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Death On Montana’s Granite Peak

High on a Montana mountain, the mystery of a long-lost climber continues to unravel for those willing to make the arduous trek and search for clues that literally lie at your feet.

EXPEDITION PLANNER: Granite Peak, MT

The way: Take MT 78 south from Columbus to Absarokee. Follow the USDA Forest Service signs to West Rosebud Creek. The trail starts at the end of the dirt road, near the power station below Mystic Lake dam.

Author’s route: The two major routes to Granite Peak both start at the trailhead on West Rosebud Creek. Our route goes 5.5 miles on the Mystic Lake Trail, then turns south along Huckleberry Creek. From there the going gets steep and the trail, less and less obvious. At Princess Lake, we bushwhacked along the northeastern shore and climbed to the boulder field near the outlet of Avalanche Lake. Crossing the boulder field, the last challenge in a long day, gets you to a basecamp about two-thirds of the way along the northeastern shore of Avalanche Lake. Climbing Granite involves a 1,500-foot hump to the saddle between Tempest Mountain and Granite Peak and another 1,500 feet up the back side of the peak.

Alternate route: Another route leaves Mystic Lake and climbs up to Froze-to-Death Mountain. The trail crosses a high, exposed plateau on the way to Tempest Mountain, then descends to the saddle. Climbers generally consider this the easier approach to Granite, although the plateau is renowned for bad weather, and its ascent is without water.

Basecamps: The only basecamps along our route are at the outlet of Avalanche Lake and about two-thirds of the way along the northeastern shore. On the Froze-to-Death Mountain route, most climbers set up basecamp close to Tempest Mountain so they’ll be within quick striking distance of Granite. For hikers who are not interested in summiting, there are a number of nice campsites lower down along either route.

Season: Snow isn’t out of the high country until July, and bad weather is a constant threat. August and September are generally regarded as the best months to hike in the high Beartooth Mountains.

Special equipment/skills: I would never again attempt Granite Peak without wearing a climbing helmet—there’s too much loose rock. Carry climbing rope, a climbing harness, and enough hardware to set a belay and manage a rappel if necessary. Crampons are a good idea, too.

Guides: Forest Service map for Custer National Forest (available from the Beartooth Ranger District, 406-446-2103; www.fs.fed.us/r1/custer). USGS 7.5-minute quads Alpine and Cooke City (888-ASK-USGS; http://ask.usgs.gov; $4 each). Hiking Montana, by Bill Schneider and Russ Schneider (Falcon Press, 800-725-8303; www.backpacker.com/bookstore; $15.95).

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