Partners: Tj, Rico, and Scott
Route: Grand Traverse Peak from Deluge (all), traverse to Snow Peak over Mount Valhalla and Palomino Point (myself)
Stats: 14 miles, 4,900′ for Grand Traverse, ~1,200′ additional for Valhalla and Snow
Like Mount Crested Butte over Crested Butte or Sopris over Carbondale, Grand Traverse stands tall and firm as the icon of the Vail Valley. My Dad, having lived in Vail for over 25 years, decided earlier this summer that he finally wanted to hike the peak he’s craned up at since the late eighties. Having been up Grand Traverse last summer myself and using Deluge for the descent, I believed my Dad could handle the peak from this side with ease. We laid down plans to hit it in late September, weather permitting.
On Saturday the 22nd my Dad Tj, his friend Scott, Scott’s friend Rico, and I made our way to East Vail and started up the Gore Creek Trail carrying overnight packs. Our plan was to pack in, camp in the open meadows just below treeline, and climb Grand Traverse the next day. Though Grand Traverse is typically hiked in a day from the bottom, there were certainly advantages to a pack in for our group in particular. For one, the average age of our group was around 50, myself included, so we weren’t out to set any speed records and a night of sleep would undoubtedly help prevent fatigue and injury. Second, I was looking to potentially hit Valhalla and Snow, a combo much more pleasantly done from a high camp. And lastly and probably most importantly, we were looking to spend some time in the Gores and savor the experience of Deluge Basin, which I contend cannot be properly achieved through a single day blitz.
On this September day the aspens were blooming nicely and we had temperatures in the low seventies without a breath of wind. Given this great weather and no reason to hurry, we made our way up into Deluge at a leisure pace. Around 5 miles in we came across what looked to be a great campsite in a large meadow to the east of the creek just beyond the prominent creek crossing. Here we had flowing water within 150 feet, a fire pit, some excess firewood left over by previous travelers, a large flat area to sprawl out the tents and gear, and great views of Valhalla and Snow Peaks through the trees. With the basin all to ourselves, we pitched camp and enjoyed the solitude of the Gores.
We enjoyed a superb tortellini/pesto dinner with Gordons and Jack Daniels thrown into the mix, and hit the sack around 11pm for a 7am start the next morning. I had a great time talking with my Dad (reminiscing about the past and planning for the future) as we gazed at the stars through the skylight in the tent. I was not in a rush to get to sleep and savored the experience for some time before drowsiness slowly crept in and finally took over.
We had an absolutely perfect night; hardly any wind and temps in the high thirties. In the morning we spent a long time getting ready and cooking breakfast before finally getting on the trail around 7am as planned. From camp we meandered up through the final stretches of treeline before breaking out into alpine tundra. A freeze had taken hold of the area the night prior and created a hard, crunchy surface for us to walk across. Within an hour of leaving camp we were well above the trees and were treated to full on views of the Deluge Basin 13ers.
Slowly but surely we made our way up boulder fields and grassy ledges until we arrived at the Valhalla/Grand Traverse connecting ridge. From here, we had another hour of talus hopping to the summit.
We reached the top just before 10am for an ascent time of roughly two hours from camp. Not too shabby for a group of old guys if you ask me!
We spent around 30 minutes on top, chatting, eating, and drinking water before it came time to descend. To the north, we had somewhat obscured views of the rest of the Gores as a dense haze filled the area courtesy of the (Wyoming?) fires. As the guys readied themselves for the descent, I said my goodbyes and headed for my “side project” for the day: Valhalla and Snow.
Once back at the saddle, I continued along the ridge where some excellent class 3 scrambling greeted me with open arms. In and out of numerous gullies (staying on the south side of the ridge crest the entire time) I eventually came to what appeared to be a viable route to the Palomino/Valhalla saddle. The route to this point remained class 3 and under.
From the saddle, a short, delightful class 4 scramble had me on top of unranked Palomino Point in a matter of ten minutes. I had a great view of Grand Traverse Peak from here…
A short down climb followed by a few hundred feet of vertical gain later and I stepped onto the summit of Valhalla. From here I had even better views of the area as the haze cleared somewhat. Some shots from Valhalla’s summit:
Next came my least favorite part of the day; the traverse to Snow Peak. Unsure of the route or difficulty along the ridge between the two, I pulled out my phone and read some earlier TRs written by Furthermore and SarahT. From what I was able to gather it seemed as though the route was feasible, so I committed to it (nothing like some procrastinated research!). I headed due south along the ridge and then was forced west around a large rock buttress. Now above what looked like a rather substantial cliff band, I continued south well underneath the ridge crest around and through numerous loose gullies. Eventually I came to a spot where I had a clear shot across loose talus to the saddle. From the saddle, it was nothing more than a ten minute ascent to Snow’s summit. The entire ridge run from Grand Traverse took me an hour forty five, and nowhere along the route did I encounter terrain harder than class 3 with the exception of the short scramble to Palomino’s summit (which consequently was the best scrambling of the day).
Staying just long enough to tie my shoes and take a swig of water, I descended back to the saddle, down to the cabin due south of the lake, and caught the trail just inside treeline. From there I was able to make quick time and join back up with the guys as they were just finishing packing up camp. The four of us descended back to the car fulfilled and grateful for our experience. The Gores are worthy of many, many visits in the future. I can’t wait to see where else they lead me and can only hope my Dad is up for some more adventures in the future.
Cheers and thanks for reading!