Intro/StatsKeller Mtn (13085')
"North Traverse Pk" (13079')
"Grand Traverse Pk" (13041')
13.5 miles RT, 7500' gain
Bighorn Creek to Deluge Lake TH
Participants: Keegan Murphy, Dwight Sunwall, Ryan Kowalski, & Kevin Baker
Scrambling season is coming to an end in the high country as the snow is coming soon, so I was looking for a long scramble somewhere. When my partner had to bail on the 10 Mile Traverse, I jumped on Dwight's invite for the Grand Traverse in the Gores. Jacque is the only mountain I had climbed in the Gores, so this was my first real trip to this rugged range. The Grand Traverse is one of the 50 classic scrambles described in Dave Cooper's book.
I met Ryan at the Genessee Park park-n-ride and we carpooled up to the Deluge Lake TH just east of Vail (exit 180) on the frontage road. You have to go on the frontage road on the south side to reach this TH as the road goes below I-70 just before you get there. Dwight and Keegan were waiting for us as we arrived on time. This hike is done nicely as a car shuttle loop, so we took my car up to the Bighorn Creek TH. Keegan is possibly the youngest person on 14erworld and it was probably the first time I have hiked with someone on a high peak who was half my age! Us "old" farts had a hard time keeping up with him!
Slog to Keller
We were off at 5:35am in anticipation of a long day. I was glad to see Dwight setting a nice, relaxing pace as we had a long day in store for us. I knew I was in for a struggle today as I was in the flatlands of KS last weekend and was trying to overcome a cold. We made good time up the nice trail which for the most part climbs gently up the basin a little over 3 miles to an old cabin. Shortly after that, the trail ends at around 11100' and and from there it was an easy bushwack to the head of the basin. I was surprised at how dry everything was after hearing how wet you can get from the vegetation here.
Dwight and I had a sinister plan to add Keller to the day, which I had to add since it's my wife's maiden name! Ryan wasn't too excited to add more vertical to a 5700' day for just the Grand Traverse. He sealed his fate by taking a line that topped us out to the west of Pt 12860. We're already on our way to Keller!
Heading up steep slopes to the ridge:
The ridge over to Keller looks pretty mellow on the map, but it has a lot of ups and downs. I could already feel that today was going to be a struggle for me. The ridge offers some class 3 scrambling on the crest with a bit of exposure.
After plenty of ups and downs, we topped out around 9:45am. The views over to the Grand Traverse from the summit were exciting!
The Grand Traverse
It was looking like it was going to turn out to be a typical early Sept bluebird day, a great time for long traverses. After a short break with lots of sugary treats for me, we headed for North Traverse. We skirted below some of the bumps on the way over to the saddle to conserve energy. The climb to N. Traverse from the saddle can probably be kept at class 2, but there are harder lines to find.
Ryan on the north ridge on N. Traverse Pk:
This was a nice warmup for what was in store for the rest of the day as we would be scrambling for a long time. We took a longer break here to refuel for the fun part of the day, the Grand Traverse. The good thing about this traverse is you can keep it at class 3 or you can go over everything, which would require a rope!
The first part of the traverse down to the first obstacle is pretty mellow, but gets your attention with crazy exposure on the east side. Huge granite slabs caught the eye.
South face of N. Traverse Pk
The wind was a factor throughout the day with gusts probably to 30mph, but for the most part it was to our back. You can either stay on the crest of the ridge or drop on the mellow talus slopes on the west side.
We easily skirted the first gendarme on the west side via a gully and soon came to the crux that Cooper describes as 4th class with an "interesting" downclimb on the back side. This crux is loose with quite a bit of exposure. Ryan, Keegan, and Dwight made quick work of the tower and Dwight yelled down to me to wait and see if they could find a feasible downclimb.
Video of Keegan & Dwight on crux gendarme
Ryan told me to traverse around it as the south side was very steep and he couldn't see much of a reasonable line on the east side. They ended up finding a solid downclimb on the s.w. side while I descended a gully 100 ft on the right and traversed across ledges back to the ridge. From there, we descended to the saddle and traversed around another gendarme on the right before coming to the false summit.
I had forgotten that there was a false summit to skirt around on Grand, but I thought climbing it was worth it as the scrambling was solid.
Dwight on false summit slabs:
The final climb to the true summit also offered some fine class 3 scrambling.
I was gassed as we topped out after a 1 hr 45 min traverse. We all felt that the traverse was easier than expected, although we took a pretty conservative line trying to conserve energy. One could make this traverse real exciting by staying true to the ridge!
Looking back at the traverse:
A Bonus 12er and A Hellish Descent
With ~7200' vertical under our belts on the day already, was nearby ranked Pt 12485 in the cards? I pounded some more sugar and Gatorade and felt like I could muster up another 300 feet. How hard could that be? We weren't sure if the ridge down to the saddle would go, but this 12er looked doable from the saddle.
The descent wasn't bad at all although it was very steep. My pace slowed as my knees were taking a beating. We descended on the west side via steep grass. A couple gully descents dropped us slightly below the saddle. Ryan found a nice gully back up to the ridge, but I got behind and ended up taking the wrong branch. The branch worked out fine, but I had to traverse across ledges to gain the notch they topped out at. I was surprised to find shrubs and trees growing on the east side of this saddle at 12K'.
The climb to 12485 was probably the best scrambling of the day, mostly class 3 with one short class 4 step to scale. I was too wasted to enjoy this final stretch and was pretty much scrambled out! We traversed out onto the east face when the ridge became difficult. Although only a bit over 300' above the saddle, it seemed like an eternity to me as we finally topped out at 4pm after over 7 hours of ridge running/scrambling. We soaked up the views one last time and boulder hopped down the south ridge to a 12180' saddle. On the way down, the wind ripped off my glow in the dark REI runners cap, almost exactly one year after it happened to me on Meeker's knife edge! We then descended moderately steep grass down to the Deluge Creek basin and hit the trail at ~11200'.
I usually don't have problems with my knees, but they were throbbing today. It was time for a 4500 foot plummet down to I-70. I was dreading the descent and had heard about the steep Deluge Lake trail. The trail annoyingly traverses for at least a mile and actually gradually gains a bit of elevation, before dive bombing down to the valley. There aren't a whole lot of switchbacks on the trail and the ones near the bottom are annoyingly counter intuitive. The trail has been rerouted and is higher than the old one on the map. I knew it was going to get steep when we still had 1000' to descend and only 1/2 mile direct distance. Whoever designed this trail was either smoking crack or had a sick sense of humor as the last stretch goes the wrong way for no reason at all and heads back uphill! Ryan and I had enough of this nonsense and bushwacked the last 1/10th of a mile. We staggered back to the trailhead at 6:50 after an exhausting day!
GPS track courtesy of Dwight: