Granite Peak, Montana, July 1997. Trip report by Richard L. Carey
The trailhead for Granite Peak is about 40 miles NW of Red Lodge, Montana in long canyon with West Rosebud Creek draining northeast from Mystic Lake. We found a very nice spot in Pine Grove campgound the first one upon entering the canyon and hoped we could start the hike the next day. Again it was foggy and damp with no sun so this time we decided to be a bit smarter and delay one day so we drove back to Red Lodge and looked in all the tourist shops and had a great pizza lunch a Bogart's restaurant. At an animal farm near the town we saw animals rescued which could not be returned to the wild. They had two bears, elk, two wolves, and a fine mountain lion named Helen which Shelley really liked. I have seen them in the wild on two occasions, but never could see them very well. Helen had been raised in a home and was too tame they thought to be released. She was large and healthy looking and played with toys like a house cat. It was really interesting to see the lion so close, a worthwhile visit.
Monday we saw our chance and started the hike on a good trail to Mystic Lake, actually a man-made reservoir, and then south up many switchbacks to Froze-to-Death Plateau. The trail ends here and fog rolled over the plateau as we made our way to the camp area in a broad saddle at 11,600 ft. Visibility was 50 ft. at times in the cool fog and we got a bit high on the ridge into loose talus, not fun with a heavy pack. Groping along using the GPS we got to some rock shelters and thought we were the only ones on the mountain. It cleared during the night and Shelley stuck her head out of the tent to discover four goats sniffing around our camp. They came around later and are not too fearful of humans.
Tuesday we went for the summit since it looked fairly clear. We went to the top of Tempest Mountain by mistake thinking that was the way to the saddle on the ridge between Tempest and Granite. It looked wild and dangerous to descend so we backtracked to a camp with four tents on the ridge and found the correct route from there diagonal down to the saddle. Climbing up steep 3rd class pitches over several ribs we saw two fellows coming down who had started at 4:30am. Then we found two more groups of four near the top. They let us pass on a steep pitch were they were belaying down with a full climbing rope. I asked if my 100 ft. rope would be adequate and he thought so. After passing them, a final descending fellow passed by and said a storm was coming fast and in about five minutes it blew harder and started to rain and sleet.
Shelley and I were about 50 ft. from the top with one last 3rd class pitch which was nasty with water and sleet on the rock so I said we should turn back. We went back across a delicate sloping ledge, which now was wet, to the belay stance and the fellow said he would belay us down if we wished when he finished with one more person. They were slow and as we huddled and waited the storm cleared as fast as it had arrived and the sun came out brightly. After a few more minutes the top was clear and we said thanks, but we would try again for the top. So up we went again and after that last pitch the top was easy. It was a great joy to have made it as we stood on top in the sun!
We only spent about five minutes on top and hurried down since there were more dark clouds moving in from the west. Down at the belay stance I now had to set up our rope as the other group was gone and it started to darken and snow this time. Shelley had forgotten her climbing gear so she used my harness and figure eight to rappel a forty foot section. As she took the harness off I heard a funny noise and then she said the figure eight had fallen in a slot! I pulled the seat harness up and then doubled-wrapped the rope through my large locking beaner and rappeled that way which worked fairly well even with a soaking wet rope. But the rope kept sliding over to the side and I was watching to see that it didn't twist open the gate. Definitely not as safe as a figure eight!
We had one more pitch to rappel then we were on the ridges as the snowing stopped. We caught up with the last four near the bottom and climbing up to the camp on the ridge it rained most of the time. The others, now in their tents, were glad we made it down safely. The fellow said this time period in August was supposed to be the best weather in Montana. I said this was like winter mountaineering for us! There was some light rain during the night and in the morning it was 31 degrees with ice on the outside of the tent. Summertime in Montana? Actually I didn't care since we had made the summit.
Granite Peak GPS Route file