Sept 12-14 – Southwest Couloir Route
Last summer Dan and I were planning a trip to Montana’s Granite Peak. Unfortunately an early season snowfall required us to cancel the outing. Earlier this year we recruited a few other climbers, my son Dylan, (Super) Dave Pahlas, and Michael Pelton for the climb and the weather held out!
Dan, Dave, Michael and I met up with Dylan Friday evening at Steve and Margo’s place in Pocatello. After hugs all around, we were off to Driggs to catch a few winks at Steve and Margo’s sweet condo. Thanks guys!
The fastest route to Cooke City, MT requires a trip through Yellowstone National Park. Though it was Saturday morning, we breezed through the park in a couple of hours and were at the Upper Lulu Pass trail head hiking toward Lady of the Lake a little after 11AM.
Earlier trip reports of the Southwest Couloir route showed it to be dry, allowing us lighten our packs by leaving our ice axes and crampons at home. It was an absolutely gorgeous morning with bright sunshine and no wind as we made our way along the forested trail. We made quick time up to Lady of the Lake and had our first extended break at the junction of Zimmer Creak and the Broadwater River, a little over 3 miles in.
|Michael enjoying the break|
Following the break, we took a right and followed the trail down to Sky Top Creek. We then followed Sky Top Creek for another three miles or so, bypassing the outlet from Lower Aero Lake, before we emerged into the alpine area of Lone Elk Lake. At this point we had our first good views of the Granite Peak area, and they did not disappoint!
|Sky Top Creek|
|Headwaters of Sky Top Creek|
|Lone Elk Lake|
|Heading to camp|
|Dave and Dylan admiring Granite|
After a restless night sleeping and a quick breakfast, we skipped across our Sky Top lake creek outlet, took a left and headed toward Granite Peak. We initially had easy walking on alpine meadows interspersed with boulder sections. As we approached the Sky Top glacial moraine, the meadows gave way to rocks, boulders and then huge boulders. As we topped out on the moraine, we had a great view of Granite Peak, though our route was hidden. From Splattski’s trip report (http://www.splattski.com/2007/granite/), we knew that we had to stay below the multi-colored smooth slab until it ended and then the southwest couloir would reveal itself.
We picked our way among the huge boulders to the base of Granite where we put on our helmets. Here, we followed a goat trail along the base eventually reaching the slab. Once we reached the end of the slab, we could see into the southwest couloir and our route became clearer. Clearer – but not easier.
|Surveying the route (what's left of Sky Top Glacier in background)|
|Dave scrambling on the loose rock|
Eventually we reached the end of the couloir at a ridge top and could look down into what is known as “The Gash”. It was a big drop on the other side of “The Gash”. We traversed to climber’s left and picked our way upward, following the occasional cairns. There were several ramps and steep slots we used to move upward, but there wasn’t any exposure to speak of.
Fifteen minutes later all five of us were on the summit of Granite Peak – Montana’s highest point! It had taken us 3.5 hours to reach the summit from our camp. The sun was shining brightly, but the wind was blowing, so we stayed on the summit long enough to sign the register and take some photos. The ones that brought their phones along checked the BSU/BYU football score (BSU lost) and updated their Facebook profiles.
|"Froze to Death Plateau" the other route to Granite|
All that was left was to boulder hop our way down the moraine and back to camp. Unfortunately, the boulder hopping was sapping our strength. The hopping turned into slogging, and everyone was lost in their own thoughts as we strung out. Everyone made it back to camp about four hours after we had started our descent. Other than Dave, we were a bit whipped.
|Looking back up|
Dave, on the other hand, decided to climb the peak above our camp – Peak 11,379. With storm clouds gathering, we wished him luck as he took off.
While Dave was up "enjoying" another peak, the four of us sat around camp chatting while cooking dinner. Dave returned from his side trip right about the time the passing clouds decided to release some moisture. It wasn't bad, just enough to be an annoyance.
Dave also brought along a friend, a mountain goat which he kicked up on his ascent. "Little Dylan", as Dave called him, stuck around camp licking everyone's dried urine off the rocks surrounding camp. We had heard about this occurring, so were careful to relieve ourselves away from our tents. "Little Dylan" provided a couple hours of fun, with everyone taking goat selfies and coming up with urine marketing ideas.
|View of Granite from camp|
It rained a bit more that night while we were all in our tents, but Monday morning was clear, though a bit chilly. After a quick breakfast we loaded up and headed out, reversing Saturday's 9 mile trek. Other than a close encounter with a black bear, it was an uneventful trip out.
We made it back in Cooke City at the tail end of the lunch rush, allowing us to enjoy our bacon cheeseburgers in peace.
An epic trip, with some epic guys!
Mileage: Approximately 25 miles
Elevation: Approximately 4000 feet
Time: Who cares on a trip like this
Dan's Trip Report: http://idahosummits.com/trip_reports/trip_report.php?trip_id=168
Dave's Trip Report: