| Early season Gore fun
"Snow Peak" – 13,024
"Mount Valhalla – 13,180
From: Gore Creek TH
Approx. 10.6 mi, 5800 ft
To get to the Gore Creek TH, take the eastern most I-70 exit for Vale (exit 180), go under the highway and continue along Bighorn Road for about 2.4 miles, passing back under the highway near the end. There is a parking area on the left. Both the Gore Creek and Deluge Lake trails start from here.
We started hiking up the dry trail at 6am. After about 0.2 miles we came to a tee and took the left branch toward Deluge Lake. This trail has been maintained and partially rerouted fairly recently and is slightly different than shown on both my Trails Illustrated and Garmin GPS maps. Snow line came rather abruptly at 10,200 ft and we put our snowshoes on a few hundred feet higher. The trail had become totally obscured but we followed its general path according to the map as closely as we could. At around 11,100 ft we got sick of steep side hilling and made our way down into Deluge Creek. Along the way we made the unfortunate discovery that neither of us had any sunscreen. We made a deal with the devil to accept imminent sunburns in exchange for the summit.
We had been considering two routes up Snow Peak and planned to make the final decision after we got a peek at them with our own eyes. In his Gore Range book, Kramarsic rates the north ridge from the Snow – Valhalla saddle 2nd class and the southwest ridge 3rd class. We planned on having some fun attempting the southwest ridge if it looked like it would go. Our first glimpses of Snow Peak confirmed in our minds that we would attempt the more challenging ridge. From afar we spotted a major weakness in the surrounding stunningly steep terrain that proved to be a great, safe route for gaining the ridge. After crossing Deluge Creek at 11,000 ft the route was very obvious – a reasonably sloped, shallow, treeless gulley bearing much resemblance to an easy run at a ski resort. The slope didn't exceed 30 degrees, but it really wasn't a concern anyway because the snow was in spectacular shape.
Snow Peak's SW Ridge
The first section of the ridge was very gentle and from there we began to get some amazing views of the rugged Gore Range. When the ridge steepened, it was another prefect job for the heel elevators. About 1/3 of a mile from the summit we got what we'd been waiting for. The ridge became interesting and we exchanged our snowshoes and trekking poles for our ice axes. At this point it was a little past 11am and Dwight said something to the effect that we had all the time in the world to get to the summit. Even though there had never been any mention or intention of climbing a second peak, before agreeing with his statement I asked for confirmation that there was no way we'd want to attempt neighboring Valhalla. I hate to be the one springing for bonus peaks halfway through a hike, but I swear this time I didn't try to sell it. I didn't have any idea of how ridiculous the idea could be, but Dwight was rather accepting of it.
The ridge was fairly narrow but traversing along its crest was the best choice most of the time. There were several small towers along the way that required some routefinding to overcome, but nothing seemed too tricky. The going was slow though and a little spicy in places – definitely nothing to be taken lightly. Scrambling on snowy rock and snow work were required. We would have gotten nowhere without our axes. Crampons weren't necessary because the snow was soft yet supportive. After about an hour we were elated to be standing on the summit. The Gores looked amazing with their thick blanket of snow.
Traverse to Valhalla
It was early enough that we could give Valhalla a shot if we wanted to, but the ridge between Snow and Valhalla looked rather daunting. I'd read a previous trip report (from summer) that described maneuvering down and around 5th class rock and knew it wasn't going to be easy, or maybe even reasonable, with a bunch of snow. We decided to check it out.
The descent down Snow's north ridge was pretty easy – it was nothing compared to the southwest ridge we'd just climbed. We arrived at the Snow – Valhalla saddle in no time and continued along the ridge. The ascent to point 12,835 was pretty straightforward, but after that we were presented with a very discouraging sight. Continuing along the top of the ridge from this point wasn't an option. Several huge towers along the way promised major complications. On the east side of the ridge both the rock and snow looked incredibly steep, sometimes vertical. I had serious doubts. We kept our fingers crossed that the west side of the ridge which we couldn't see would allow passage and descended a little bit to gain access to it. There were plenty of steep but viable escape options.
We slowly traversed the side of the ridge slightly below the crest. It was steep and cut by many snow filled gullies. Ice axe self belay was the name of the game… take a step or two and drive the axe in all the way, one or two more steps and repeat. Some rock mixed in here and there just for fun. Great snow conditions allowed us rather safe passage. Finally we came to a tower we couldn't handle and were forced to drop down about 300 ft. We did this via a steep gully, getting in a short glissade. At the bottom of the gulley we continued traversing and gaining elevation when we could. To our relief, we didn't find any more seriously impassable sections and continued scrambling and belaying ourselves along.
Finally the summit was in sight! The last several hundred feet were annoyingly loose but easy. We were both exhausted though and it was really showing. We topped out at 3pm and collapsed to admire our surroundings. What a place to be! The Grand Traverse was staring us in the face and it looked pretty spectacular.
Next on the agenda was finding a way down into the Deluge Lake basin. Valhalla's northwest ridge looked inviting so we descended it for a couple hundred feet. Soon we came to a steep snow gully leading down into the basin that looked like it would go. It was too narrow, rocky, and curvy to glissade and we carefully descended still making good use of our axes. I slipped once and had to self arrest (the first time I've ever had to do so unexpectedly). As we got further down, there were a few sections that we could glissade, but we had to do a little routefinding and scrambling to get around some cliffs above the lake. We got back down in to the basin and took a break around 4:20.
Then began the long slog out and there was still some elevation remaining to be gained. It didn't seem to take too long though and we were back at the car at 7:20. It had been a long day and I was exhausted. Words can't describe how amazing this hike was.
route map and my pics: