Granite Peak, Montana (12,799):
The two most popular routes on Granite Peak both start at the Mystic Lake/West Rosebud Creek trailhead. Neither sounded very appealing. The route across Froze to Death Plateau involved camping at a poor, exposed camp, and then descending several hundred feet before climbing up Granite Peak. The route up Huckleberry Creek and past Avalanche Lake offered protected campsites, but included lots of boulder hopping and bushwhacking with a heavy pack. I wondered if I could travel light and do it in a long day. The Forest Service in Red Lodge (406-446-2103) didn't know whether people climb Granite in one day.
I arrived at the trailhead on the evening of August 2, 1998. I ate dinner and went to bed hoping to get up early and possibly climb Granite Peak the next day. It was not to be. I was still too tired from climbing Gannett Peak, I got sick in the middle of the night, and it rained most of the night and into the day. I slept late August 3 and hiked up to Froze to Death Plateau, just to check out the route. I met many people on their way out in the rain. They all had horror stories about the weather and climbing conditions. None even knew of anyone who had made it in the last several days. On the other hand, several had heard of people doing Granite Peak in a single day. That was reassuring.
On August 4, I got up early, ate breakfast, and was on my way by 4:00 AM. The sky was clear and absolutely gorgeous, but I wore raingear because all the brush and trees were still dripping from the rain earlier in the night. I had no trouble finding the trail in the dark, since I had hiked up to Froze to Death Plateau the day before.
Once I got to the plateau, I headed in the general direction of Granite Peak. Routefinding was difficult because there was no trail, only a few cairns, and I couldn't see Granite Peak. I also discovered that the stories about wet, slick rock were true. I've led 5.7 rock in the rain without a slip, but I either fell or almost fell at least twenty times crossing the plateau. It was even worse when I dropped down to the saddle between Tempest Mountain and Granite Peak, because the rock was icy in the shade. I was glad I was doing the climb in one day, because the "campsites" on the plateau were terrible, at best.
I passed two other climbers at the saddle between Tempest Mountain and Granite Peak. They were on their way up from Avalanche Lake. I passed two more climbers and their guide at the snow bridge. The snow bridge was trivial, even without crampons and ice axe. I stopped to put on rock shoes, which, it turned out, I didn't need. The rock shoes did, however, aggravate the blisters I got on Gannett Pk, making my descent miserable.
With careful routefinding, the climbing beyond the snow bridge is mostly class 3-4 rock. Follow cairns and other signs of previous climbers. If your routefinding is poor or if you prefer something harder to wasting time searching for the easiest possible route, you will find some excellent easy class 5 rock. You need to be comfortable climbing class 4 rock so you can move quickly. If you need a rope for more than a rappel or two, the upper part of the mountain will take forever, possibly exposing your party to darkness and bad weather.
The guided climbers decided the rock was too difficult and turned back. The other two climbers and I continued, reaching the summit around noon. A few minutes later, Pete Shelley (see Jacobs' book) and a partner showed up after climbing a snow and ice route. It was a perfect day with little wind and no clouds for as far as we could see. We took a long break and downclimbed back to the snow bridge.
At the saddle between Tempest Mountain and Granite Pk, I looked up at Froze to Death plateau, 400 feet above and looked down a snow slope that would be an easy boot-ski for 1000 feet. I headed down the snow with the other two climbers. The boot-ski was fun, but by this time, I was tired, and it seemed to take forever to boulder-hop and bushwhack down past Avalanche Lake to Princess Lake. The trail down Huckleberry Creek wasn't much better. I didn't get back to the trailhead until after 8:00 PM, making for over sixteen hours, round trip. I was exhausted and my blisters were killing me!
I'm glad I ended up doing both routes, because I now know the disadvantages of each, first hand. If I were to do it again, I think I would try another one-day trip, over Froze to Death Plateau both ways.