Grand Traverse Peak
January 24, 2006
Tim Pearl and Eric Holle
This is an overview of our trip to Grand Traverse Peak via the Deluge Lake Basin.
We decided on this summit on the party night of the 15th and committed to coordinating our days-off to make it happen. We had spent the last couple days being as lazy as possible and taking in plenty of carbs. Eric had strained his ankle only 4-5 days previous while telemark skiing at Vail and was worried about getting healthy enough for the trip. He decided on borrowing some stiffer tele boots from the local shop to help stabilize.
We met at my place in East Vail at 3am (after trying to get as much sleep as possible the night before) and hit the trail by headlamp. It was 4 degrees F, and within 15 minutes we had left the split with the Gore Creek Trail and were breaking trail through crusty snow on our tele skis. We soon lost the trail and busted straight uphill which really helped warm ourselves.
Here is Eric (~4am) after we finally found the summer trail that heads to Deluge Lake. The going is steep and the underbrush is grabby. We pushed on taking care not to lose the trail as it provides the best route through the brush and across some rock bands. Although we had both been up this trail 2-3 times in the last year we lost the trail again near 10,800 where it re-enters scattered timber. From here we mistakenly headed more north than we needed to. Once the sun began to rise and we realized where we were, we found our location ½ mile NW and 200ft. higher than we wanted to be. We traversed some steeper ground NE until coming to a meadow we both recognized and began heading N near where the summer trail continues. Continuing up the flatter ground of Deluge Basin the sun was pounding us and the sheer brightness of the surrounding ridges prompted us to put on some sunscreen and a smile.
At this point we are about a mile from the lake and get our first view of the slope we will climb. Seen here it is the white slope just to the right of the steeper face on the left. As we approach we find the face looking wind-blown bearing plenty of safe rocks towards the right/ East side of the face.
Once gaining Deluge Lake we actually crossed it to help me get over my mild fear of doing so, then headed up the steeper slopes left to a rock outcrop where we could strip the skis.
Eric lightening the load for a summit push. The summit is on the far right of the skyline.
Here we dropped our skis, jackets, poles and anything else we wouldn’t need to reach the summit. Looks like spring doesn’t it? Although around 20-25 degrees, it felt like 50 with all that sun. Notice the snow in the bottle on the rocks we decided to melt for drinking after returning from the summit. Dug an avalanche test pit on the slope just to the left of this spot in order to assess possible dangers that lie above. Found a rather consolidated pack without any noticeable weaknesses throughout. Surface hoar was crystallized within 4-5 inches of the underlying boulders. We headed up the slope following the shallow snow along rocks taking the following route:
Left the skis at the rock outcrop on the right-end of the marked route.
This route up to and along the East ridge felt safe and rather easy by kick-stepping the snow in the tele boots. Some portions were knee-deep with rotten pockets but we were able to stick to firmer snow and shallow snow most of the time.
On the final portion of the summit we decided to follow the rocks that cross below then turn right along a drifted rib to the final portion of the summit. We were happy with the performance of the crampons on the telemark boots at this point. The snow that continues up the East Ridge looks too steep and variable to hit directly, and the drift that makes up the west summit-ridge looked too sharp and soft. Thus our decision to cross below the summit.
We made it! 2pm.
Gorgeous day, not a breeze, felt like 60 degrees. In these pics, there is the Bighorn drainage below the summit and I-70 and Vail in the lower valley. We celebrated with a clink of the axes and a barrage of photographs. Feeling pretty spent at this point (11hrs, 5 snowy miles, and nearly 5000 feet), we realized we were only half-way home.
We grabbed the packs and headed back down ~2:30. We wanted to glissade (butt-slide) down the slope, but it proved too soft. Made it back to the skis following most of the ascent route. Found one liter of melted snow waiting for us in the bottles that we had left on the rocks. This amounted to only about 1 liter/quart each to make it down. No problem right? We had planned on making it down in 3 hours.
I was re-packed and ready to go first, so I began down about 200 yards and came to a stop to watch Eric follow when my left ski popped off. (If you didn’t know, tele-skis have no brakes and I wasn’t wearing a leash.) I couldn’t do anything but watch it go, and go, and go, all the way to about 40 yards onto the lake. Luckily after a couple little spills I figured out how to traverse on one ski and reach its resting spot. Eric couldn’t help but laugh at me for that one. I tightened the cable down to keep it from happening again and we continued. The powder skiing in the Basin was phenomenal, though a bit shallow angle, we were spent of energy and were using the skis as a mode of travel rather than for fun.
We made it back to a point in the meadow and followed what we thought was the summer trail we had lost on the way up. This quickly turned into being too far East and with our depleted energy we were unwilling to go back up. We kept saying we’d traverse right and meet up with our ascent trail, but traversing was blocked over and over by large rock cliffs and questionable slopes. At this point the skiing was miserable. The snow had been baked into a 2 inch crust that grabbed at the ankles. Finally around 4:30-5:00 pm, we decided the best way down would be to take off the skis and head straight down through the knee/waist-deep snow to get to the Gore Creek trail by dark.
Finally reached the snowshoe-packed Gore Creek trail just after turning on the headlamps for the second time.Thank you to all the Vail snowshoers who made it up that far. We had the skins on for the descent down the trail, this helped slow us down to avoid letting branches poke the eyes out. Made it down the trail fine, out of water, and had passed a couple night snowshoers, then the rumble of I-70 called us home.
As we sat on the tailgate in the dark, we removed the skis, had a sip of homemade apple-cinnamon brandy, and asked the question: Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? The death-marches; the night-time approaches; the risky terrain?
The response is always the same: That was GREAT!
Distance: ~10 miles round-trip.
Vertical: ~5000 feet
Time: 15.5 hours (11 hours uphill, 4 hours downhill, .5 on summit)
Good times: Priceless