Tag Archives: Sleeping Giant

Taming the Giant: A Saga in the Absarokas

The summits I love are the ones that leave me bleeding — easy summits drift swiftly out of memory. Sleeping Giant didn’t tear (much) skin, but it turned me back four times before it yielded its summit. That alone made it a mountain worth remembering.

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I first scouted Sleepy G back in Feb ’13 — a foolish run at the ridge with dogs and no snowshoes. We gained about a thousand feet before hip-deep snow presented us with our limits. We tried to trick the dogs into breaking trail (by throwing sticks for them) but after a few tries, they said they were having none of it.

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I went back home and looked at the maps and decided that we’d been on the wrong ridge anyway. I decided to wait for better conditions but now Sleepy G had thrown out its challenge and the thought of it lodged in the back of my mind like a splinter.

Sleeping Giant seen from Monument Mountain.

Sleeping Giant seen from Monument Mountain.

In September ’13, my friend Jarren and I made it to the summit of nearby Monument Mountain. I got a look at the Giant from there and saw there was no way to tackle it from the east. Sleeping Giant’s summit cliffs are the crumbling breccia typical of this area — volcanic choss that breaks off in your hands. I figured this would add some problems and I was right.

In October ’13, I went up with Jarren and another friend, Kristie, to take a run at the mountain from the west. We decided to go up Mormon Creek, mostly because of the pack trail in this drainage. We also felt that, by going this way, we could cut out some of what we feared would be a knife-edge ridge.

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The drawback of the Mormon Creek approach is that it adds a couple of miles and for most of those miles you’re stuck in the trees with no view. Sadly for us, the distance and trail-breaking proved to be too much and we turned around a thousand feet from the summit.

looking up at Sleeping Giant's cliffs from Mormon Creek

looking up at Sleeping Giant’s cliffs from Mormon Creek

So now I really had a bee in my bonnet and got cranky at the thought of having to wait till next year. Later that month, I made it up Hoyt Peak in Yellowstone and stood there staring at Sleepy G in the distance. It looked mean but doable. My climbing partner, Ed, was with me and he liked the look of it too, so I talked him into going up in December. He was moving away at the end of the month, so this was our last hurrah and the summit, if we got it, would have some extra meaning.

Sleeping Giant seen from Hoyt Peak

Sleeping Giant seen from Hoyt Peak

A blizzard rolled in on the day of our attempt but we were in the mood for some suffering and chose to ignore it. We zipped up our jackets and tackled the ridge west of Libby Creek.

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The conditions on this attempt gave new depth to the meaning of sufferfest. Brutal trail-breaking, 60 mph winds, blowing snow and temperatures down in the teens. I triggered an avalanche high on the ridge and the fracture line was inches away from my snowshoes. We finally decided things were way too dangerous and headed down in frozen-fingered defeat. (miss you, Ed!)

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I waited all winter and most of spring for the snow to melt. Finally the mountain was open again, but I couldn’t find anyone willing to give it a try. Then, in July, my friend Michelle agreed to go up, as long as I didn’t insist on tagging the summit. We called it a scouting trip, to check out summer conditions on the ridge above Libby.

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The ridge was a different world in July — rich with flowers and gentle sunlight and — lo!– we found an intermittent elk trail.

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We got up a couple thousand feet and the face looked good but the sky was getting stormy. I had my eyes on what I thought was the summit (turns out it wasn’t) and it wouldn’t have taken much to stampede me up there. But we headed down.

Not the summit

Not the summit

Even though that didn’t technically count as a summit attempt, it left me feeling hungry for the mountain. I invited another friend and fellow peak-bagger, Tim, to give it a try with me and he said he was in and ready for some excitement. We set a date in August and hoped for good weather.

At the end of August, the day before my birthday, Tim and I went up to take a shot at it. The weather was awful when I left the house — big black storm clouds hanging down into the North Fork. I had checked the radar and it looked like it would pass so we drove up anyway.

When we got to our starting point, just west of Crossed Sabres ranch, the storm had given way to blue skies. T-Storms were forecast for late afternoon so I promised myself not to stop for too many pictures.

View across the highway from low on the ridge.

View across the highway from low on the ridge.

We went up the ridge, enjoying spectacular views, and headed up the big face beneath the plateau. It went much better without deep snow to wallow in. We worked our way through a series of minor cliff bands and finally emerged above the face. There we consulted map, phone and GPS because it turned out the summit was not at all where I’d thought it was. We spent a few minutes getting things sorted out.

looking south across the plateau

looking south across the plateau

After figuring out that the the cliffs to our east did NOT lead to the summit, we hiked through a short stretch of timber and gained the plateau.

looking back down on the plateau

looking back down on the plateau

We hiked up and across the plateau and after a half mile or so, the summit revealed itself. There was the knife-edge ridge I’d been dreading — a true knife edge formed of rotten, unstable breccia. At that point, Tim declined to go further, which I respected, so I went on to see how far I could push by myself.

section of ridge

section of ridge

Maybe I pushed a little more than I should have, but the summit was so close and just too hard to give up. I took my time and moved with great care and in the end I managed to get away with it.

on the summit

on the summit

looking down into the Goff Creek drainage

looking down into the Goff Creek drainage

looking NW from the summit -- Sunlight Peak in the distance

looking NW from the summit — Sunlight Peak in the distance

I didn’t linger long on the summit — just savored that thrill of success and took a few pictures. It’s not the biggest peak around, or even the prettiest, but boy it felt good to stand up there on top of it! The sky, which had been building a threat, cleared up as I descended and we hiked down with no sign at all of those afternoon t-storms.

INTERESTED IN BAGGING THIS PEAK?
I recommend the ridge west of Libby Creek — beautiful views and minimal up and down. The overall elevation gain is about 4800 feet and the round-trip mileage is 10-11 miles. Start anywhere between the Wayfarer’s Chapel and the Crossed Sabres ranch and find the easiest way up onto the ridge. The ridge will take you to the base of the big face seen below.

Route

The face looks rough but it’s not too bad — take time to glass it and look for a break in the cliffs. With some careful route-finding, you’ll find your way through them and come out onto a huge grass plateau. Head straight up (north-ish) and across the plateau for about half a mile and at that point you should get a glimpse of the summit.

I will say that the ridge to the summit is true 3rd class, maybe 4th class if you don’t watch where you’re going. The consequences of falling would be serious. The breccia is extremely loose and rotten and can break out under your hands and feet without warning. If you’ve never dealt with rotten rock, this isn’t the place to start.

Having said that, you can choose not to do the traverse and still end up within 100 vertical feet of the summit. For lots of people, that’ll be close enough. You still get tons of fantastic views, a memorable hike and a very excellent workout.

The other option is to approach the summit via Mormon Creek. Follow the pack trail as far as it goes, then head cross-country past the headwaters of the creek. You’ll hike north past the summit. Tackle the ridge wherever it seems most accessible — you’ll have to gain about 1500 feet. From the crest of the ridge, traverse back south toward the summit. This way leaves you with less of a knife-edge to deal with but you’ll still find some sketchy sections near the top. Round-trip mileage this way is 15+ miles.