The Island Lake Beach
Four of us headed into the Bearthooth Mountains of South Central Montana last weekend for a mix of leisure and climbing. My climbing parther, El Gato del Hielo, and both of our wives hiked to the far end of Mystic Lake in the West Rosebud drainage (you may recognize this as the starting point for most Granite Peak climbs). We left Bozeman at about 10am and, aside from road construction and the 'Famlily Fun Day Parade' in Fishtail it was an uneventful trip to the trailhead. The weather was wonderful and expected to stay that way throughout the weekend. With a comfortable pace and plenty of stops we settled into camp at about four in the afternoon.
With beers chilling in the lake we sat on the east shore of Island lake (on a BEACH no less!) and watched a couple of fisherman yank monster lake trout from the depths for a while. Garrett and I used this time to scout the approach, especially the creek crossing. The logjam was healthy, but a little touchy in places. The early light meant we probably wouldn't have to cross in the dark, and I felt better about that. A few burnt logs and several beers later we crashed out (maybe 10:30).
The morning came too soon, as usual, and we were up at 4:30. We split a cup of coffee, said goodbye to the spouses and set off at ten after five. The two of us were here in January to ski Mount Wood and the climb from the lake into the hanging canyon between Wood and Hague was about as bad as we could have expected on that trip. We were prepared for a brutal, but typical, Beartooth Bushwhack. By some strange alignment of the stars it never happened. Without 5 feet of isothermal mush the hill went quickly and we were looking at our objective by 6:30am. The object at hand was the Mystic Equinox Tower, a broken granite face about 2,000 feet tall with a prominant tower right in the middle. Ron Brunkhorst mentions a climb of this face my Dougal McCarty and Jack Tackle "done so long ago that the details have been lost." That was the beta. An email from Tackle suggested that the climb was on the best looking, most obvious feature of the face, whatever that means. Having chosen this peak, we knew we would get plenty of adventure one way or another. A major weakness in the center of the Tower face looked good, so at 7 we started up easy ground toward a dark chimney. From the ground it looked like good climbing on the left side of the feature up to a large roof, and face cracks seemed to offer a way around that.
Northeast Face of Mystic Equinox
On the first pitch, a rock roughly the size of two bowling balls was launched by the rope. Luckily we were diagonalling up so it missed by at least five feet. The climbing wasn't too bad, though. We were encouraged. At the top of the second pitch, we met a smallish roof that looked benign enough.
Garrett started out and got about two feet when he realized that the entire lip of the roof was composed of hanging death blocks. On the upside, however, there was no protection available either. Oh well, it was still early.
We made a descending traverse along a ledge, hoping to find better rock closer to the chimney. I started up that, looking up at another rock perched so precariously I think god himself was willing it to stay in place. The holds were loose, there was no pro, and it was a little steep. The route description did say 5.9, but mentioned nothing of the R and X that I was seeing. We went down more, to a bigger ledge system and kept moving right, still hoping to find a route.
Finally on to good rock
We set the belay under a pair of corners and actually found two good pitches of rock that ended on a large, juniper covered ledge. After wandering around to survey the rock, it all appeared to be pretty loose and the good parts were all short. The north ridge of the tower held grassy, class 2 ledges so we opted for that to get on the little pinnacle. A short traverse pitch put us on the summit of the tower, a quaint stance with spectacular views.
The summit of the Tower
Simul-climbing from the tower to the summit.
From here we could see potential for a pretty easy route to the summit. We were a little concerned about the descent back the way we came. Neither of us wanted to rappel off of any rocks that we had seen so far. The summit had an easy walk off that we saw from the base. The route was exposed, but we simul-climbed 500-600 feet of easy fifth class rock and in under an hour we were on the plateau. Another 30 minutes of scrambling put us on the summit at 11,430 feet. We screamed, hoping the women folk could hear and know that we made it. In fact they had watched us summit the tower from the lakeshore. The descent was, in fact, a cakewalk and we were back in camp in just two hours, packed and hiked out. Five hours after summiting, the four of us were looking forward to getting home before midnight.
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