No more high points do I seek now that I’ve climbed Granite Peak
Soon after I decided to try Granite Peak this year, I advertised in the High Pointers Club magazine for a partner. Cynthia, a 57 year old high pointer from Chico, California, answered my ad and we decided to try Granite together. So when we left the trail head on Thursday, 19 August 2010, there were four of us; Me, Cynthia, Kenny the guide, and A.J. the porter. In addition to his own gear, A. J. carried 38 pounds of food and group gear including stoves, fuel, bear canister, and the tent he and Kenny shared. Kenny carried the rope and climbing gear, Cynthia and I carried, in addition to our personal gear and lunches for 5 days, our helmets and harnesses, and we each carried half of the tent we shared.
The first day’s hike took us past the Mystic Lake Hydroelectric Plant and up West Rosebud Creek to Mystic Lake, then up a bunch of gently sloped switchbacks to Froze-to-Death Plateau, then south along the plateau to our campsite. This was a seven mile day with about 4,200 feet of elevation gain.
On day two we awoke to find several mountain goats nearby. They eventually walked close to our camp, grazing and playing while keeping an eye on us. After breakfast we packed up camp and moved southwest along the plateau about three miles to a campsite at the base of Tempest Mountain at about 12,000 feet. There was a green tent set up there when we arrived and we assumed the owner(s) were attempting to summit and would be back later in the day We spent the afternoon resting in anticipation of an early start on summit day – day three. By the time we went to bed the wind had come up with strong gusts mixed with intervals of calm. The green tent remained unoccupied, and we worried about what might have happened to the owner(s). We slept poorly due to the noise and the motion of our tent being whipped by gusts of wind.
Day three: Only about 800 feet more to the summit at 12,799, right? Well not quite. First we descend about 700 feet to a saddle, and then back up 1,500 feet to the summit. We (Kenny, Cynthia, and I) started about 4:30AM in the dark, and with strong gusting winds. I left camp wearing every item of clothing I was taking to the summit except for one puffy jacket and a sun hat which I carried in a small Camelback backpack purchased for the occasion.
After descending to the saddle over intermixed boulder fields, and scree, we started up the ridge on mostly boulders. At one point I grabbed a large boulder and it slipped downward, trapping my foot. I couldn’t move it alone, but with Kenny’s help, we extracted my foot uninjured. We continued climbing until we reached the snow bridge; one of several “low probability, high consequence” (LP-HC) obstacles encountered along the route; places where a fall was unlikely to happen, but if it did, it would almost certainly end in serious injury or death. (We were roped up for most of these LP-HC obstacles).
Once the snow bridge was crossed, the remainder of the ascent was climbing steep rock. Most of it was the type of climbing we have all done as kids, except for the LP-HC aspect. Some of it was sufficiently difficult that Kenny climbed ahead and set an anchor, and then Cynthia and I followed one at a time with a rope tied to our harness, and kept tight from above by Kenny so that it would arrest a fall if one should occur.
The summit is a small rock with barely enough space for the three of us, but just below the summit is an area with more space and less exposure, where the summit log is located. We took pictures, signed the summit log, eat some lunch, and moved out.
On the way down, there were two or three places where Kenny lowered us one at a time by rope; our bodies were almost horizontal, supported by a rope attached to our harness and let out little by little by Kenny from above, while we walked down nearly vertical rock with our feet. We met several groups going up as we were going down, and were delayed at the bottlenecks where ropes were used waiting for them to clear.
The final portion of the descent was the 700 feet UP to our campsite, where we rested for a while, and learned from A. J., who stayed behind while we summated, that the owners of the green tent were a father and son who had lost the trail as light faded and has ended up on Tempest Mountain, above our campsite. Realizing they were lost, they spent the night on the mountain, and at first light were able to find their way back to the green tent.
In mid afternoon we broke camp and moved back to the campsite where we had spent the first night. It was about 1,200 feet lower and we hoped we could escape the wind there. As it turned out, there were periods of rain and wind throughout the night, and we were very glad we were not at the high camp where the weather was probably more violent.
On day four, we broke camp and hiked back down off the plateau through rain showers to Mystic Lake and back to the trailhead. Day five, which was in the schedule to allow us to sit at high camp for an extra day if the weather was bad, was not needed – we completed in four days!
Granite Peak is said to be the 2nd most difficult high point, after Denali. For me, Gannett Peak, WY was much more physically demanding with 50 miles of hiking and 10,500 feet of elevation gain. Granite peak was only 25 miles of hiking and about 7,000 feet of gain. What would have made it more difficult was the route finding, and the technical climbing, both of which were handled by Kenny, our guide; for the tricky stuff, we just had to follow him, or follow his directions.
We also had very good luck with the weather. Climbing up or down dry rock in sunshine is one thing, climbing wet rock, with rain or snow falling, with low temperatures and wind, and possibly low visibility is quite another.
My quest to reach the high point of each of the lower 48 states is complete! Some time in the future Dinah & I hope to visit the high point of Hawaii which will be my 49th.
Back in 2006 I decided to give Denali a try in 2007. I bought gear, took a glacier travel course, and tried to work out every day. But a failed attempt at Mt. Rainier in September 2006 caused me to re-assess. Even assuming I still have the ability, I’m no longer up for three weeks of climbing and camping at high elevation (up to 20,000 feet!) and cold temperatures. I’ll settle for the possibility of 49, and am very happy to have reached 48.
I am dedicating my high point completion to Ned Obermeyer, my lifelong friend who died suddenly at the end of July. We have done many things together over the last 60+ years. Ned was an usher at my first wedding, and both best man and photographer when Dinah & I married. I miss him. I placed his picture, and my dedication, at the summit of Granite Peak.