Pow in the Gores: Silver Sneak and “Peak N”

Pow turns in the “Silver Sneak” on Buffalo Mountain. It was nice to finally get back into the Gores on skis.

This past Saturday Brian, Bloomy, and I made the short drive to Summit County with a pair of Gore Range ski lines in our crosshairs. We had a hunch that north and northeast aspects were going to deliver, so we decided to check out two inset couloirs with eastern access points – the Silver Sneak (aka “Elvis Crotch”) on 12er Buffalo Mountain, and a rarely skied line off 13er “Peak N” from Brush Creek. The Sneak wound up being a great warm up for the more challenging day on Sunday, which I’ll get into later. First, the highlights from Saturday’s ski…

Having all summited Buffalo numerous times we were more interested in just getting to the ski line on this day, which is accessed from roughly 500 ft below the summit. Our route is in red with most of the actual line hidden. Photo courtesy of brandonandkristine.com. Click to enlarge.

Silver Sneak is a neat little line that drops north from the top of Elvis and empties out into the lower portion of the Silver Couloir. It’s very inset with high, aesthetic walls on both sides (like a shorter version of Big Eyes Couloir off Red). Considering the short approach and straightforward skin out from the base of the Silver, the Sneak can make for some great bang-for-your-buck skiing if you hit the conditions right.

Brian on the familiar standard route skin up Buffalo.

A little uncertain about where the entrance to the line was, we made sure to bring a few photos along from existing TRs. Turns out it was pretty easy to find – just head up the standard route to the top of the prominent sub-point roughly 400 ft below the summit, contour to the northwest across the slope towards the Silver, and look for a prominent rock tower that marks the entrance to the couloir.

The Red Peak massif from near the top of the line.

We looked down the line and immediately knew it was going to be good. Six to eight inches of crossloaded storm snow from the previous evening lined the chute and made for some fantastic skiing top to bottom. Not only that, but it was untouched. We started late and I was half expecting the line to be tracked out by the time we got up there. We wound up getting a little lucky I suppose.

Brian dropping into the Silver Sneak. With good coverage the choke points were easily negotiated. Click to enlarge.

Myself, lower down. Photo by Bloomy.

And Bloomy coming out of the bottom below the second choke point.

After several hundred feet of blissful turns down the line we came upon the Silver, which required a small workaround to ski into. Later in the season with less snow coverage I could see there being a discontinuity where the two lines meet.

The lower-Silver. It had clearly been hit earlier in the day by numerous parties.

The routine skin and ski back to the parking lot went quickly, after which we headed into town to stock up on some supplies for the evening. From there we motored on up Highway 9 to the small parking area near the bottom of the Brush Creek Road and threw down the grill, cooler, and camp chairs, just in time for dinner under a spectacular Gore sunset. After that we hit the sack in preparation for an early start.

Red sunset over the Blue River. Photo by Brian.

Sunday’s 2am wake up call came all too quickly. The plan was to head up the Brush Creek Road and follow the Lost Lake approach to the base of of “Peak N”, then climb and ski the northeast couloir. I had been intrigued by this line for years ever since seeing it mentioned on Stan Wagon’s site. Beyond his short description we were unable to find any other info on the route, which lent an exploratory feel to the outing.

“Peak N” seen from afar with the line drawn in. Photo courtesy of 14ers.com. Click to enlarge.

For those who may be interested in trying to ski this peak, it’s good to know that the Brush Creek road is gated at the very bottom through June 20th (apparently this is a relatively new development as Brian was able to drive to the upper-trailhead in May of 2012). We managed to get going at 2:55am, easing our way around the gate with skis and boots on our backs to begin the dry road walk. We hit snowline after a mile and a half and skinned from there to the upper-trailhead. A half-mile of dry south-facing slopes along the Brush Creek trail required us to once again carry skis for awhile, after which we entered the thick forest along the Gore Range trail.

We knew going in that dealing with downed timber was likely to be the crux of the approach. Beetle kill and wind events have really done a number in the Brush Creek forest. After nearly giving up and turning around 3 hours in, we made the decision to split off from the summer route and head straight for Lost Lake. This turned out to be what saved the day because ironically enough, upon leaving the summer trail, we encountered significantly less deadfall and were finally able to make some real progress.

Eventually the downed trees began to disappear under the deepening snowpack as the peak drew near. Around 9:30am we broke treeline and came upon N’s eastern ramparts. Our intended line looked incredible and a thick fog rolling through the area only added to the drama.

Making our way towards the northeast couloir. Photos don’t do this cirque any kind of justice.

The weather wound up really helping us out – had it been a warm, sunny day, we may have been too late.

Switching over to crampons was a welcomed change of muscle groups after a nearly 7 mile skin. With nothing but a thousand feet of booting between us and our goal, and the weather keeping things nice and cool, we finally felt like we had the line in the bag.

Heading up into the gloom. Photo by Brian. Click to enlarge.

A look down this awesome couloir as the clouds parted. Just like the Silver Sneak the previous day, it was filled with cold, stable powder snow.

Neat rock formations at the col atop the couloir. Brian is down below for scale.

From the col, the rest of the route revealed itself around the corner. A short snow traverse into the southeast bowl led to the final 300 ft ascent up to the summit. Brian had already summited N and Bloomy doesn’t really seem to care about summits, so they informed me I was on my own and that they’d be happy to wait while I topped out. Ok guys, whatever you say…

Taken from the col, the summit is up and to the right. Photo by Bloomy.

From the summit looking down the southeast bowl. The col is just out of sight around the corner to the left.

On my own now with the guys waiting for me, I tried to make it quick. I was happy to find continuous snow all the way to the top. Once on the summit I got a few glimpses of “Peak L” and Guyselman Mountain to the south, which of course looked spectacular.

“Peak N” summit with Guyselman visible.

Guyselman again. That’s a neat couloir on the left but I’m not sure it’d be worth taking skis all the way in there.

Off the summit and back down the southeast face I went, traversing hard left back towards the col. A short 20 ft climb had me back up to Brian and Bloomy. With my summit antics behind us and the sun now out in full force, it was time to get down to the real skiing…

At the col, ready to drop in.

Bloomy took firsts. Click to enlarge.

Brian lower down. A+ snow.

Bloomy again. Click to enlarge.

Brian again.

And myself skiing out the apron. Photo by Brian.

Once below the apron we turned around and admired our tracks from afar. This is a classic Gore Range couloir no matter how you slice it. Perfect steepness and a good length with aesthetic walls on both sides and some great safe zones to tuck into if necessary. I’d highly recommend checking it out sometime if you’re willing to put up with the approach.

Tracks, pointed and curved.

And our tired happy faces.

On the way out we managed to find a slightly more logical route through the forests back to the Gore Range trail. It’d be pointless to try to describe but if anyone is interested in our GPX file, hit me up.

The dry patches along the Brush Creek trail. The trick to skiing N is hitting it with good enough coverage to where sections like this hold snow, but the line itself is safe to ski. We hit it pretty close to perfect,but not perfect.

Some more skiing, then walking, then skiing again, followed by another stretch of walking had us back to the car at 5pm. Stats on the day were something like 16 miles, 5,800 ft, 14 hours.

The exclamation point.

Brian, Bloomy, thanks for an awesome weekend up there. Looking forward to whatever else the spring has in store…

21 thoughts on “Pow in the Gores: Silver Sneak and “Peak N”

  1. Brandon Chalk

    Fantastic, Ben! Congrats to you, Miller, & Bloomy. And, you gut a Gore summit that I do not have in Peak N 🙂

    Looks like a great weekend in the Gore. Wish I could have joined for N. We’ll get together soon! Cheers man

  2. Stan Wagon

    Doing this in one day from the paved road is impressive. Good work. I imagine by “standard summer route” you mean taking the Gore Trail N and then turning left at the sign. But there is an old road (the CCC trail) that leaves the Gore Trail and goes to meet the aforementioned route about a half mile before Lost Lake. You might have been on this., but deadfall is a problem there too, so maybe you took a more direct route straight to the lake. No matter.

  3. Brian

    Hey Stan – Ben has a GPS track of what we took up, but basically we just kept traversing right and up to avoid the hellacious deadfall in that area. Somehow the actual trail is a deadfall tractor beam and the rest of the forest seems cleared out. Anyways, we managed to avoid even more deadfall on the ski out by staying as far left as humanly possible while making a beeline towards the Brush Creek/Gore Range junction, and it worked out pretty well. And since the road is closed, along with the deadfall situation, I can’t imagine skiing this peak in anything other than a long ass day. We all basically came to this conclusion and it was a large part of the inspiration for stubbornly slogging on throughout the day.

  4. Stan Wagon

    Checking old mail, Dan Hendershott (who works for Summit Co. so you can find his address if u want to contact, or ask me) camped up there about 4 years ago and skied Guyselman and, if I recall, a route on Peak N, and it might well have been the same as yours. No matter really. Your 1-day effort is a completely different trip!

    1. Ben Post author

      Very cool, and thanks for the comments Stan. The line on M definitely looked cool from the top of N. When I was up there, all I could think about was how I wouldn’t want to repeat the approach…

  5. Michael R

    Nice work guys! Looks like a lot of fun. I am surprised at Brian though, thinking we drove up in 2012, ha! I guess he really wanted to forget about the 200 or so dead trees we had to scramble over walking that road! It really did suck bad enough that I wish I had forgotten it too. I just couldn’t let him slide on that one, that was one of the worst deadfall scenarios we ever hiked and I would hate for him to think it was an easy drive up!

    Hope we can get out and ski together this spring. I really want to hit some of the Elk choss piles with snow, Precarious and Cassi in particular. Let’s make it happen!

    1. Ben Post author

      Hey Mike! Apparently I misunderstood Brian about him getting to the summer TH in May. He never said that.

      Sounds good about other spring goals. Let me know if you wanna head out there…

  6. Floyd

    Incredible line guys. I recognize that tower along the ridge from our traverse. Like Mike, there are parts of that trip that I’d rather forget but Peak N is a true prize and the views remind you of the work you put in to get up there. Brian may be thinking of our Slate trip where Knapp was able to drive us to the TH but that was in Sept. I remember the downfall nightmare from that May trip though. That trail/road is a tractorbeam. Awesome trip again fellas!

  7. Presto!

    Great to see you guys in a trip report out and “getting it” done! Beautiful photos. The smiling faces at the end are my very favorite (oh, and the beer is pretty good too … hard to go wrong with Odd 13). Hope you can get many more lines in before the end of the season. (As usual, I continue to dream of being reincarnated as a 13-year old fearless snowboarder … bwahahaha). Take care, my friends, and happy trails! 🙂

    1. Ben Post author

      Presto, long time no see! Yep the Odd 13 is good stuff for sure. Happy trails to you as well. Maybe we’ll run into you and The Man at another random brewery in the middle of the state sometime 🙂

  8. Rick Thompson

    Looked like a solid weekend gents! The snow conditions look spectacular. I’m bummed I wasn’t able to join in the fun.

      1. Dillon Sarnelli

        Haha. Just saw this. Taxes are in the bag! Been kind of sick too. Headed out to Zion end of this next week for some kind of relay race. Let’s be friends when I get back.

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