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Backpacker Magazine – October 2008

Highpoint Montana

Get vertical on a tricky class IV route to the top of Granite peak.

by: Charlie Wood & Casey Lyons

Safe descents on weather-beaten Granite Peak take 5 hours (Vince Poore).
Safe descents on weather-beaten Granite Peak take 5 hours (Vince Poore).

The Hike
Granite Peak, at 12,799 feet, was the last of the 50 state highpoints to be climbed (in 1923). The combination of exertion (you'll gain 6,300 feet over 11.6 miles), unpredictable weather, and technical scrambling makes this one of the most exciting two- to four-day backpacking trips in the Rockies. From West Rosebud trailhead, hike to Mystic Lake's ponderosa-lined shores. Here, the approach vaults up 2,000 feet onto Froze-to-Death Plateau's exposed, ankle-busting talus and intermittent snowfields. Set up camp on the shoulder of 12,469-foot Tempest Mountain and prepare for summit day. You'll dip down to a saddle before crossing The Snowbridge, a knife-edge ridge that remains covered with drifts well into August. Then, in less than a mile, climb more than 1,000 feet of blocky don't-fall-here terrain to Montana's roof. The area's ubiquitous mountain goats may follow you to the summit.

The Crux
Mind-spinning exposure. From The Snowbridge, you'll navigate up class III and IV granite. Getting down is even scarier.

The Key
Keen routefinding and proper gear. Montana's Highest Point: A Climbing Guide by Joe Josephson ($20, firstascentpress .com) is the definitive guide and map for the mountain. Study up before you go, and make color copies of the guidebook's photo-based route descriptions to help you pick your way. Also, look for route maps stashed in a weatherproof container just past The Snowbridge. Pack a 60-meter rope, helmet, harness, and a belay device. Rappelling down the steepest pitch (the last 200 feet to the summit, which some rate as class V) will ease vertigo. Plus, if weather moves in–the mountain hides the western view of oncoming storms–you'll want to rap down quickly.

The Way
From Absarokee, Montana, take MT 78 2.9 miles south to a right on MT 419. Drive 7.9 miles to West Rosebud Rd. Turn right and head 6.3 miles to a left onto FR 72 and 14.2 miles of gravel to the trailhead next to the Mystic Lake Hydroelectric Plant.

Plan It
Check weather and trail conditions at the Beartooth Ranger Station (406-446-2103;

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Reader Rating: -


May 17, 2012

Theres also the Southwest colour route. My buddy and I did that last summer. Granite is only the second mountain I have ever attempted to climb. The route to the mountain is much more difficult and longer though. Lots of boulder field hopping.

May 10, 2012

I've taken five shots at this high point and come up short each and every time. Compared to Granite Peak the high points in Washington (Ranier), Idaho (Borah), and Oregon (Hood) are walks in the park. The weather here is horrible, the time at altitude is long, and the exposure is mind numbing.

May 10, 2012

You could consider the trail from EAST Rosebud to Froze-to-Death. Having hiked both ways this is my trail of choice. More scenic. But then, I didn't attempt Granite Peak either. Check your trail maps. Good luck!


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