Jeff Rome: Grunting through Grunge on Granite Peak: the Hunt for the FKT

A Trip Report by Jeff Rome
Pictured: Clear weather that doesn’t portray 30 mph wind gusts, which I swear was happening
        Granite Peak is a big pile of loose rock, in the middle of a million-acre wilderness, with often harsh weather and steep sections that some (smart) people use ropes on.  It even has a glacier, and is surrounded by places with names like Froze-to-Death Plateau and Avalanche Lake.  With such serious names, it must certainly be a serious mountain.  In spite of (because of?) all this, it’s the state high point of Montana.  To make things a bit fairer for the rest of the state, Granite and its 30-odd brethren of 12,000+ ft. peaks are about as easternmost as one can go in Montana and still say they’re in the western part.  It’s not known whether some poor soul has ever let Froze-to-Death Plateau earn its name, but there is legend of a hiker discovering a leg bone sticking out of a boot in the ‘50s.  The point is, it could happen.  Granite Mountain, is, unlike some other mountains, real and quite vertiginous. 

        After even remoter summits like Denali and Gannett Peak had already been climbed, Granite Peak became the last of the state high points to be climbed.  In 1923, after several failed attempts by other parties, three foresters were the first guys ever to have a sandwich at the highest point in Montana.  On their summit, it took them more than two hours to make the final 1,000 vertical feet (it’s certainly a place where slow and careful going is wise), and their indirect roundtrip journey lasted five days.  Most parties today do it in two or three.  The fit and weather-lucky can do it in less than a day.  The fastest known time (FKT), which is nearly a decade old now, is by Sid Hayes, in five and a half hours, in 2004.  But the five and half hours, while bordering on ridiculous, is not insane.  His ascent time of 1:55 is.  
Rome: I felt like Frodo climbing Mt. Doom, except my Samwise Gamgee was chocolate flavored and I ate him
Last fall, I decided to give the FKT a run, since I had some familiarity with Hayes’ records on fourteeners in Colorado, and had been able to better some of his times (almost all of which have since been obliterated by some guy named Krupicka).  Fellow FKTer Daniel Kraft had just given the Granite FKT an attempt the week before, via Avalanche Lake, missing any hope of an FKT by the time he hit the Tempest-Granite saddle. That didn’t bode well for my hopes, as I’d assumed Kraft (who had just recently won the Bridger Ridge Run in 3:14) would get the FKT and I’d just be running to beat Sid’s time.

I’d been putting off an attempt all summer.  But the forecast called for snow within the week, so the date was set—Sunday, September 22nd.  In what may have been a foolish decision, I ran most of the way to Tempest the day before, trying to gain familiarity with the plateau.  Granite Peak isn’t visible until the shoulder of Tempest, so much of the running on Froze-to-Death Plateau depends on knowing where you’re going without any direct line of sight.  You just have to make an educated guess, and hope you don’t freeze to death in a whiteout because you would be so hopelessly lost on that plateau.  There are cairns in some places, but following cairns isn’t dependable up there, since whoever made them was kind of lazy. 
A good place to get away if you enjoy being struck by lightning in an afternoon storm
 My FKT attempt seems pretty feeble in light of Sid Hayes’ 1:55 ascent, and maybe it’s because I wasn’t fresh, or because I didn’t know the terrain on Granite, or because there was a light coating of snow.  But it could just be because Sid had an absolutely stellar day, and I couldn’t match anything close to his pace.  The Rut may have had something to with it.  From East Rosebud, my splits were something like:
FTD in :55
Saddle in 2:50
Summit in 4:45 (so much route finding!)
Roundtrip in a bit over 9 hours (tired, wanting to enjoy the ominous weather)
To blast out a 1:55 ascent on that route would probably look like
FTD in :40
Saddle in 1:20
Saddle to summit in just another :35
Which is insane. 
Not getting lost on the upper reaches of Granite is crucial, with a lot of terrain that cliffs out at 5.scary.  The easiest way up is about 5.3, and there are several exposed and chossy cliff bands at low fifth class (climbing where it’s steep enough that ropes aren’t necessarily required, but aren’t a dumb idea either).  The largest cliff band is maybe 15 or 20 feet, just enough to make one think twice about getting hurt 12 miles from the nearest trailhead.  In other words, make sure whatever you climb up you also feel comfortable climbing down, or bring a rope.  Most of the fifth class sections have rappel anchors, for those who might want to consider bringing a rope.
Billion+ year old rocks, some of the oldest in the states.  
There are a couple other routes that might be slightly faster, but none stand out as a clear winner.  The Southwest Couloir from Cooke City adds on three or four miles roundtrip, but never gets above class 3, the route from West Rosebud might be a tad shorter, and the Avalanche Lake approach is shorter but has a lot of boulder hopping involved. 
I climbed the mountain only because it’s there.  Getting a good view, and an adventure, is incidental.
 While the ascent record on Granite seems beyond reach (at least for me), the roundtrip time is stout but not impossible.  I don’t know how Sid did it, but I imagine my 5.scary is his 5.comfortable, and he might not have raced a 50k the week before.  I might try to test out my legs on choss scrambling come summer, in hopes of making another trip out to test myself on Granite, but it might take a couple trips to get to know the terrain well enough to set a decent standard.  If I don’t hit it, I’m sure someone else will set a new standard on Granite soon.    


  1. Do not berate yourself because you can't come anywhere near the claimed FKT for Granite Peak. The FKT has been described as "insane". A better description is "in error". Probably by 1 hour.

    A sub 2 hour ascent time up the standard route up the West (or East) Rosebud across Froze to Death Plateau around Tempest over to Granite and up to the top is at the edge of human possibility. It would be tough for the fastest marathon runners in the world, even if there was a paved trail all the way to the summit.

    Using an estimate of 13 miles for the distance and 8000 feet (rounded up) total of climbing to the summit, lets estimate just what it would take for the fastest runners in the world to summit Granite peak:

    Given 1 hour for the half marathon distance (though not a single American can currently run that fast, we will use it for coming up with an estimate) and adding the additional 1 hour time required to grind up the 8,000 feet of total elevation gain over that 13 miles; you come up with a 2 hour time for the world’s elite. That does not take into account footing, wind, altitude and the technical scrambling required near the top. A realistic time is probably closer to 3 hours.

    For reference:
    A useful empirical human power/performance formula for the additional time required to run when ascending a hill is:
    10 seconds extra for every 100 feet of elevation gain scaled by the level ground pace per mile.

    Using a 4:30 pace per mile (1 hour half marathon pace). The calculation becomes:
    10 seconds / 100 Feet) X (4.5 minutes per mile pace) X (8000 feet) X (1 minute / 60 seconds) = 60 minutes = 1 hour. Total time for the fastest road runners in the world running a half marathon that gains 8000 feet elevation would be about 2 hours. That would be a 9 minute per mile pace. As a benchmark: See if you can sustain a 9 minute per mile pace on a treadmill set at a 12% incline for 2 hours straight – tough.

    So what would it take the fastest trail runner in the world, say a Kilian Jornet? Given the Granite peak route is a mix of some runnable trails, terrible footing across the plateau, and some very technical scrambling up high, a generous level running pace over the route would be 6 minutes per mile. That is flying for that route, but if anyone can do it Killian can. That results in a level running time of 1:18:00. The slowdown from the 8,000 feet of climbing would be:
    (10/100) X 6 X 8000 X (1/60) = 80 minutes
    So a realistic estimate for a FKT ascending Granite peak taking into account the technical terrain by a world class trail runner would be 2 hours 38 minutes.

    Unless I personally witnessed it or saw the GPS data, I have a hard time accepting a FKT under 3 hours (let alone 2!) and neither should you. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

    It is time to go out there and do it, document it and claim a real FKT for Granite peak.

  2. Thank you Race Manager. Some of these FKTs are very very hard to believe, let alone announce them as the legitimate FKTs. We need universal FKT standards to help verify the claims and make it fair to all who want to participate.



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