GRANITE PEAK, THE MONTANA HIGHPOINT
On the morning of August 14, Jodie, Jose, and I set out on an adventure in Jodie's brand new gold (not orange) Jeep Wrangler. The tentative plan was to drive up toward Granite Peak, the high point of Montana, hiking a few peaks on the way up and a few on the way back. Weather prevented us from hitting the peaks on the return trip, but it was a wonderful trip nonetheless.
Thursday, the first day of our trip, was just driving. We drove about eight hours up to the trailhead for Bridger Peak. It was a scenic, but long drive, and we arrived right at dusk. We set up camp, gazed at the stars, saw a few shooting stars from the tail end of the Perseid meteor shower, and went to sleep as we were serenaded by howling coyotes.
Heading up the steep trail to Bridger Peak
Friday morning, we got an early start, and set off on the short, but steep hike up to Bridger Peak (9255'). We gained 1100' in just over a mile to the summit. We enjoyed a beautiful morning and a nice view of the region, including spectacular Bear Lake to the east. Bridger Peak is the high point of Rich County, Utah, and has the distinction of being the lowest of Utah's 26 county high points.
Summit photo on Bridger Peak
After a quick descent to the car, we broke camp and made about an hour drive over to the trailhead for Naomi Peak. Naomi Peak (9979') is the high point of Cache County, Utah. It has a good trail to the summit and gains 2000' over 3.5 miles to the summit. We passed many people en route to the top, and enjoyed great scenery with wildflowers and rocky pinnacles. We shared the summit with a friendly family from nearby Logan, UT and enjoyed some snacks before heading down.
Meandering through fields of flowers
Jodie approaching the summit of Naomi Peak
Summit photo on Naomi Peak
It was around noon when we got back to the car, and started driving north. Our driving route took us through Yellowstone NP, but since we wanted to get to the Granite trailhead by dark, we didn't have time to sightsee. It was sad to rush through such a beautiful place, especially since Jose and Jodie had never spent any time there before! Driving through the park was a bit tedious following tourists who would drive slowly, then abruptly stop to gawk at wildlife. As we drove through we did see deer, pronghorn, and about 200 bison.
Despite the slow drive through Yellowstone, we still were able to get the Granite trailhead by dark and were just able to set up tents without headlamps. We met the fourth member of our group, Kevin, at the trailhead. He lives in the Bay Area in northern CA. He had attempted Granite Peak previously from the other more technical route and was forced to turn back by weather. Kevin was a strong hiker and a great addition to our team.
Our route up Granite Peak was to be the SW couloir route, which was supposed to be no more than class 3 without too much snow/ice on the route. Fortunately for us, Collin, Anji, and Austin had been there 3 weeks before us and gave us lots of very useful beta about the route. Thanks for all info Collin!
Sunday morning, the four of us got up, packed our backpacks (including bear barrels, bear spray, and ice axes) and started the 11 mile hike to our base camp. We started out at a good pace as the trail starts out along old road with very easy grades. About a mile and a half in we came Lady of the Lake, a large lake almost a mile long. We were feeling good and strolling along past beautiful scenery. In another mile or so we came to the first of many major stream crossings. we were able to keep our feet dry as there were enough rocks to hop across on. We had a bit of routefinding trouble here as there were several trails heading off in different directions. We started down one incorrect trail before realizing our error. Quite amusingly, another group headed to Granite followed us down the wrong trail too!
Back on track, we followed a large stream, Broadwater Creek, downstream for about a half a mile. We had to cross it one point, but fortunately Jodie spied some logs we could cross on and keep our feet dry. Then our trail headed up the Sky Top drainage for several miles. It was a very gradual ascent...at first.
Presently we came to another stream crossing with no easy way across. There were two wobbly and slick logs that went most of the way across. Kevin went first and managed to negotiate the two logs without slipping or falling in, so I followed. I made it most of the way across, but got my shoes a bit wet at the end. As I got to the other side, I looked back to see how Jose and Jodie were doing. To my shock and surprise, I saw Jodie had fallen in and was in to her waist in a deep spot! Jose and some other hikers tried to help her, but she got out by herself. She was quite distraught, and I thought she might be hurt, but she was only worried that her camera and phone may have gotten wet (which they hadn't)!
Unfortunately, my camera battery had died before this, but I could have gotten a great photo of Jodie waist-deep in the stream! After the crossing, the trail follows the creek through a beautiful meadow with wildflowers and waterfalls. It truly is a wonderfully scenic route! After the meadow, the trail becomes quite steep following the creek up the side of a canyon. Then it enters another basin filled with lakes. The trail, which now becomes faint in places, leads around the left side of Lone Elk Lake, then crosses the outlet and follows the right side of the larger Rough Lake. By the way, another great thing about this route is there is water EVERYWHERE! There is really no need to carry much, if any water, since you can stop and drink whenever you want.
Lady of the Lake, about 1.5 miles from the trailhead
Tremendous wildflowers as we hike through a valley
Kevin, Joel, Jodie, and Jose (stream where Jodie fell in behind us)
Following a faint trail along the outlet from Rough Lake
Leaving Rough Lake we followed the inlet creek for a bit then had to make yet another stream crossing. This one was probably the widest we crossed, and we took a variety of approaches to crossing. Kevin took off his hiking shoes and waded barefoot, Jodie and Jose changed into water shoes they had brought, and I just plunged right through in my hiking shoes! I got quite a nice break on the other side waiting for the others to get their hiking shoes back on.
Kevin demonstrating the barefoot stream crossing technique
From there we had to climb over a little saddle to reach the Sky Top Basin, where there were numerous lakes (and was where we planned to camp). At this point, we were probably only a mile or so from our camp spot, but it took a long time to get there. We were all getting tired, and the terrain around the four lakes we had to pass to get to camp was tedious, with lots of bouldering and crossing snowfields, all with a full pack of course. We finally found a decent spot, and although it really wasn't great, we were happy to get our heavy packs off!
This is the largest of the Sky Top Lakes. We camped above the next lake up.
As we made camp here at 10,600', it got quite windy, making setting up tents challenging. I got set up, ate dinner, and then it began to rain, not heavily, but enough to be annoying. I went into my tent and got in my sleeping bag, and it was so warm and comfortable. Even though it was not yet 5:30, I decided right then to be anti-social and stay in my tent the rest of the night. Jose and Kevin came over to eat near our tents and Jodie actually had a dance party in her tent, but I was very happy to chat with everyone...from the comfort of my tent. Eventually, it started to rain harder, and everyone went back to their tents.
During the night, the rain and wind intensified at several points, so we slept fitfully (although Kevin said he slept well). During the night I worried about the weather, since it was pouring at 2 am, but by 4:30 when we rolled out, it had stopped and the skies were partially clear. We ate some breakfast by headlamp, and packed up small packs for summit bid. We started out about 5:45 as it was just getting light. We opted to leave our ices axes in camp as the beta from the hikers we had passed was that they were unnecessary. As it turned out, it would have been easier if we had brought them.
At first, the terrain was rocky, but not difficult. As we approached the massive face of Granite, we could see much of our route - up a steep chute below a polished slab, then a sharp right back up the SW couloir. The couloir was hidden at this point, but you could see where it would be. To get onto the face, we had to cross a fairly level snowfield, but it was very icy this early in the morning. Kevin very nicely offered me one of his two trekking poles, which helped tremendously for balance on the icy surface. Then we steeply ascended a rocky chute. Parts of it were stable and parts were very loose. We had to leave the chute at one point to avoid a snowfield, but the going was steady. Once past the polished rock slab, we turned right and could see the steep SW couloir. We made good progress until we hit the crux of the climb.
Jodie negotiating the icy snow leading to the base of Granite Peak.
As we got closer, we could see our route (below the polished rock, then hard right up the couloir).
Joel climbing the steep talus
About halfway up the chute, there was a narrow section filled with icy snow. It was a short section (25 feet), but was very awkward as there were limited handholds. I tried to scout out a route to bypass it on the right, but it was class 4-5. So, I came back down to assess the options, but by the time I got back, Jodie had started up the right side of the snowfield, wedging her feet between the rock and the snowfield and pulling herself up. She made it look easy, but it wasn't. In fact, on the way down we met a group that turned around at this point.
We all followed Jodie up, although we did use some webbing that someone had left to help hoist ourselves up a final class 3 climb on wet slick boulders. Once we made it up the snowfield, the route was more or less straightforward. It was steep class 2-3, but there were a variety of options. Eventually we picked our way up through the boulders to the summit block of the highest point in Montana (12,799') just about 9 am.
The weather was holding; there were patchy clouds, but none over us as we enjoyed fantastic views. We shared the summit with two climbers from Bozeman that had come up the other route via Froze to Death Plateau, which they pointed out to us. Froze to Death Plateau was a huge expanse of high, barren (probably with no water) rock - it did not look appealing! We high-fived, signed in, took photos, and ate a snack, before descending.
Joel and Jodie entering the couloir
The higher we climbed, the better the views became.
We made it to the highest point in Montana!
When we got back to the snowfield, the snow had softened a bit, but it was still challenging hugging the rock wall with your feet jammed in the space between the snow and the rock. We all made it down safely and retraced our steps back to camp. After an hour to break camp, we headed down. The hike out was slightly quicker than the hike in, but it seemed long as we were tired. The thing that kept us motivated was the thought of the Beartooth Cafe closing before we got there! We made it, and it was excellent, with good food and beer. Thanks again Collin for the great recommendation!
The original plan was to drive 4-4.5 hours to Diamond Peak in Idaho, which we were to hike on Monday, but the prospect of arriving late, sleeping 2-3 hours, then climbing another tough mountain didn't sound too appealing, so we decided to camp in Yellowstone and sightsee on Monday instead.
We did the tourist thing on Monday, watching Old Faithful, and taking a short loop through nearby geysers. It was a pleasant way to relax after two hard days of backpacking. We decided to try to do Flat Top Mountain in Utah Tuesday, so we drove to the trailhead and carcamped there amidst wandering cows. It was a beautiful, clear evening, but in the wee hours of the morning, it started raining. It rained lightly, but steadily all morning, and we hemmed and hawed about whether we should attempt Flat Top in the rain. It was tempting as the rain wasn't hard, but in the end, being true desert rats, we decided to skip it, and opted to drive south and try Frisco Peak, a shorter hike.
It rained harder and harder as we drove south. Frisco Peak involves a long drive up a dirt road, which had turned to mud, as we found out. We drove about a quarter mile up the road, before slipping and sliding through a big mud puddle. We decided to abort Frisco, since we didn't want to wind up stuck in mud! So, with no peaks on the return trip, we decided to stop for lunch in Cedar City. We found a nice cafe, and amazingly, we ran into LVMC member Sue Wenberg and her mom there! They were on their way back from Colorado...sometimes it's a small world! After enjoying some good food, we drove home. It was a great trip with a great team, and I would highly recommend our route to anyone considering Granite Peak.
Shoshone Peaks from the summit of Sherman Peak
View west from the summit of Sherman Peak (car visible in middle-right)
View north from the summit of Sherman Peak
Summit photo on Sherman Peak
Henry ascending the west ridge of South Shoshone Peak
Looking southeast from the summit of South Shoshone Peak (Arc Dome is left of center)
Looking north from the summit of South Shoshone Peak to North Shoshone Peak
Summit photo on South Shoshone Peak
The west ridge of South Shoshone Peak
Descending South Shoshone Peak
Looking south from the summit of North Shoshone Peak to South Shoshone Peak (somewhere)
Summit photo on South Shoshone Peak
Descending North Shoshone Peak (car visible in bottom-center)
50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act
by Jose Witt
On September 3, 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Wilderness Act. This historic bill established the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) and set aside an initial 9.1 million acres of wildlands for the use and benefit of the American people. In fact, Nevada (the Jarbidge Wilderness) was one of only thirteen states to have land included in the 1964 Act.
As mountaineers we often travel these lands potentially taking for granted how this law has protected the places we love to hike, backpack and climb. As a bit of trivial knowledge, 66% of the LVMC Classic 50 peaks are in designated wilderness areas. They wouldn’t be so classic if there was a tram ride to the top! So, next time you’re headed out for some fresh air check to see if it’s a wilderness area, so you can hike at ease knowing what’s around will be the same for a long time to come.
Marge Sill, long time protector of wilderness suggests how we can celebrate wilderness this year.
CELEBRATE WILDERNESS! A Brief History of the Wilderness Act of 1964
Although John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt strongly advocated protection for the wild areas of our county, the Wilderness Act of 1964 was the most important step in assuring that these wild places were protected. The act, as it was finally passed and signed into law by President Johnson stated, "A wilderness... is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." The bipartisan passage of the act occurred only after many revisions, compromises, and citizen effect since the first draft was written by Howard Zahniser of the Wilderness Society in 1956 and was introduced into Congress by Senator Humphrey and Representative Saylor. Senator Clinton Anderson of New Mexico (the state where the first wilderness--the Gila--began), an early advocate for wilderness, wrote "wilderness is an anchor to windward. Knowing it is there, we can also know that we are still a rich nation, tending our resources as we should--not a people in despair searching every last nook and cranny of our land for a board of lumber, a barrel of oil, a blade of grass, or a tank of water."
For the next fifty years, the Wilderness Act was expanded and many wild areas in the fifty states were designated as wilderness. In Sigurd Olson's words, "Wilderness to the people of America is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the high pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium."
For Nevada, the first wilderness designated under the Wilderness Act was Jarbidge. This remote area in the northeast corner of the state marks the place where the Columbia basin meets the Great Basin. However, after the Wilderness Act was passed, it took 25 years of hard work for a Nevada wilderness bill to pass Congress. The Nevada Wilderness Protection Act was signed into law by President Bush in December of 1989. This bill designated as wilderness such spectacular areas as the alpine Rubies, the popular Mt. Rose and Mt. Charleston areas, and the remote heights of Mt. Moriah. In 2000, the passage of the Black Rock - High Rock Conservation Area included 700,000 acres of wilderness and gave protection to the vast desert expanse of the Black Rock Desert and the historic High Rock Canyon. Bills were passed and signed into law in 2002, 2004, and again in 2006, ensuring that the wild lands of Clark County, Lincoln County, and White Pine county were protected from development. Over three million acres of Nevada land has now been designated as wilderness. However, there are yet many wild areas that have not received this protection. In 2014, during the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, people from all over the state are celebrating what we have achieved and advocating for areas that still need designation so that our wild heritage will be passed on to our grandchildren and their grandchildren.
Bear Creek Spire in the John Muir Wilderness
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Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Unforgettable Trip to Everest
Wednesday, September 24, 2014