The rating of South Face route of Granite Peak is subjective at best. We rated it as "Class 4+", the "plus" meaning that you may encounter what could be deemed a low class 5 move. Very careful route finding may avoid class 5, but even the easiest route is very exposed at times. This is the rating that was given based upon personal experience and the consensus of guidebooks, internet summit logs, and other climbers we met. Many different climbers and guidebooks have rated this climb from class 3, up to and including 5.7. We concluded that the route is solid class 4 with possibly the occasional low class 5 move.
It all boils down to how comfortable the individual is with exposure. Know your abilities and your performance level under exposed conditions. Back off if you do not feel comfortable. Best to come away safe than to get into terrain exceeding your abilities. This route not a "walk up" whatsoever and less-experienced high-pointers should take note of this.
Important: Under the Time Required section, "A Long Day" is from a base camp either on FTD plateau or Avalanche Lake. From the trailhead, the time required is two days. The mountain has been climbed from car-to-car in one day, but not very often, and by very fit individuals moving very fast and light. Its a 12-mile (one way) and 6300 ft climb from the trailhead.
See the main page for the approaches from Froze-To-Death Plateau and Avalanche Lake. This route description starts from Bivouac Saddle between Tempest Mountain and Granite Peak.
One strategy note: If using a high camp on Froze-To-Death Plateau, the farther you can get to Tempest Mountain the better. You can cut significant time off your summit day by camping at the base of Tempest. If camping at Avalanche Lake, get a pre-dawn start. It's a 2000' climb from Avalanche Lake to Bivouac Saddle through very rough terrain. Click here for an approach photo.
From Bivouac Saddle between Tempest Mountain and Granite Peak: The first obstacle is to climb the talus/scree slope or east ridge immediately above Bivouac Saddle. From the saddle, drop down a little and follow a faint climber's trail to the left of the east ridge. The trail will turn uphill and head directly up the slope to the left of the east ridge. From here (and depending on snow conditions) you can either continue up the scree slope via a faint trail or snow; or you can move right (north) and ascend the east ridge (class 3). Either way, climb the slope or east ridge and finish via class 3 moves on the right (north) side of the top.
At the top of the east ridge you will be able to see the snow bridge. Take time to view the chimney system across the couloir and consider your route. Traverse right, staying high on the slope while moving towards the snow bridge. In late season, the snow will be gone and it will be a small saddle instead of a snow bridge. In early season, a belay and/or ice axe may be needed to cross the snow bridge.
After the snow bridge, descend slightly to the left and ascend the left-most chimney via class 4 moves. After the chimney, go left of the "X" crack feature (see photo), and continue up another chimney to the far left. Exit right onto a ledge, and ascend a class 4 chimney to the top of a rib. From the rib, drop down into a shallow gully. Cross the gully and do a short class 4 scramble up an obvious chimney to the top of the notch were another rap station will be seen.
From the notch, the entire south face and final route will be in view. Take time to consider your route and note features. Occasional cairns will help guide the way. From the notch, begin by traversing north, then west (left), staying high, towards the face. Scramble up to a slab with a large horizontal crack. Use class 4+ moves to ascend a crack, then traverse right onto a small ledge under two chimneys. A rap station will be found here. Move up directly between the chimneys on exposed class 4 terrain. Note that the Jacobs route photo shows ascending the right chimney. Instead, stay between the chimneys to avoid class 5. Above the chimneys, another rap station will be found. Continue up another 30 ft until reaching a large flat boulder area. From here, traverse the face (class 3) to the left (west) until reaching a ledge below the keyhole. Directly under the keyhole, go up and right through a chute via class 4 moves until reaching a ledge. Another ledge with a low roof will be seen above with human-built stepping stones placed to climb up to the ledge. Once on this ledge, move left for a few feet, then exit to the right (north). Continue to the right for the final summit scramble (class 3).
Descent: Down climb and reverse your route to the rap stations above the chimney system. There is a rap station directly below the keyhole but the anchors are questionable. Suggest ignoring the rappel below the keyhole and traversing easy terrain to the next rappel station. Either down climb or make two 80 ft rappels to the base of the face. A convenient rap station is also at the notch, and yet another is above the snow bridge section. When descending the long slope back to Bivouac Saddle, either follow the east ridge down to the saddle, or go slightly right (south) and follow a faint climbers trail down the slope. Again, snow conditions will determine your decision. Either way will result at Bivouac Saddle. If there is snow on the east slope, water can be found in the runoff at the bottom.
Helmet, bomber rain gear, emergency bivy sack, extra food and water.
A 60 meter rope is very helpful to avoid exposed class 4 down climbing in the midde of the face and for a rappel off the notch. Bring a couple of full length runners (unsewn) and rap rings in case the existing ones do not look good. Some may want to bring a light rack for the middle section of the face.
An ice axe and/or crampons may be necessary for the snow bridge in early to mid-season.
For the approach across Froze-To-Death Plateau, map and compass are essential, and a GPS unit is recommended, especially in bad weather.