The Granite Peaks Traverse
Trad, Alpine, 2500 ft (758 m), 3 pitches, Grade II,
Avg: 2 from 1
> S Central Region
> Beartooth Mount…
> Granite Peak
This is one of the premier mountaineering routes on Granite Peak and makes for an excellent, rarely done route on Montana's highest peak, as long as you don't mind some alpine adventure on loose rock and mild R leading on fractured rock. This traverse tags both Granite Peak, and West Granite Peak (Point 12,745) which is the second highest peak in the state.
***Do not ascend Granite Peak first with the intention to make the traverse from east to west! I assume it might go at 5.8-5.9 on better rock to climb up the rappel, but that will be an adventure for you.***
You can either enjoy carrying your camp over the peak and hiking out over Froze-to-Death Plateau, or do a long loop and descend from the notch in the East Ridge. Either option has you descending the East Ridge to the notch.
The route begins by ascending the summit of West Granite via either the W Face (2000' cl. 2 talus) or SW Ridge (cl. 2+, gained by a southern approach to Granite Pk). Or whatever other route you choose. Once at the summit of West Granite Peak, which is sadly lower, the main summit looks close. You will be able to see the crowds on the summit who came up the standard route.
From the 12,745 foot summit of West Granite, locate a 4 foot wide ledge leading steeply down towards the north and take it 20 feet down. Curve back to the right and descend down a tricky 20 foot slab until you enter a large loose gully dropping towards Cairn Mountain to the south (Class 4, belay might be desired). Descend this loose gully for 100 feet to 12,600 feet and work left onto a system of ledges. Begin traversing loose ledges on the south side of the ridge crest. The ledges more or less stay around 12,600 feet. Pass by a 1 foot wide crack almost wide enough to squeeze through by climbing up 20 feet and just above it and to the left (Class 3). Here the ledge system continues until it suddenly ends at a huge drop off. Just before reaching the cliff, climb back to the ridge crest and cross over to the north side of the ridge through a small notch right before the final tower. Climb around the white colored tower (clean granite) and emerge on a huge ledge overlooking the big drop into the notch below.
Make a 35 meter rappel (with a 70 meter rope) off this ledge from a large flat boulder strategically sitting on the ledge. The start of this rappel is very intimidating as it is slightly overhanging but once you are off the ledge it becomes mellower. A 70 meter rope will not quite make it all the way to the notch below so an additional 30 foot rappel from a large horn is needed. Beware if you are combining rappels with two ropes as they are likely to get stuck and freeing them is a major pain. Once at the 12,480 foot notch, scramble across it a short ways to the base of the opposing wall (Class 3).
Now locate a piton in a small crack on the wall at about hip level and belay here (or so I hear. I don't recall if I found it). You want to climb the obvious deep chimney just to the left of this piton for a full 70 meter pitch (Class 5.4). The chimney itself is filled with loose rock but the rock just to the left (north) is more solid. However, it is fractured so don't pass up pro opportunities and expect mildly runout climbing. The climb is very low angle (about 60-65 degrees) so it isn't difficult, but extreme care should be taken not to pull any large blocks down which may take your leader down with it. The belayer for the most part will be out of the fall zone but it's best to try to keep all the rocks in place and wear a helmet.
If you are climbing the chimney with a 60m rope, you will find a 'thank god' belay right at the end of the rope under an overhanging boulder to the left of the main chimney. This may be the only part of the chimney where you can get 2-3 pieces of gear close enough to equalize into a proper anchor. The steep loose crux is right above and risks a factor 2 fall onto the anchor.
At the top of the chimney, around 12,660 feet, reach a flat section of the ridge and belay your second up on a nice horn. Once atop the chimney, hike across the short flat section of ridge and scramble 100 feet up an obvious gully just to the right (south) of the crest (Class 3). Exit to the right and make another short ledge traverse. Climb briefly up to the ridge crest and above a very exposed 10 foot section of ledge. Pass through a tiny notch just below the summit and continue 30 feet up the ridge to the flat summit ridge (Class 3). Walk easily along the summit ridge for 100 yards to the highest point!
To start this route you need to get to the summit of West Granite Peak. Use either the Southwest Ridge route approaching via Aero Lakes or the West face route approaching via Huckleberry Creek. You will have some fun bushwacking on use trails, beautiful alpine tundra, and a long talus slog. There is a nice campsite at the outlet of Princess Lake & the outlet at Avalanche Lake (more exposed but better views).
Bring a standard light alpine rack (cams & nuts). Smaller sizes are especially helpful on the crux section.
Charlotte at the confidence-inspiring anchor for the VERY long and exposed rappel.
The ass crack of Granite Peak (aka. the crux chimney of the traverse).
Charlotte descending the loose chute beneath the cl. 4 downclimb, before more enjoyable cl. 3-4 ridge scrambling.
Charlotte leading the way traversing from West Granite Peak to Granite Peak.
A climber signing the summit log of Granite Peak, seen from West Granite Peak. YOU have a ways left to go, my friend!
The initial downclimb off of West Granite Peak.
The easiest side on the intriguing spire seen on the approach to West Granite Peak.
Map of the various routes on Granite Peak.
Not a bad view on the approach to West Granite Peak.
Not a bad view on the approach to West Granite Peak. Looks like there might be some routes up there...
West (left) and East (right) Granite Peak seen from Avalanche Lake. The East Ridge ascends on the left, and the traverse (5.4) links the two summits following the craggy skyline.
View from Avalanche Lake campsite.