July 24, 2001 in South
Day 4: Mount Valhalla (13,180), Grand Traverse Peak (13,041), and the hike out
I came out of sleep without opening my eyes and I heard a sound that I had heard before. It sounded like horses walking around. I knew what it was but I fell back asleep and dozed for a while. I woke up again shortly and without moving opened my eyes and saw several goats around us. I whispered at Pat not to move, but to open his eyes and look at all the goats around us. It was pretty neat. Ruth Ann woke up right away and we all three lay there looking at the goats who were grazing around us. There were four adults and three kids. As we stirred, the goats got spooked and headed out. We watched them for a while…they appeared to be heading up to Snow Pass.
Before attempting to climb Mount Valhalla, which appeared to be a long way along it’s northwest ridge, we decided to go back to the bluff behind the cabin and see if we saw any wildlife. The cabin was probably a good quarter mile from where we camped. We waited by the bluff for a few minutes looking then spotted a deer who was still bedded down in the forest. We watched if for a while then it got up and was joined by at least two more deer. We headed back to camp to get ready for the climb when we spotted a male goat inspecting things around our campsite. Our approaching scared him off and we got ready, carrying the usual lightweight load, and headed up.
The beginning of the climb followed the lake to it’s northwestern edge then began a steep climb up a grassy slope to the Mount Valhalla/Grand Traverse saddle. Unfortunately, about 3/4ths the way up, Pat broke his walking stick which he had humorously christened “Little Betty”. He’d even carved his name and some more stuff into it. Well, we convinced him to hold on to the part that remained. Anyway, Grand Traverse was much closer to us but we had planned on heading to Mount Valhalla so we began following the ridge. Below us, we had earlier spotted the mountain goat. He’d was moving all around Deluge Lake and as soon as we left the campsite, he returned to to complete his investigation.
The first part of the ridge wasn’t very hard at all. The left-hand side of the ridge was very steep and pure rock and talus. At the saddle there was a gigantic permanent snowfield. We stayed mostly on the right-hand side which was mostly grassy ledges.
As the ridge turned more northward, it became much more difficult. We had to stay on the right-hand side and work pretty hard at some good route-finding to find the easiest and safest route. This part of the ridge was very slow going but the difficulty never exceeded 3rd class. We did have to cross a few steep and loose gullies. At one point, we squeezed through a notch that was bordered with a large rock that must have had a ton of quartz in it. Below this rock was a very smooth wall with bright yellow lichen on it. This landmark became one of the key landmarks for us. Beyond this notch, we crossed another gully, took a break at another small notch on a grassy rock rib, then headed up to meet the ridge which now looked a lot easier again. Once we got up on the ridge we were able to traverse at or near the top, past another major gendarme to the base of the final pitch to the summit.
The final pitch to the summit is a short 3rd class ridge then another short talus scramble to the top. The summit of the mountain is actually a long ridge with the eastern part appearing to be the true summit. As usual, there was no summit register up here. We set up the cameras and took our summit shot again. We rested on the summit. I was facing west and Ruth Ann and Pat were facing east. Suddenly I noticed a mountain goat appear on the western end of the summit. Ruth Ann and Pat turned around slowly and we grabbed our cameras. As we were getting our cameras ready, another goat appeared, then another. It appeared to be the same family of goats that we’d seen earlier in the morning. They were very skittish; they started to run off as we stood up. But upon sitting down, they came back up on the summit but never came any closer.
We needed to get back down because we had decided to attempt a climb of Grand Traverse too since it was so close. As we moved towards the goats, they scampered down the mountain and put a lot of distance between us very quickly.
On the way down, we decided to follow the top of the ridge as long as we could. The top of the ridge is pretty tough. It’s solid but fairly exposed 3rd class climbing. Before we encountered any sustained 4th class climbing, we dropped back down to the safe side of the ridge and immediately found our quartz landmark and followed our original route back the rest of the way.
Back at the saddle, we looked up at Grand Traverse, not far away, and decided to try to climb it before the weather got any nastier than it already was. Grand Traverse was nothing more than a 2nd class ridge climb from this side.
We started climbing quickly. There were some nasty looking clouds south of Grand Traverse Peak and it was clear behind us. As we climbed higher though, we heard distant thunder. We continued on but unfortunately the clouds thickened and darkened. It started to hail and rain lightly. A mere 200 feet below the top we heard a closer clap of thunder. My best judgment told me that we’d better descend. So, I gave the word and we headed down rapidly. This was definitely the smart choice. Back near the saddle, a very loud clap of thunder hit and we zoomed down the rest of the way. The rain had picked up and was coming down very hard now. Unfortunately, because of the frost from the previous night, our stuff was out drying in the sun. Well, not anymore, it was in the process of being doused. Pat went down first since he was in front and ran back to the camp to throw all of our stuff into the tent while I stayed back with Ruth Ann. When Ruth Ann and I got back, Pat had moved everything inside the tent and we stripped off our wet clothing and jumped inside. While we waited, we made some hummus (by adding water to the mix) and had it with some crackers.
The only thing that could prevent us from having to hike out with heavy wet gear was for the rain to stop and the sun to come out which it did about fifteen minutes later. We spread everything out to dry. While we were about our task, we heard a loud “CRACK!”. I though someone had fired a shot near the lake or some sort of explosive had gone off. We whirled around to see a huge chunk of snow that had broken off and fallen into the lake. I’d never seen anything like that before; it was pretty neat.
After maybe an hour and a half, most of the stuff had dried pretty well. We started to organize it again for the hike down.
We knew the hike down the Deluge Lake trail was going to be steep but I don’t think we expected it to be as steep as it was. It was a very pleasant trail to begin with passing through thick green evergreen forests and deep green meadows. There weren’t nearly as many flowers up here though as on the opposite side of Snow Pass. A little further below, the trail broke away from the trail. It started ascending and ascended for a long time before finally leveling off. We were certainly building up for a steep descent. Then it began. More than two miles and two thousand feet. This would be an extremely difficult trail to ascend with a pack on. I’m glad that we had picked this direction.
To add insult to injury, the trail really goes farther down it needs to and we found ourselves taking a sharp left-hand turn back to the trailhead that involved a good bit of uphill. By this time we were really tired but we paused to take an “after” picture at the same spot that we took the “before” picture four days earlier.
We were back at the car safe and sound after four great days in the wilderness. It had rained on us a lot but, in my opinion, that really enhanced the trip. We saw all sorts of natural wonders. This was undoubtedly my favorite trip of all time and I’d highly recommend it to anyone. Now, I’m looking forward to trying many similar trips to this one.