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2. Granite Peak

Granite Peak’s northeast face in summer, with prominent snow slopes.
The inspiring northeast face of Granite Peak is just 1,500 feet of elevation gain from high camp, but strenuous climbing can make it a full day.

Granite Peak is known as “the roof of Montana”, but it is a lot more than just the state’s highest peak. The tallest 12er of the Beartooth Range in the Northern Rocky Mountains, climbing here requires rock and snow skills, with lengthy approaches and big elevation gain. The payoff? Some truly high-quality stone.

Among Highpointers (those who aim to summit the highest mountain in each state), Granite Peak is considered to be the most difficult climb after Denali. Snow melts slowly, typically covering the rock faces until a sweet window in August when the spires become exposed along the steep ridgeline that leads to the summit.

More rock climbing than “mountaineering”

A rock climber at heart, I prefer Granite over other “Highpoints” like Gannett or Rainier because of the technical climbing involved. However, this makes the summit less accessible for non-climbers. For one, you need mountaineering gear—rope, ice axe, and crampons. In that sense, this is rock climbing, classic mountaineering, and the backcountry experience combined.

During your approach, you will pass by the beautiful Mystic Lake. The fishing is supposedly phenomenal, in case you want to bring your rod.

Wildlife viewings are common, with mountain goats particularly likely to hang out at the campsites. Because of that, make sure to pee on the rocks. The friendly goats are always in need of some extra salt, and they’ll easily prod the entire camp looking for goodies if they can’t easily lick it off the rocks. Forest Service policy.

Montana has the largest grizzly bear population in the lower 48, and they are likely to be wandering around this time of year, especially in the valleys. Hike in groups and bring some bear spray. I recommend watching some youtube videos about bear safety.

Climbing Granite Peak is a serious endeavor

Many parties try to ascend Granite Peak during the summer. Despite the easy grading of max. 5.6 in places, climbers often get forced to turn around, lost on the plateau, or underestimate the weather. To succeed, you need both mountaineering and alpine climbing skills, along with a high level of fitness. Every season sees at least one rescue.

I’m told that one season, a Beartooth Mountain Guide woke up to a stranger who was drenched in water from the storm outside and was looking for shelter in their tent.

If you do want to attempt it, there are three main routes to the summit: via the Froze-to-Death Plateau (standard route), the Huckleberry Creek drainage, and the Southwest ramp from the Aero Lakes area.

The East Ridge (Standard Route), 5.4 – 5.6

Accessed via the Froze-to-Death Plateau, The East Ridge is the most popular route to the summit. It probably has the least amount of snow later in the season, but you’ll still have to cross a “snow bridge”.

Southwest Ramp Class 3

Approached from the south via Cooke City, this is probably the easiest route to the top. Along the way, you’ll cross a landscape laced with many lakes and ascend snow and rock up Granite’s “backside”. Be aware of other climbers in front of you, as they might kick off loose rocks. The high likelihood of rock fall makes this a particularly dangerous route.

The Notch Gully and West Ridge 1500’, AI2+, 5.7

Reserved for experienced mountaineers looking for a challenge. Access this route via the Huckleberry Creek drainage and be prepared for some steeper ice and snow climbing. The high likelihood of rock fall makes this a particularly dangerous route.

Plan at least 2 – 3 days for the standard route, and be prepared for 11 miles one way and almost 8,000 feet of elevation gain to the summit. As a day-tripper without an overnight kit, you might get trapped in a storm or get lost, which leaves you with less room for error.

If you are unsure if your skill level is suited for an attempt on Granite Peak, play it safe and consider hiring a guide from the local guide service Beartooth Mountain Guides.

About the author
Mountain Guide and Co-Owner of Beartooth Mountain Guides and 57hours Guide Education Fund Recipient

Anju is an AMGA Assistant Rock Guide and Apprentice Alpine Guide. She runs with her partner Beartooth Mountain Guides located in Southern Montana. She is passionate about making the outdoors accessible for underrepresented groups in a supportive and empowering way. Originally from Germany, she has lived in Turkey, Chile, and the US and loves to connect her climbing pursuits with traveling.

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