Highpoint : Montana. Granite Peak (12799’) Southwest Couloir- July 24th 2010

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timmus

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St-Bruno, Qc. Avatar: At Guyot Shelter
Granite was planned for months, but was suppose to be climbed after Borah(ID), so we would be more acclimatized and there would be less snow up there. We were already in Idaho when we checked the weather forecast, and saw four sunny icons for Cooke City MT… Anyone who once planned doing that peak knows how bad the weather is up there, so we made our packs for a 4-days hike, checked out and drove 8 hours. That evening we looked for a place to spend the night at the Soda Butte Campground (MT), and JS said: it’s so close to Yellowstone, I don’t trust the grizzlies here. A week later we talked about that campground on VFTT :

http://www.vftt.org/forums/showthread.php?p=324667#post324667

Now I believe everything my boyfriend says ;-)

We left Lulu Pass Rd TH at 8:30AM, for a +/- 8 miles approach. We didn’t want to use the normal route (from the North) because of it’s more technical, and we rather do more distance than rappels. Also, sleeping at Lone Elk Lake under a tree cover sounded better than the Froze-To-Death Plateau. That said, the Southwest couloir is usually climbed after the snow is gone, in August or September.

The approach was strenuous, a lots of ups and down, plus many river crossings (in crocs). The bugs were not as bad as in the Wind Rivers (WY), but still annoying. The off-trail path is clearly visible and there’s cairns all along the way. Not always reliable but still helpful (there’s always a moron or two thinking they do good by making a cairn on the way, not knowing their route might not be the best…)

During that day we saw only 4 hikers who went for the summit from that side, none of them succeed. Some got lost, and they all said there was too much snow in the couloir, they didn’t have ice ax… And they added: Damn it’s freaking steep !! Since the beginning of the trip, I’ve been anxious about that climb, feeling that it might be over our head. Now knowing we would have to go up 600-700 feet on 55-65° snow slope, with class 3 or 4 rock scrambles, I thought maybe it is really over our heads. We decided to bring the full gear, rope, harness, anchors, and see how far we would go with that. I told JS that if I feel I’m done, I would sit down and wait for him at a safe place, if possible.

Second morning, July 24th, we left our tent at 3:50AM under the stars. It was warm, but still we had gore-tex pants and fleece, hat and gloves. Right away I didn’t feel well. Cant’ be altitude (10 000’), so I knew it was anxiety. It was going all weird in my digestive system. I had to stop every 15 minutes, and we lost a lot of time. Later my nose started bleeding (from dryness), it was 7AM and we were not even near the base of Granite. I had serious concerns, ‘’I’m not going to make it’’ I thought.

Besides all this, nothing was too difficult so far. We were following the west banks of the Sky Top lakes leading to Granite’s base, the GPS was our best friend for that. Everything is pretty similar up there ! We used crampons for one section only, the snow was still pretty hard, and a fall would have take me into a frozen lake… Anyway, we had plenty of time, the sky was still totally free of clouds.

The more I was getting closer to the mountain, the more I felt I had to give it a try. It was like a magnet. Finally we see the ‘’black diamond slab’’, and the snow climb starts way below it, unlike we had planned. We could have contoured the snow by going in rocks, but thought we should get into a snow mood right now, so we would feel more confident later in the couloir. By then I was totally into it, I can’t explain why the danger brings courage to me, but I think I just love doing that kind of stuff, even when I’m scared to death (At one point I actually wished for an helicopter ride to put an end to this ASAP). JS’s motivation was also a big help, I don’t think anyone else could make me do as much as we did that day. He just tells me : C’mon, that’s nothing, you can do it. And because I succeed on each steps (or crux), I started to believe him more and more. So I attacked the couloir with my mind set on it, feeling comfortable with all this. In the worst sections, I was consolidating the steps behind, ice ax securing my moves, and I was smiling. I knew at that point that it would be a downclimb later, so I made sure the steps were good. That couloir is in the shadow until noon, so no worries about snow getting too soft.

It was a never ending climb. It took us 2 hours approx. just to get on top of it (exit on the right side), and then something like 30-45 minutes in rock stuff (some sections are exposed, but the occasional cairn shows where to go). We could hear voices; the summit was only minutes away. I felt tears building up; I couldn’t believe I’ve made it. As we walked the final ridge we saw a bunch of guys on the summit, so I swallowed my tears back inside. The group looked like as if they just climbed Chocorua NH… City pants, eating Pringles, talking on cell phones… I felt weird all geared up ! They came from the FTD plateau, started at 9AM. Two very different climbs we told them. But they were locals, so they’re always more relax than us, Easterners. We signed the register, took pictures and headed down. It took us 10 hours to go up, I estimated at least 7 to go down, and it was 2PM. Still not a single cloud, lucky us it was a thunderstorm-free afternoon. But still we were impatient to be lower, on safer ground.

JS kept telling me climbing down the rocks was easier than going up, I didn’t believe him until I did it. Then downclimbing the couloir was a matter of taking our time, double-checking each step. Too bad we couldn’t butt slide, but really, that would have been suicidal. When I took off my crampons I felt like a new person, with only one thing in my mind : we did it, we did it, we freaking climbed Granite, 2nd toughest highpoint after Denali, we did it, on our own, and we did it well. We chose the rocks to get back down to the base instead of snow, it took longer but it was safer. With the fatigue kicking in I preferred that.

When we retrieved our stashed hiking poles we realized a pica had lunch from it. The handles were all chewed up. Damn wildlife ! After that is was all about backtracking, pumping water for the return, eating a little and more bleeding nose to take care of. I went through the whole toilet paper roll ! We got back at the tent at 9:15PM, more than 17 hours after leaving it. Near basecamp we met a group who was trying the summit the day after, they didn’t have ice axes. I think we demoralized them after telling our story. Whatever happened to them, I’m pretty sure they had a blast anyway.

The morning after JS asked me to get out of the tent, threatening me, saying I would regret it all my life if I don’t. So I put my pants on and get out. This is when he puts a knee down, and took a beautiful ring from behind his back… OMG !!!!! Of course the ring is made from a pine tree branch and alpine flowers, but hey, it wasn’t planned! I said yes and finally those contained tears were flowing down my cheeks, and I felt life can’t be better than how it was at that moment.

Aerial view of the Southwest Couloir

MY PHOTO ALBUM Sorry I don't have a lot a pics of the actual climb, you can guess why.
 
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Real nice pics of a cool trip...Congrats on the peak and everything else!!!
 
Awesome job you two! That's a tough day, but you stuck with it and persevered! Sweet pics too...

Timmus, that was a lot harder than our winter Katahdin trip a few years ago. The sky is the limit...

Also, nice TR and pics from your Utah climbs. I did some climbing in the Twin Peaks area from Big Cottonwood Canyon in early April. The Wasatch Range is beautiful...
 
Thanks everybody !

Timmus, that was a lot harder than our winter Katahdin trip a few years ago. The sky is the limit...

Yeah, 4 years ago on that trip I had to rent koflachs, I had someone's else helmet and ice ax !

The whole roll? :eek:

yes, I also left blood stains on the beautiful glacier :eek:

Took me three tries via FTD Plateau because of weather (lightning).

We were so fortunate with weather, I still can't believe it. The whole trip could have been very different...
 
Riveting trip report and a beautiful ending! :)
 
Yippee! Congratulations, you two. :D

My buddy Chris and I climbed Granite via the SW Coulior last summer on a rare perfect weather day. Chris has been up via FTD Plateau as well as another lesser used route from the north. He liked the SW Coulior the best. The approach is lovely... very High Sierra like. Of course, grizzlies aren't a problem in CA so that added an extra little bonus adrenaline rush.

We referred to the following trip reports on Summit Post:

http://www.splattski.com/2007/granite/index.html
and
http://www.summitpost.org/route/160092/southwest-couloir-route.html

(BTW, contrary to the author's assertion, there is no freaking way an "agile dog" could've ascended our route without a rope assist!!)

Compared to your route (the aerial view), it looks like their/our "SW Coulior" is the next coulior to the north. Am I mistaken? We did it in early August so there was quite a bit less snow although not having schlepped in crampons, axes, or ropes (we did wear helmets :D ), there were a few spots where we were, uh, enticed away from the ice (!) and onto rock. We tried a different route down, but it didn't go so we were forced to climb back up a couple hundred feet and descend the way we had climbed.

A very fun high point!!
 
Compared to your route (the aerial view), it looks like their/our "SW Coulior" is the next coulior to the north. Am I mistaken?

I'm pretty sure it's the same couloir, we gathered info from many previous TR's including the two you mentionned.

I was wondering how much the snow can make a couloir steeper...

BTW, contrary to the author's assertion, there is no freaking way an "agile dog" could've ascended our route without a rope assist!!


A mountain goat yes, but a dog ? No way !!!!!!!!!
 
nice job, you two!

i'm going to hire out your guiding services soon! :D
 

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