili just ran across the logs and Brandon followed. I shook the water out of the phone which still was on except the touch screen wouldn't work and I couldn't turn it off either. Oh well no more Topo waypoints. The camera came back to life after a few hours so this pic is from the way down. If you click on any of these pics then it will take you to that picture page. Clicking again will give you the full hi-res pic.
Very quickly you will come to the cairn and stick marking Skytop Trail.
The trail heads northest and stays on the left side of the creek for sometime. We walked through a long, flat, and fairly wide marshy area. The creek had taken over the trail in spots but it was easy going. Here we saw a few groups none of which attempted the summit.
At Lone Elk Lake we saw a tent and talked to the campers. They had attempted to do Granite but his teenage son had twisted his ankle fairly close to there. His son was fishing so it probably wasn't too bad. These were the last people we saw for about 48 hours. I think we crossed over to the right side at Lone Elk Lake. It was an easy crossing so I'm sure you will find it.
We made it to Rough Lake and camped on the south east peninsula. It was beautiful but with a zillion mosquitos. Right at sunset a thousand trout were going after those zillion mosquitos. We wished we had a fishing pole. The west side of Rough Lake is steep with steep snowfields right into the lake. I wouldn't go there.
Summit DayWe got on the trail before 8 from Rough Lake. We followed the southeast side of the lake to the north end where the considerable stream flows into it. You want to cross there because you want to hit that pass which is a shortcut. We figured this out on the way down. I call it Rough Lake Pass. The pass is on the far right in the pic. The Aero Lake trail is left of center and down in the valley (out of view here) between the single pinnacle and the double ones which is called The Spires.
Instead we followed up the right side of the steep creek which does have a trail but then got stuck finding a crossing at the top. Brandon said he found one lower down and ya gotta be kidding me. It was only a 6' to 8' hop across a raging torrent. You do not want to fall there. I said no way and went back up to the lake and just bounded across. Chili followed me, he wasn't having any part of Brandon's action either. I hike with a fairly high top hiking boot and hiking gaitors. It was at this moment that I realized that if the water wasn't over my gaitors and I stepped quickly then I could get through about a foot deep water without getting wet at all. Wish I knew that lower down. Doh! We met up and started walking along the left side of the 9 (by my count) Skytop Lakes. The chain is about 3 1/2 to 4 miles from end to end. We stayed on the left side which was mostly fine except for 3 really steep snowfields that dumped right into the lake. Brandon just ran across but I absolutely hated these. It was the crappiest part of the entire hike for me. After looking at the topo I wonder if there is a better route on the other side of the lakes at about 10,600'. It appears the Aero Lakes route avoids these altogether. The problem with this side is the sheer mountains immediately above the trail which shades those steep snowfields which makes them pretty firm. Midday they might not be so bad. Crampons would have been handy but not essential. I didn't take a pic but Punchline posted a pic of these in the Forums. http://www.summitpost.org/phpBB3/snow-on-granite-peak-t68259.html
And here's Brandon a little higher up.
Eventually you get your first glimpse
of the peak.
You have now hiked 10 or 12 miles from the parking area and you can finally see your objective. The elevaton here is about 10,400'. If you look at the topo this is the 4th lake from the top, the big one with the island in it.
And a closer view.
We had continuous snow on the ground from about the 3rd lake from the top. I recommend walking right in the middle of the valley and go for that lower saddle which is near where the next pic was taken. As others had posted you want to stay left of that snow finger on the lower right hand side. We tried right up through it but the snow is really steep and firm in there. We bailed out to the left. There are actually several goat trails up though the boulders so it looks way worse from the bottom. Nice loose rock here and there, too but not scary.
We easily made it to the goat trail at the bottom of the slab which was a pretty good one.
Here's Brandon coming down it.
Now we are at the big black stain. I thought we were supposed to climb the side of the stain but actually we did the little gully beside it which was the normal way. You can see the top of the couloir from here.
On the way down we found an easier way which would be just to the left (looking up) of the first gully. I didn't get any pics of that one. The 2 gullies intersect just above that big boulder in the crevice.
In short order you come to the little snow patch. Someone had left a sling which helped us thru the rock at the top. Here's Brandon down climbing the little snow patch. Sling is by his left knee.
After that we got to the big snow patch and this is the crux of the climb. It's about 100' long, steep and firm. We wasted about a half an hour trying to avoid it by trying the steep smooth rocks on the left. I was about ready to give up when Brandon spotted these really good steps kicked in about half way up. First there was a traverse trail leading from left to right which put you on good rock. Then we climbed up the right side in a melted crack between the snow and rock and the got into these really good steps kicked in by other hikers. The steps were kicked in totally horizontal and really deep in there. Our entire boot was just about all the way in. They were just like the ones in the pic of the lower snow patch. We made it up these really quickly and were standing on rock again with no snow in sight. What was in sight and hearing range was a thunderstorm brewing to the west. Are we going to be denied when we are so close?
We could see that the couloir split into 2 gullies separated by a formidable rock band. I knew from my research that the best way from here was on the right. For some reason Brandon went left. He was having a slow go because he had to help Chili out quite a bit through there but it is easy 4th class. Meanwhile I was making short work of the right side. Near the top is a notch on your right which looks like you are going to be on a really sheer knife edge. You do want to aim for that because there is a hidden easy goat trail just on the other side. It was only class 2. I went left at the top of the notch like the others said and crossed over pretty high above Brandon. Here's where I got my 2nd wind and I'll tell you why. I'm damn near a senior citizen and Brandon who is less than half my age always beats me to the top of every mountain we ever did. Now I'm above him on this big badass mountain and I'm gonna be first. I can see the summit right there. I cross over left and follow what few of the little cairneletts I can find and round the corner right to the top ridge. In no time I was there. I'm on top first. In your face Brandon. I'm your daddy. After 2 days of sweat, bug spray and sun screen I was having a bad hair day. LOL
I had time to relax and the storm is going west of us. This pic is looking down the Skytop drainage. You can see the lake with the island in it which is where I took one of the previous pics. You can also see some of the steep snowfields at the lakes. The Aero Lakes
After about 20 minutes there's Brandon and Chili.
We all made it!!!!!
The way down.When we started heading down I tried to explain about the easier way on the right side but I guess he didn't believe me because he down climbed that same left side with Chili. I was in a slightly different place than the way up and walked under that giant rock slab up there which led right to the goat trail and the notch. FWIW There are several routes to the goat trail I am now waiting for them to downclimb the left side.
Chili sure was glad to be done with that.
When we came to the steep snowfield I down climbed it first then Chili did a controlled slide down it and then Brandon.
Right at the bottom we found a long rope left there by someone and the other (easiest) way down to the goat trail at the base of the giant slab.
The hike out was uneventful except for traversing those steep snowfields at lake side. Brandon found the way to Rough Lake Pass which is a good shortcut and we made it down to the stream crossing at the top of Rough Lake. This one was fairly wide but mellow and I almost ran across it with Chili. Brandon had my low top hikers with no gaitors so he got his feet wet. We just followed the trail around the east side of the lake to the campsite. Someone clever had brought up a flask of whiskey and there was snow right there so we had whiskey slushies.
Attack of the Devil Goats"Bob wake up. There's a goat out there." Brandon had never been this close to one but I had lots of times. "But he's really close". "Don't sweat it," I said "they are really docile". Brandon wanted some pics so I gave him my camera and he snapped away. Little did I realize that this one was only a scout for the rest of the rabid pack that came in that night.
That night shall forever live on in infamy as Attack of the Devil Goats. Another 7 of the scallywags joined the scout and they were walkin around the tent all night. They were so close we could hear the hoof steps and they actually were pawing at the tent and we just did Granite that day. Give me a break will ya. Chili was growling inside the tent. We were growling, too. Eventually we let him out to keep them further away and that worked a bit but they never left the site. We even went outside to try to frighten them off by yelling and using the camera flash but they just came back a minute later.
That morning we awoke (did we sleep?) to the unruly gang challenging us to a staredown. They won.
They did have a cute little kid with them. He was an asshole too.
We were breaking camp and some of them were about 6 feet from us. Chili charged one and that Big Bastard Billy charged him right back. Chili did an about face and decided to sit a little further away.
The Way Out and the Lost GuyWe loaded up and went down the trail. About a 100 yards away from the campsite we came to a vista point where just about the entire southern hemisphere was in view. Well, this little portion of my world was and my phone chimed. I just received an email all the way up here near Rough Lake. The good news was that the phone which was in my pack was coming back to life. Yaaaaay.
We made good time going down and ran into our first group in the big marshy valley. Because of all that rain the greenery was superb. Chili liked it.
It was Friday we saw lots more people especially down lower. We had just crossed Broadwater Creek where I skipped merrily across and came across a pair of gentleman on the way up to Aero Lake who were both in their late 70s. We mentioned that our big tent was pitched down by the cabin ad they said they had seen it. Later on we passed a party of 8 going up the peak. After we parted Brandon and I agreed that was too many in the couloir at once. Now we are at all those up and downs at the beginning of the trail and why the hell are we going uphill from Lady of the Lake to the tent? However the cold beer on ice that we had stashed in the Jeep beckoned us like a lighthouse in a storm and drove us relentlessly on. I barely made it to the cooler before I surely would have collapsed into a mass of DTs and body fluids.
Now that I got my fix we built a fire and cooked some steaks. More of that whiskey appeared and we were feeling good. Just around dark one of those old men appeared at our tent. He said his friend who was 78 and him got separated somehow at Aero Lake and he's been looking for him for the last 8 hours. Despite our delicate condition or at least mine Brandon grabbed a headlamp and a water bottle and took off back up (down? lets just say sideways) the trail looking for him. I agreed to stoke the fire big as a beacon for them. I've got a raging fire going for hours and I'm still pretty tired from the Devil Goats fiasco and I really don't want to do this. Brandon finally comes back about 11:30 with no luck in the search. He went all the way back up to Broadwater. Can you believe that? That's like another 6 to 8 miles there and back.
We slept like the dead. Actually I was dead and Brandon had to spark me back to life with some extra long jumpers hooked up to the Jeep. It drizzled that night so we took our time breaking down the base camp in a vain effort to dry out the tent. On the dirt road down we discussed the fate of the lost guy and noticed there was a helicopter coming in for a landing near Cooke City. We figured it was S&R for him. In Cooke City we stopped at the little Chamber of Commerce building for a proper bathroom and there he was! That old guy couldn't find his friend and DID make the mistake of going down Broadwater and then followed that trail less creek all the way to a cabin near the Beartooth Highway. He got there at 9:30 AM. That old guy actually hiked for over 24 hours straight. He used the phone there and the cabin people gave him a ride back to CC. After the cop talked to him just to make sure he was OK the last I saw of him was walking up the street. And at a good pace.
I put the phone in the sun on the dashboard and it worked perfectly by the time I got to Bozeman.
The only gear we had was an ice axe and Brandon tried using it in the snow finger but it was a waste of time because it was so much easier to the left. You might want crampons for those snowfields at Skytop Lakes but we survived without them. This past winter was a big snow year so I wonder if those snowfields are even there in a regular year? I guess you could bring helmets (we didn't) but the falling rock issue in the couloir is more like rolling rocks. Your legs are in more danger than your head!
Granite is an absolute magnificent, really tough one so be in shape. There's nothing easy about the easy way. You'll love it.
Edit: January 21, 2015
Remember that drowned phone. Well, that is an iPhone 5 and Apple has a battery recall for some serial numbers and mine is one of them. I took it into the local store and when they opened it up all the water infiltration indicators had turned red. I can't imagine why? So nogo on the new battery. Dang it. Phone still works fine though.