Last weekend, Sagar, Carter, Pat and I summited Granite Peak. The Beartooths–running from central Montana down into central Wyoming–are beautiful, certainly, but I’ve never been in a more awe-inspiring mountain range.
By 10:30 we had crossed in to the Absoraka-Beartooth Wilderness, and by 12:00 we crested the view of Mystic Lake–an agrandized version of a once smaller lake, thanks to the 1920s era Mysic Lake Hydroelectric Dam (still pumping out 11 megawatts, 80 years later). Along the trail, I was thrilled to find a wild raspberry or two, growing here and there. (No one else in the group seemed as thrilled as I, but how fun! — not only to find food growing in the wild, but to find such tasty food, too!) We dug out the gorp (good ol’ raisins and peanuts … a.k.a. trail mix) on a sandy stretch along the lake and rested before the switchbacks.
Two hours later we bid farewell to trees and crested the Froze to Death plateau. We had lunch by some running water and put on our rain-gear for our four-mile trek across plateau. The rain started around 3:00, and stayed with us the rest of the day, making for a cold and grey afternoon. We pitched our tent in one of many rock bivouacs on the plateau, near the start of the summit trail. We ate dinner, huddled in Sagar’s tent. I retired for the evening with a few pages of Ayn Rand, and drifted off to fitful sleep.
We awoke to a breathtaking tundra dawn in the company of Froze-to-Death’s perennial mountain goats. We left camp just after 7:00 a.m.; the sun quickly melted away the morning chill.
Leaving the plateau, we descended some 1,300 feet to the crest of the saddle between Tempest Peak and Granite. The “trail” (usually marked only by the occasional cairn) was a treacherous slope of jutting talus and granite, making me glad for my sturdy hiking boots.
The ascent includes four or five pitches of Class Five–”technical”–climbing. The climbing gear we had with us proved unneeded, but I understand why it was recommended to have.
We summited just after 10:00 a.m.. The morning sun had driven away the clouds in the Western sky, and we were greeted with what might be one of the nicest mornings every recorded on the peak– warm, sunny, and amazingly calm.
Despite the haze (from forest fires in Idaho and Utah, primarily), the view from the top was humbling. “Beautiful” would be the wrong adjective; we were surrounded, as far as the eye could see, in a 360 degree panorama, by a terrain of rugged, jutting, and harsh rock, glacier and alpine lakes– a testament of geological forces and stupifying violence. Standing there, I found myself in awe of the forces that could form such an immensely forceful and violent landscape.
Coming down, we rappelled two or three pitches, and down-climbed the rest. By 2:00 p.m., we were back at “base camp”. Another group of mountain goats joined us for lunch along with a marmot or two. Pat left ahead of us, wanting to make it back in time for work the next day.
Having accomplished that which we set out to accomplish (pardon me, that…), we elected to hike out the same day, rather than stay another night. We crossed the tundra, and began our descent back to the 6,500′ elevation of the parking lot.
The trip out, invariably, seems somehow longer than the trip in. Conversation is exhausted and feet are weary. Nevertheless, we descended as dusk settled over the plateau, the lake, and the valley.
We stopped for a beer in Roscoe at the famous Grizzly Bar–dirty, smelling of sweat, but with that bright-eyed air of accomplishment–and, at last, drove through the cool night air back to Bozeman.