Park County High Point Trip Report

Granite Peak (12,799 ft)

Dates: August 3-6, 2002
Author: Dave Covill

Our group of 9 joined forces to reach the top of Montana. We stayed at Betty & Jerry Brekhus' house in Red Lodge MT, savored burgers & brats washed down with beer and soda there, survived a windstorm on the lawn which blew away Jennifer's tent, and headed up on Saturday morning, August 3rd.

We strung out a bit this day, but managed to all make the saddle on the lower end of Froze-To-Death Plateau (FTDP) by mid-afternoon. We set up camp here, and found water at the lower edge of a snow field on the west side of the saddle. This was a hike of about 6 - 7 miles, up about 3,500 feet. It rained violently upon us all evening, until about 4 AM. At dinner time we were joined by Jim Earl, Edward's younger brother, who is a former mountain guide. He was wet but glad to find us. We found out that on top of FTDP, it had hailed and snowed as well, and two guys were forced to abandon their summit bid Sunday AM due to wet rock on top. They had stayed right at the top of FTDP at about 12,000 feet, near the path down to the Tempest-Granite saddle, and were literally sleepless all night.

We hiked the length of FTDP, about 5 miles and 1,700 feet up, on Sunday. Edward and Jennifer went ahead the last half-mile to check out the upper camp previously mentioned, but a guide, Katherine, from Jackson Hole Mountain Guides, who was taking two women from MT who were Highpointers Club members, advised us to look into a nice site about 1/4 mile down from the high camp. It was to the left (southwest) side of the Plateau, as the Plateau curves and runs up to Tempest Mountain, and directly under the peak of Tempest, right below a smiley-face shaped snow field. It was down about 30 feet from the level part of the plateau, and about 500 feet from the standard route. It had over 10 tent-rings with big windbreaks, and a nice stream for a water source. Perfect for all of us!

That evening, who should show up but Leon Barkman (host of the VT 1995 convention), his nephew Lee, and Jack Edwards. They had teamed up via the Klimbin Kollaborator, and I had told Leon when we would be up there. They had hiked all the way up there in one day, and joined us the next morning for the assault on the peak. We now had a group of 13, although Jim Earl was set to solo a route on ice and rock, and said he would find us later on the mountain.

It rained briefly Sunday night, but come dawn the weather was perfect, not a cloud in the sky. We started at 6 AM sharp Monday August 5th, and made it to the snow bridge shortly after 8 AM. Here, I went across 1st, using one of the 2 axes we brought up as group gear. The 2nd was used by another person, and no one used any of the 3 pairs of small in-step crampons we brought. Edward belayed me from a strong anchor he set up, and I fixed the far end of the 75-foot 7 mm auxiliary rope Mike had brought. We left the rope here for our return crossing, and everyone prussiked across without event. As we crossed, Jim Earl yelled down from above to us. He assisted us all from that point up, and we would have been many hours longer without his help.

We sent a party looking to the left above the snow bridge, while most of us went straight up the recommended chute. I should note that about 7 people present owned a copy of Don Jacobs' fine guidebook to Granite, and at least one copy was with us. We followed the route from there, and it was a great route. John Mitchler had worked with me previously with his photos and this guidebook's photos, and that information was invaluable. We used a 50-foot 7 mm rope for some quick upper belays here. We soon crossed the V-notch, and entered the south ridge and its bowl area. From here, we fixed the 200-foot 8.8 mm rope, and most folks prusssiked themselves up it, zigzagging up the chute, right along the ledge, the left up another chute, to an area just below the summit. From here, all climbed without protection to the capstone hole, around it, and up to the summit.

It was amazing to see that all 13 of us had done it! Jim was chagrined to find that some scalawag had made off with his valuable ice axe he had stashed on the summit while he descended to help us. He thinks he knows who did this via the summit register, and hopefully this person will return his axe to him. I can assist that communication if need be.

We lined up and took a photo with a 5-foot x 3-foot US flag, and then many other poses and combos. The weather was still holding out fine for us, at about 1 PM. We stayed perhaps 30 minutes total, then began to descend. We set up a rappel just below the summit on 1/2 of the 200-foot rope and then again lower on the other 1/2 of it. Most used this. Edward and I removed all protection except 2 slings and a carabiner, rappelled down, and joined the group below. We re-fashioned the rope to a long, 200-foot rappel, and got most of the group off, wherein we turned it into a doubled 100-foot rappel and went down. Once we were at the top of the V-notch, things bogged down, so we quickly fashioned another long, sinuous rappel, and got everyone to the snow bridge by about 3:00+ PM. We all prussiked across, and belayed Jim Earl last, who brought the anchor equipment. It was getting icy here now. The snow bridge was about 30 - 35 feet across, definitely smaller than in the past. One note - I do not think a fall here would be fatal, but you would slide quite a ways to rocky debris on the slope below. I would have crossed it without a rope, but an axe and the knowledge to use it would be essential. Cross when it is soft, as it turns hard when the sun passes to the west.

From here, we got strung out pretty good, with the last couple of climbers making their way back to camp around 7 PM, a 13 hour day. We had hopes of a mid-afternoon return and moving the camp back down the plateau, but that was the last thing on our minds then. We enjoyed dinner, and coffee and cocoa with Irish Whiskey I had brought along. Several other groups had joined the campsite by then, including Club member Lonnie Haynes from OK, and others from MT, including Boy Scouts.

We headed out Tuesday morning, crossed the plateau in 2 - 3 hours, then descended the switchbacks still together. At the low end of the Plateau, we passed 2 groups of about 12 - 15 Boy Scouts each, all looking woefully under-prepared to be there. We regrouped at Mystic Lake, where I proceeded to enjoy a dip while others washed up. Total descent of about 5,300 feet in about 10 - 12 miles. We got to the cars around 4 PM, and bee-lined for the Grizzly Bar in Roscoe, part way back to Red Lodge. Most had enormous steaks, while Adam had ice cream treats both before and after his meal of seafood alfredo pasta.

It was a great group to be on a tough peak with, and amazing that we all could summit together. Everyone contributed, no one freaked out, and all did team work for 4 days to make it happen.

The original team of nine: Dave and Beckie Covill, Jennifer Roach (Colorado); Chuck Bickes (Massachusetts); Kevin Williamson (Georgia); Mike Coltrin, Scott Surgent (Arizona); Edward Earl, Adam Helman (California).