Length: 8.4 miles RT
Elevation: 3800 feet
Summit: 5629 feet
[om_gmap zoom=”11″ lat=”47.3979″ lng=”-121.4860″] Getting there: Drive I-90 to exit 47 and turn north. Take a left at the ‘T’ and drive a short way to the Pratt Lake trailhead.
NW Forest Pass required
Another peak along the I-90 corridor has been calling my name for years. Originally wanting to save this peak for a winter splitboard trip, Granite Mountain’s reputation for being an avalanche prone deathtrap made me reconsider. With sunny skies and 80 degrees in the forecast, an early June ascent seemed to pose little danger, especially since the snow was gone.
I pulled into the Pratt Lake trailhead on Monday morning and was greeted by only a handful of cars. I wasn’t surprised since the trail services a few different peaks and lakes, including my destination Granite Mountain Lookout. I was on the trail by 11 am, the sun already warming the air.
The trail begins on a gentle grade through the forest and the surround pines provided much welcomed respite from the sun. I knew it wouldn’t last forever and, for once, was not looking forward to the wide open exposure I was going to traipse through atop the mountain. Nevertheless, I quickly made my way up the trail, stopping for a geocache or two along the way.
The trail makes a long switchback and turns back on itself near the bottom of the dreaded avy-chute. Any sign of snow thundering down the mountainside was now completely hidden by the robust growth of slide alder and devil’s club. From here, you can look up and almost see the top of Granite.
The trail heads back into the safety of the forest from here and gradually gains a bit of elevation on the way to the junction. Once at the junction, you can continue west to Pratt Lake and its surrounding peaks, or you can switchback again and head up to Granite Mountain.
Of course, after the junction, the trail goes from a nice, wide avenue to a more sinister rocky, rooty bootpath that knows where its target is and makes no qualms about getting there quickly and directly. I like it.
One thing I wondered as I continued to gain elevation is why the trail criss-crossed the avy chute so many times on its way to the summit. My backcountry snowboard and avalanche training made me wince thinking about people following that route up in winter – you are basically in a death trap. Whomever cut the trail did not take into account winter travel and I understood why Granite got its reputation for accidents.
Anyhoo, no snow to worry about on this trip. Just the blazing sun.
I continued making my way up the mountainside, grateful for the breeze that cooled my brow each time I exited the forest. The sun was warm, but it really wasn’t too terrible. I stopped at the run-off stream each time it crossed the trail and soaked my hat in the cool water.
After a couple miles (oh, did I mention my GPS had died due to lack of proper planning and me forgetting to replace the batteries?), the trail leaves the treeline and meanders through a sloped alpine meadow on its way to a beautiful little basin nestled underneath the peak. Here I got a glimpse of my destination, and although it looked so close, it was still about a mile away.
After enjoying the basin hike, the trail then splits in two. The summer trail heads north and then climbs up to the summit via a few switchbacks, however, it was still covered in snow. More adventurous types can take the granite boulder field in a direct line to the lookout. I, of course, opted for the bouldering expedition.
I hopped from boulder to boulder, often having to climb down gaps to large to hop over, and relied on my hand to steady myself on more than a few occasions. I would not recommend this route to anyone who is not comfortable with bouldering nor to anyone with their dog.
I reached the summit just before 1:30 pm and immediately went to climb the lookout tower. Of course, it was locked. Apparently, the Forest Service only allows people in the tower when it is manned. Bummer.
Regardless, there were only a few other people at the top when I arrived and they left about 20 minutes later. I took the opportunity to snap some pics before settling down to eat my lunch and sip on some hoppy refreshments.
Not long after I broke out my lunch, I was visited by a friendly little chipmunk who was curious as to what I had in my hand. Showing no fear whatsoever, he (or she!) came up to say “hello” and sniff around. The masses must toss these little creatures food and scraps all the time as they didn’t seem to concerned with keeping their distance.
I apologized for not having any food to give and held out my hand to show Chip it was empty. He came up, placed his tiny little paws on my palm, and then proceeded to nibble my fingertip in protest. Cheeky li’l bastard!
I finished up my lunch and then poked around the summit for a while trying to find a geocache that I never did locate. I finally departed around 3:30 and, after an uneventful descent, reached the Jeep around 4:45.
Granite Mountain definitely lives up to the hype. Although the elevation gain is quite strenuous, anyone can make it to the top if they take their time. With multiple routes up top (and a direct line if you feel like bushwhacking), there’s something for everyone. Just watch out for those killer chipmunks.