Granite Peak Montana

Date of trip: 09/13/2015

Mileage: 27 Miles

Elevation Gain: 4400 Feet

Time: 19 Hour(s) and 0 Minutes

Class: 4

Partners: John, Michael, Dylan, Dave

GPS Track: NA

Peaks Climbed on Trip:
Peak Name Elevation Prominence Range Close to County highpoint Range highpoint Map
Granite Peak127994779BeartoothCooke City, MontanaParkYes45.1633, -109.8080

Trip Report

Granite Peak is the highest peak in Montana. The peak is located in the Absaroka-Beartooth wilderness, very near the northern border of Yellowstone National Park.

The peak is remote, rugged, and impressive. All routes on this peak require hikes over 20 miles and at least 4000 feet of elevation gain. It is considered one of the 3 or 4 most difficult state highpoints to climb.

The most popular route on the peak is a class 4 or 5 (depending on who you ask) route from Froze-to-death Plateau. Recently a new route from the Sky Top Lakes drainage has become more popular. Our team of 5 decided to give this route a shot.

We left Boise Friday after work and picked up Dylan in Pocatello at Margo's house, then headed to Driggs to stay the night at Steve's house. Thanks Margo and Steve for everything! We still had 3 hour drive in the morning from Driggs, but a warm bed was nice!

In the morning we were packed and ready. We stopped for some Hot Stuff breakfast burritos somewhere in route. Those seemed decent enough and off we went through Yellowstone... seeing bear, elk, bison, and antelope. Soon we found ourselves in Cooke City, Montana and minutes from the trailhead.

We chose the Upper Lady of the Lake trailhead. We parked and hoisted the packs for the 10 mile hike into the Sky Top Lakes. We didn't really have a precise destination, just wanted to get to a lake in the Sky Top Lakes around 10400 - 10600 in elevation.

The hike in is manageable, but tough. The trail is up and down, with numerous creek crossings.

Our first break was at the crossing of the Broadwater River. We crossed the river and then turned east toward Sky Top Creek. We then followed Sky Top Creek for miles until we reached Lone Elk Lake. The steepest part of the hike is the last mile before Lone Elk Lake.

We felt we were doing good on time and the weather was perfect, as we continued past Lone Elk Lake, then Rough Lake, and we eventually crossed Sky Top Creek one final time and ascended the bench that got us into the Sky Top Lakes. We passed a few lakes and then stopped at a lake with an island at 10500'. It had taken us 6 hours to get to the lake.

I was tired; but some food, hydration, and the great views sprung me back to life. I went to bed fairly early with visions of boulder hopping and couloir climbing dancing in my head.

The next morning, we arose and made some breakfast and packed for our ascent of Granite Peak. The stats seemed reasonable, 6 miles round trip with 2300 feet of gain. We hit the trail around 8:30am with bright blue skies overhead on a cool, breezy morning.

The route was tough, with boulders and up-and-downs to contend with. We made steady progress to the upper Sky Top Lake, then hooked right a bit and even followed a glacier for a bit to reach the base of Granite Peak at around 11,200 feet.

Here we took a final break and got our helmets on. We would then ascend the west face of the peak to the base of a large slab. We found a good climbers trail and cairns here and after 800 feet of gain, we found the entrance to the southwest ramp at around 12,000 feet.

The southwest ramp is a hidden gully (from below) that cuts across the west face of Granite Peak and stops just short of the summit. The first few hundred feet are easy going. Around 12,300 feet we encountered a fixed rope. We climbed right of the rope on steep rock with good holds. After another 100 feet or so, we encountered the crux of the route... a 15 foot wall where the couloir narrows to about 10 feet wide. With snow/ice climber's right. This section also had a fixed rope. Some of us used it, some didn't. Beyond the crux, the climb is steep, but good class 3 climbing.

We eventually topped out of the gully with about 150 feet of climbing to go. This section had exposure on both sides, but good climbing was found in the middle of the ridge. One notch was challenging and I assumed would be problematic on the way down (it wasn't). The ridge ends just shy of the summit and a brief 2 or 3 minute walk got us to the actual summit.

We rejoiced, signed the register, checked our phones, and texted our loved ones. The weather had remained great and this peak had incredible views of this wild Montana terrain. We had this popular mountain all to ourselves on this fine day!

Now to the most important part... getting down. I was worried about 3 parts... 1) the notch on the ridge, which was easier coming down than up 2) the crux, which was challenging and took me a minute 3) the second fixed rope area, which wasn't bad at all.

Soon we were on less steep ground and cruising toward our basecamp at the lake. The stats don't reveal this, but this was a tough day.

That night we were visited by "Little Dylan", a likeable mountain goat that liked our urine and is a little late on the shedding game (fall is here and he still hasn't shed his winter coat).

Other than a windy, briefly rainy night... all was good!

We hiked out on another incredible, still morning! I had dreaded the hike out because of the distance and because we had to gain elevation at the end, but it wasn't bad at all. We even saw a bear foraging for grubs just off the trail near Lady of the Lake. Soon we were dining on bacon cheeseburgers in Cooke City and walking like zombies anytime we got out of the car on the drive home.

Good times with a good climbing crew!


Getting There

From Cooke City, drive east on US Highway 212 for about 2 miles to Lulu Pass Road. Turn left (north) onto this gravel road. Go approx. 2.3 miles to a signed junction (Goose Lake). Turn sharply right at the junction onto a short dirt road. Follow this rough and rocky road about 1/3 of a mile to a small parking lot amidst mining ruins (including an old cabin). I felt this final 1/3 of a mile was NOT doable in a low clearance vehicle.


Hiking Directions

We climbed from the Upper Lady of the Lake trailhead. We followed the trail to down to Lady of the Lake. The trail then follows the west side of the lake. About a mile beyond the lake, the trail enters a meadow, then crosses Broadwater River (near where it merges with Zimmer Creek). Just passed the crossing look for a trail heading east (right). The trail drops about 200 feet and meets up with Sky Top Creek. Follow this well-defined trail all the way to Lone Elk Lake. From Lone Elk Lake, the trail is hit and miss. At the end of Rough Lake, cross the creek and angle up the hillside to enter into the Sky Top Lakes basin. Cairns mark most of this route.

From the upper Sky Top Lake at 10800 feet, make your way to near the saddle between Granite Peak and Cairn Mountain. You will find a climber's trail here that will get you to a giant slab on the west face of Granite Peak. The southwest ramp begins here and cuts across the face and above the slab.

The southwest ramp has 2 rock steps, both had fixed ropes when we visited. We felt the first rock step (on the very edge of the slab), had plentiful holds. The second was steeper and trickier (it also had fixed ropes).

At the top of the ramp, there are 2 gullies. The right gully is easier. You are now on a ridge, with a steep drop to your right. Work your way up the ridge, ascending 2 notches. Beyond the second notch, the route goes left along easy ledges and then a quick scramble gets you near the summit. The route finding on this final section isn't hard, as there is major exposure on both sides that forces you onto the correct route.

Keep in mind that there is rockfall potential in the southwest ramp... wear a helmet and time your climb to avoid other groups.


Photos

View Slideshow

Buffalo in Yellowstone National Park
Buffalo in Yellowstone National Park
Hiking along Sky Top Creek
Hiking along Sky Top Creek
Arriving at Lone Elk Lake
Arriving at Lone Elk Lake
Camp with Peak 11379 behind
Camp with Peak 11379 behind
Granite Peak in the evening light
Granite Peak in the evening light
Highest Sky Top Lake
Highest Sky Top Lake
Rest break before entering the Southwest Ramp
Rest break before entering the Southwest Ramp
Sky Top Lakes Basin
Sky Top Lakes Basin
Mount Villard and Glacier Peak
Mount Villard and Glacier Peak
Topping out of the SW ramp
Topping out of the SW ramp
Middle section of the southwest ramp
Middle section of the southwest ramp
Icy section in the Southwest Ramp
Icy section in the Southwest Ramp
Notch used on ascent
Notch used on ascent
Granite Peak Register
Granite Peak Register
Views northward from Granite Peak
Views northward from Granite Peak
Summit selfie
Summit selfie
Descending the summit (John Fadgen photo)
Descending the summit (John Fadgen photo)
Lower fixed rope section
Lower fixed rope section
Descending on the glacier
Descending on the glacier
Granite Peak
Granite Peak
Mountain Goat at Camp (John Fadgen photo)
Mountain Goat at Camp (John Fadgen photo)
Dylan, the tent, and Little Dylan (Mtn Goat)
Dylan, the tent, and Little Dylan (Mtn Goat)
Hiking out on a beautiful day
Hiking out on a beautiful day
Rough Lake views
Rough Lake views
Cabin at the trailhead
Cabin at the trailhead




Please send comments, suggestions, and questions to Dan.
© 2018 All Rights Reserved IdahoSummits.com