| Gore Range postholing adventure
High their, my name is Vomit . This past Saturday's forecast was looking like a stellar day & I concluded at the last second that I absolutely had to be out to at least tackle a summit after all this fresh snowfall, but the question was, what really random peak could I pull off? I had two places of interest in mind, some 13ers in the Front Range or one 13er in the Gore Range. Now w/ photography as a personal hobby, I found the Gore Range to be uniquely picturesque & a lot more rugged, that was holding my appeal more, & after examining the various perspectives of different centrally-located accessible day peaks in that area on Google Earth I had my mind set on the informally named North Traverse Peak as it seemed to be a good halfway point in the range w/ good views in every direction. And if conditions were too much for me to reach that peak, I would make my goal a little closer to nearby Grand Traverse Peak, if that were even possible. If not, well then shucks this trip was a waste of gas & momentum.
Now the snow accumulation up in the Gores seemed to be a bit more than in the Front Range as I drove out that way. Being an impromptu trip, I was just going to test my luck, if I summitted, that was great, if I didn't, I'd photograph what I saw from below. But I wasn't planning on turning around the moment I started, that was the goal as I wanted to get this out-of-the-blue summit off my list, even though I never even thought about it until the day before.
So North Traverse Peak is closest to the Bighorn Creek trailhead, which is at the east end of Vail, there's about six parking spaces there & I was lucky enough to get the last available one as the others were occupied by orange-clothed hunters already inspecting the area during the early morning rush. I packed all I needed, finding the trailhead below on the sunny southern side of the aspen slopes, dry of snow at least for the first quarter mile. But of course, while I had everything ready, the one vital article of clothing I failed to bring was of course my snow pants. Doh! Well crapola, w/ all the snow high up guess that means I have to turn back & head home & sulk in bed because I just wasted my day, right? Hell no.
Not having snow pants may inconvenience me a tad, I'll probably get wet & iced over, shiver some, sputter a few curse words, and at the very worst, get frostbitten & icify to death, but so long as I kept moving, the latter shouldn't be as serious an issue. Plus, I've made this mistake about three times in the past (though it was more about forgetting hunting boots & being stuck doing a winter ascent in tennis shoes or even forgetting both), so this was just routine training. Plus, I have heat warmers, a towel, and a mind that churns w/ a ton of thoughts that aids to distract from thinking of the frigid elements. Just blue jeans & hunting boots & a pair of cotton gloves that love to pick up snow & generate little ice balls on them, from there I proceeded fearlessly up the trail.
Driving across Vail Pass, it appeared that there was a lot more snow above treeline than below it, which would suck for this climb but be wonderful for the camera shots. Heading up above Vail, I got to the start of a hanging valley where there's a significant amount of aspens, probably a great place to be photographing a few weeks ago. There was about two inches of snow from there, tracks left by hunters leading onwards which made the hike pleasant and nothing too much to worry about. Much of the route was well maintained, there was about two fallen trees one has to cross or go around, but nothing other than a continuous climb for over three miles until you get to a dilapidated cabin that has a few blue tarps on the roof as that part is apparently missing. Not sure what the cabin is there for as I didn't see evidence of mining as this area isn't part of the Mineral Belt. Maybe someone on here knows? The cabin is where the Bighorn trail ends, according to maps, & it sure did the moment I arrived, leaving the deep postholing to my poised ambitions.
Hike through aspens about 1/2 mile in.
Crossing boulder field around 10,000 feet elevation.
"Grand Traverse Peak" (elev. 13,041') through the trees.
Closer view of Grand Traverse Peak.
Following hunter tracks a few hundred yards short of the cabin.
At the cabin, there were two hunters staying there, of whom I talked w/ upon my return. But they must've been asleep during my early passing, and while I had been following their tracks all along to get to the cabin, from here it was the real adventure creating my own tracks & route finding through drifts, looking for signs of dead plants sticking out of the snow as a sign of shallow safe crossing. This next mile and a half to the top was the real chore, where everything was solid powder w/ a thin line of ice on top of the ground underneath, the snow hadn't sat around long enough to have a firmer feel. So crossing streams, talus fields, or boulder fields really had some risk to falling through or slipping, so this ascent required plenty of focusing, & even more so on descent.
Creating my own trail to the heart of the Gores. These peaks are unnamed & unranked.
Same peaks as last photo.
Onward up the basin I created my own path about half a mile to a higher area & found the steep talus fields where I was going to ascent, picking the right gully to climb up was the challenge, each one chalked full of fresh powder & it didn't really draw comfort when I heard a small avalanche on the peak behind me thunder about 300 feet down. And these gullies were steep, 60 degree slopes if not more, I'm amazed I never dislodged any significant snow from it. And w/ such a steep slope, I'd basically have to swim up through about four feet of snow, kick some aside as it had me sliding back down, then I dove up once more, removed more as I slide back down, & do that until I found a firm footing to hoist myself up another two feet up the mountain, then repeated the same swimming process up the near-impassable gully for a good 50 feet up. I could imagine the "WTF" reactions from fellow climbers if they ever saw me heaving my arms like Michael Phelps up a sideways swimming pool of snow. But as I kept going up finding wherever icy hold I could find, I eventually reached a jutting spire of rotten rock & hoisted myself over that section of hell, finally hopping across the top & beginning a climb that wasn't trekking through gabs of snow, which all the paddling maneuvers had already made my hoodie, jeans & boots soaked & caked in white. Yeah, you'd think after the fourth time of being improperly dressed I'd learn to be wiser in how I conducted winter ascents?
Super loose scree ascending to the gullies, snow hasn't had time to solidify anything together.
Halfway up the steep gully on a rotten spire. Holy Cross in distance.
From the valley floor to the top of the ridgeline was a near 2,000 feet of climbing, it was continuously slow, a lot of rocks here & then while crossing treacherous snowfields that could either send you falling through a few inches or several feet. Fortunately no more swimming your way through snow as if it were like trying to negotiate through a sea of plastic balls at a McDonald's playland. Plenty of arm & leg motion the whole way up, think I got my Gold's Gym workout for the week. The wind started blowing more material higher up, & by the time I reached the summit ridgeline, I saw what I thought was the summit, but turned out to be the false one as I slowly plocketed around it, seeing the true summit several false crossings away, each one practically an easy jump during pristine summer conditions, but a lot more effort to get to today.
Welcome to the Himalayas.
Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...
Summit ridgeline, false summit.
The ridgeline here to North Traverse was part of the Grand Traverse, which looked like a fun summer outing, but crossing small high catwalks over cornices & precarious dropoffs this time around, I was left sometimes maneuvering back down & crossing thick small gullies of snow & heaving myself over large rocks just to get out of the virtually gripless terrain. But the summit cairn along w/ a protruding stick signified that half of the torment was over. And behind me, the traverse continued until it reached the top of Grand Traverse Peak, also informally named.
Past false summit, minutes shy of reaching North Traverse Peak (elev. 13,079').
And voila, the summit! Perhaps North Traverse Peak is one of those random mountains few would ever think to make a determined goal to reach, especially this time of year, but I'm glad I did it. The vantage from the 13,079 foot summit is quite phenomenal, just about in every direction is extreme, not to mention a significant amount of Gorey ruggedness on both sides north & south. Besides the extensive Front Range, Holy Cross was of course the close high 14er that was visible throughout much of my ascent, to the left of it was the tip of Castle & to the right barely poked the tips of the Maroon Bells. And then Longs Peak further northwest w/ the Medicine Bow Mountains directly north (Rawah Wilderness), plus the isolated Parkview Mountain (which is another favorite winter outing for me). Powell & Eagles Nest caps the northwestern extent of the range, ghostly white giants unlike many of the cliff-like alphabetical peaks of the range whose rock-spires are already void of snow. The Flat Tops hovered to the west, and looking down the valley I came up from, the western end of Vail & the ski areas were also visible.
Rime-crusted summit cairn.
Northwest view of Gore Range. Peak C, Powell, Eagles Nest, Peak Q are some of the giants in there.
Southeast view of Gore Range. Cliffs of Grand Traverse, Red Peak, Silverthorne, Valhalla in distance.
Wide shot of Al Gore's range. Yup, frozen concentrated dihydrogen monoxide, I definitely see global warming all around this photo.
This summit also was quite small, not too big like many Colorado peaks, you had a good vantage looking down in all directions. The blanketing of snow was striking on all the adjacent cliffs of the Grand Traverse, could still even see the outline of a big rock glacier in one of the cirques to the south. I took all the photos I could before I was starting to really deteriorate, realizing I had better keep moving again. Wind was strong up here, but not severe by any means, though a good blast of blowing snow really discouraged your senses. I'd say the wind chill up here made it feel in the single digits, but the October sun helped generate some heat to make it more tolerable than any true winter ascent.
Grand Traverse escarpment.
So the down climb was far more treacherous, you couldn't slide down as it was nothing but powder w/o any icing to it, so one pointy rock would nail you right in the tailbone. And the descent of this had me suffer from more slips and falls than any other climb I had ever done, part of it wearing bulky non-grippy hunting boots, another part of it being tired in general, not focusing, and thinking about how much I wanted to get down to the valley, & of course the nature of this mountain, large hidden boulders beneath the snow that wobbled when you stepped over them, there was nothing you could do to prevent a fall. The icing on blue jeans inadvertently helped prevent any more snow from melting towards my legs, kind of a relief, and w/ that help I found myself trudging through the snow more than taking slow rock hops down over some large visible boulders that were ready to fall downwards. But the 'guessing of where to place your foot in the snow' - that's where a lot of shin bone bruises came from, trudging in the snow & then suddenly BAM I nail a hidden rock. The worst of it came when I slipped, keeled sideways, then jabbed my kneecap right into a pointy rock, which alone left me limping about 400 feet down before I felt like I could start to somewhat bend my leg from a nice raised bruise. I guess GOREgeous views come w/ GOREy descents.
The fun descent down.
Hey look at that, there's my tracks way down there!
The unnamed unranked peaks. Right one is 13,005 feet.
Eventually I passed the trickest portion of the climb, getting back into the basin & cutting across mountain goat tracks & finding the quickest way to cross Bighorn Creek & get back to the cabin. I had to unthaw my toes a few times, but once I got them moving again, I had them simply soaked in wet socks as I reached the cabin, finding the two hunters there as they were asking me about the small lake located at the end of the basin, of which I saw completely ice covered, nothing more than an unnamed pond. They were staying two nights at the cabin, temps they reported dropped to 0*F & a wind up the valley went drafting straight through the cabin. Hmmm, surprised they didn't ask about my peculiar attire.
Holy Cross, one of my favorites. Top of Vail Mountain in foreground ridge I think.
Following my path of misery.
Crossing Bighorn Creek.
The cabin, looks nice from this side. Tarps & nearly caved ceiling are on the other side.
It was about 6:00 & the sun was casting an orange glow on the mountains. My favorite time be on a summit is during the evening hours, but it was getting cold & honestly felt a bit remote from civilization to confidently do that, not after all the catastrophes that came w/ coming down it. As I descended back down, the sun had set, I got my last alpenglow shots, then made my descent down in the dark playing the "where along the trail am I gonna encounter a couger" game.
Evening sunlight looking up towards the Grand Traverse.
Sunshine melted a bit of lower elevation snow, soon to ice up in a few hours.
Just waiting for that pair of big yellow eyes to show up, followed by a mellow poised hissing sound.
Before long, one turn & the sleepy town of Vail was directly below & I skipped down to the trailhead, feeling more stiff than ever as I was able to rid myself of the soggy clothing I was wearing. The ice I had on my jeans never melted & clung w/ me all the way down. Once at the parking lot, I totaled 11 hours of hiking, likely about 10 miles of distance round trip to climb up 4,600 feet to tackle a summit I'm sure some of you have never even heard of. Quite frankly, the Gores are still a misnomer to me as well, though I'd like to learn more about them.
Basic overview map - trailhead in east Vail to summit.
And of course, link below is a summit spherical panorama from the trip. View full screen, hit "Hide Controls" to remove the clutter, pan w/ mouse or arrow keys, zoom in or out, though this panorama isn't specially designed for clarity, just meant to give a more complete perspective as if you were actually standing there (don't spin the panorama too fast ):
North Traverse Peak summit
So despite all the near catastrophes of the hike, I really did enjoy the climb overall, even if I didn't pull Grand Traverse Peak w/ it. Never did I feel like such a champ & a loser at the same time, all these stupid near-apocalyptic climbs I'm proud of, we all certainly have at least one, & of course there's been past ones worse than today where the elements certainly had me turn back in disappointment. But for now I can chant as I made it to the summit of North Traverse & back in one piece, which is all that matters, a peak I'd recommend anyone go up if they wanted a solitary luxurious view (after all, my spherical summit panorama can only show the view, it cannot show the depth or the effect of being there, though it is nice seeing the view w/o the wind). Finally now I can sit down w/ a dry new pair of jeans, boots still thawing out in the corner, my morale slowly creeping back to normal levels, the aching knee however reminding me of the torment I'll be facing at work this week. But as I can reflect right now, it's incredible to see everything w/ its first major blanketing of snow & it sure outlined plenty more peaks that I would like to get to in this range one day.
Well, all the slips, falls, injuries, and whatnot that did everything to completely jar my stomach, I am suddenly feeling that escalating urge to purge, so please excuse me while I go VOMIT! Adios for now, until my next trip report.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):