Group with Lima roots tops Granite Peak –

In Hiking

GRANITE PEAK, Mont. — The secret to mountain climbing, as summed up by Charles Johns is, “You have to get the ‘no’ out of your heart and just put one foot in front of the other.”

Taking the West Rosebud Trailhead, Johns and his friends, Clint Roberts and Kevin Hawley, all Lima natives, recently climbed Granite Peak, reaching the summit at 8 a.m. Aug. 31. It was Roberts’ and Hawley’s third attempt at conquering the 12,807-foot mountain in Southern Montana.

Their first attempt was aborted when Hawley developed leg cramps, and the second attempt was canceled due to heavy rainfall.

“It was such a relief to reach the summit,” Johns said.

Roberts credits a successful climb on his first attempt to being able to “piggyback on (the knowledge gained from) Kevin’s and Charles’ prior attempts.” He also acknowledged that Johns and Hawley shared water with him after “I lost my liter and a half water bottle on the way up. For some people, that would have been a turn-around moment.”

Granite Peak is the highest point in Montana and is considered one of the most difficult climbs of the 50 state highpoints. Located in the Beartooth Range in the Northern Rocky Mountains, Granite Peak lives up to its name as a large chunk of granite towering over southern Montana.

“The success rate (for reaching the summit) is less than 20%,” Roberts said.

Johns added, “Granite and Gannett are the two hardest peaks to reach in the lower 48 (states). Granite and Tempest are connected by a ridge or saddle that has to be traversed. We passed six or seven other peaks to get to the big one.”

20 years since first climb

Johns recalls his first hiking expedition in 2002 at age 23.

“Joe Bornhorst invited me, and we climbed Mount Whitney in California. That went well,” he said. “We took the mountaineers route and did it (the climb) in a day.”

Since the initial climb with Bornhorst, Johns has climbed Mount Moran, Gannett Peak and Grand Teton in Wyoming, Mount Rainier in Washington and one of the Maroon Bells in Colorado. Although Johns suffered from altitude sickness at the 14,000-foot summit of Arapaho Basin in Colorado on a ski trip during his freshman year of high school, he has not experienced any similar condition on any of his climbs as an adult.

Johns, a Lima native and 1997 Lima Central Catholic grad, now lives in North Dakota.

“We guys get together once a year,” he said. “There is a lot of preparation that goes into it. We research the trail and the gear (needed for the climb).”

Lifting weights, walking on the treadmill and working at the Bakken Oil Field in North Dakota are all ways that Johns maintains the physical conditioning necessary for his climbing adventures.

Grateful for a mentor

Roberts, a 1993 Bath High School graduate and current employee at General Dynamics, expressed gratitude for all that Hawley has taught him.

“Kevin has been my mentor in this whole process,” he said. “We met 10 years ago at the gym and have now had a four-year climbing relationship. Four years ago, I had no idea I would be attempting one of the most difficult climbs in North America. It takes a lot of preparation. Kevin has taught me so much, including climate factors and mitigating risks.”

Knowing the risks

Johns is well aware of the risks involved with mountain climbing. While climbing the 20-mile trek to the summit of Gannett Peak in 2016, he encountered a hiker who needed first aid due to a broken leg. The injured hiker dislodged a boulder as he was down climbing and had to be rescued via helicopter.

Hikers need “humility,” according to Johns.

“There is someone out there who always pushes the limits,” he said. “You have to know when to turn back. If you don’t, you can be placing yourself and others in danger because someone is going to have to rescue you.”

Surprise encounters

While resting at the base camp for one day, Johns said he was surprised to see a large group of goats.

An even greater surprise was encountering professional wildlife photographer and videographer Steve Gnam on the trail. Johns marveled at Gnam.

“Three hours (of climbing) for him took us 14 hours,” Johns said.

Johns said he did not immediately recognize Gnam but noted “an ultra runner passing us at base camp with a running pack and a hydro pack and wearing tennis shoes and a hat.”

A grueling adventure

Roberts said, “There are four phases that have to be accomplished on Granite. There are three ridge lines and eight chimneys. Phase one, the hike up from Mystic Lake alone is 11 miles. In phase two we traversed down the side of Tempest over to Granite. The third phase involves navigating, without markers, and route finding to the top of Granite and the final phase is the descent.”

The descent

“Climbing down Tempest Mountain, where people set up their base camp, is difficult,” Roberts said.

Although no ropes were used on the climb up, they used them on the way down.

“We used ropes to rappel on the down climb,” he said. “The down climb is the most dangerous.”

Roberts recalled the somber moment when they encountered a marker on the trail, signifying a life that was lost while attempting a descent.

Advice for potential climbers

Roberts has advice for those who are considering mountain climbing.

“You have to get educated,” he said. “Start on out (trails) and back trails that are well-marked and well-traveled. Research recommended equipment and invest in a navigation device. Consider hiring a guide or taking a mountaineering class. Join an outdoor climbing class. Be humble enough to take advice and criticism so you are always refining your skill. Take some form of protective gear. Be confident in your skill level, but be honest about when you need to abort the attempt. Always ask yourself, ‘Is it really worth what I am about to do?’”

‘A heightened awareness’

You learn things while climbing, Roberts said.

“You realize that you are just a speck of dust in this magnificent place that has been created for us,” Roberts said. “When you are out there along a path that is pleasurable to the eye, there is a spiritual connectedness. You are not there to entertain or impress. You are in a more natural state. There is a heightened awareness. When I reach the summit, my climb flashes before my eyes. For me it’s a simple, ‘I praise the Almighty!’”

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