By: randosteve|Posted on: September 9, 2009|Posted in: People | 11 comments

There are a few ways to approach Granite Peak in the Beartooth Mountains, but most people use the East or West Rosebud trailheads north of Red Lodge, MT. Research states that the East Rosebud trailhead might be slightly easier because it avoids a multitude of switchbacks if one uses the West Rosebud trailhead. Here’s how it went down.

Randosteve on the summit of Granite Peak, MT.

Reed Finlay was my co-pilot for this trip, and with pretty solid traffic and wildlife jams driving through Yellowstone on the Friday of Labor Day weekend, it took us 8.5 hours to reach the trailhead about 260 miles from Jackson. We got a later start from the trailhead than planned and we reached the “Frozen to Death Plateau” in the early evening hours.  With limited terrain features, no trail and an altitude of about 11K’, the 5-6 mile crossing on the plateau can be tricky if the weather and/or visabitlty shuts down.

Hiking towards Frozen to Death Plateau.

Water was limited on the high plateau and it being our first time to the area, we decided to set up camp at one of the first campsites with water that we found. Opting for an earlier start and longer approach a with lighter packs, instead of pushing a camp closer to the peak

Reed pumps water in late day light.

A few showers came down on us as the sun set and the full moon rose,
and we set up camp and organized our gear for the morning.

Full moonrise over camp.

A 5AM wake up led to a 6AM start towards the peak and across the plateau. Occasionally we would see cairns that marked the way, but I was surprised there weren’t more of them considering Granite is the highest peak in Montana and probably gets some consistent traffic.

Reed passes a cairn as the sun rises on the the plateau.

The full moon was still up in the early morning and it lead us in the right direction
even though route and trail signs were minimal.

The full moon was our guide.

After about 4-5 miles on the plateau, the summit of Granite Peak
finally came into view for the first time.

Reed, happy to finally see our objective.

We passed some higher camps that were not only occupied by some other people, but also by some mountain goats. These goats seemed to be pretty fearless of humans and we wondered how many times they have been fed by people.

Mountain goats at the high camp near Tempest Mountain.

And there wasn’t just one!

More goats.

After a couple hours, we reached the shoulder of Tempest Mountain and dropped down on it’s north side towards Granite. This was one of the few places where there was actually a trail…but it didn’t last long.

Randosteve descends the north side of Tempest Mountain while taking in the view of Granite Peak.

Reaching the saddle between Granite and Tempest, we looked down on Avalanche Lake. One can also approach the peak from this direction, but it requires a bit more rugged terrain and boulder hopping…so they say.

Avalanche Lake.

After climbing the lower east ridge, we reached the area known as the snow-bridge, which was occupied by more mountain goats. They seemed pretty stubborn as we slowly moved in their direction, but soon they got the idea and jumped up on the rocks above the saddle and watched us prep for the final part of the climb.


Another goat photo…


The route to the South Face involves linking together ledges and chimneys as you travel from the east to the south side of the mountain. The most technical moves (most agree 5.4) are on the final South Face and although we brought a light mountain rack for protection, we chose to leave it in the packs and soloed the route.


Most of the climbing moves weren’t too difficult and the rock was pretty solid, but you could see with bad route finding, the climbing grade could be bump up considerably.


Chimneys and ledges…chimneys and ledges…


About 5.5 hours after leaving camp on the plateau, we reached the summit…and Montana’s highest point. Though often labeled with an elevation of 12,799′, I think it was determined to have an elevation of 12,807′ by the USGS in 1996.


I was really excited to see the views of the north side of neighboring Glacier Peak from the top. Glacier Peak is known to have some very serious ski mountaineering objectives on it like the Becky, Patriarch and Catch-A-Fire Couloirs.


Although we think we were the first to the summit that day, we found this memorial to John Wardell said to have been placed at the summit on the same day. We came to the conclusion that the party was ahead of schedule and most like summit on the 4th…leaving the summit register. Please take a moment learn about and honor the life of Helena, MT resident Paul Wardell…an advocate for a lot of things many of us stand for and believe in. RIP John Wardell!


Now…it wasn’t the end of the goats to say the least and they honesty followed us to the summit…curiously getting closer and closer to us if we let them. It was amazing to watch these animal travel around on such steep and rocky terrain. Truly one of nature’s most skilled rock climbers.


We did 3 rappels to make the descent a bit easier and we passed a couple below the snow-bridge going for a car-to-car mission from the West Rosebud trailhead. The clouds were beginning to build and they were still about 1.5-2 hours from the summit. I wonder if they made it. It was Reed’s birthday and I was glad to have been able to spend the day with my bet friend on the summit of a peak in such beautiful country. And I think he was glad I packed a bit of celebratory libations up to camp…which we returned to about 10 hours after we left that morning.


The next morning we packed up, hiked out and drove back to Jackson. Our tempers were satiated after achieving our goal of the summit of Granite and the traffic was much easier to deal with through Yellowstone. A great adventure that I will definitely remember.