Day 3: Hail Peak (12,904), Zodiac View (12,505), Snow Peak (13,024), and Deluge Lake
We all woke up early around 5:30 am and started getting ready for the long day ahead of us. We moved a lot faster this morning than we did yesterday for obvious reasons. We were all feeling good though. The rest day had been well worth it. The plan was to follow the route that we had scouted the day before. Actually, we only scouted the very beginning. At the top of a small knoll, we spotted some trees that we would head for then on to the ridge and down which led to Snow Lake. We started off by following the Gore Lake trail. As soon as the trail turned to the right and began descending, we left the trail and started climbing alongside the northeastern edge of the lake. We were able to follow our route without any problems. Soon, we were at the knoll and started heading across the thickly vegetated meadow to the grove of trees beyond.
At the grove, we made a clothing adjustment then headed out again. The remainder of the route consisted of crossing a short talus field interspersed with loads of bushy blue bells, then up a steep grassy gully to Snow Peak’s east ridge. Hiking up the gully proved to be challenging. Like a lot of the previous meadows, the vegetation was so thick that you couldn’t see where you were placing your feet, so we had to use our hiking poles to probe the ground for loose rocks. At the top of the gully, we encountered flat ground with large boulders and we could see the crest of the ridge up ahead with Hail Peak looming above it on the opposite side of the Snow Creek valley. Pat and I decided to zip on up ahead to get to the crest to pose for a picture (left – I’m the tiny white dot on the ridge in the center of the picture, Pat’s blending in!). At the top of the ridge, we couldn’t see Snow Lake but we knew were it was from the formation of the rocks – it looked like a small dam. After Ruth Ann caught up with us, we dropped down into high alpine valley.
We stopped at a large boulder that ran along Snow Creek. We took off our packs, had some water and some food, and then packed up our small day packs and headed down the valley where we would climb up a gully and hit the southeast ridge on Hail Peak, then retrace our steps to above the gully and follow grassy alpine slopes to Zodiac View.
The flowers yesterday along the way to Gore Lake were absolutely amazing, but they couldn’t compare the wildflowers (right) that were in Snow Valley. The flowers were so thick in some areas that I could actually feel the different colors stimulating my eyes as I moved from bunch to bunch. There was a very faint trail running through the valley and most of it was overgrown with the wildflowers. At the point where the valley turned to the south was a large tarn. We crossed here and then made our way for the west-facing gully.
The beginning of the gully was easy to climb. It consisted of large talus boulders again made stable by the large amounts of flowered bushes, in this case blue bells again. We stepped up the talus like a staircase and then exited to the left and followed steep grassy ledges to near the talus saddle on Hail Peak. Hail Peak from this side is almost a complete talus climb. Only near the top do you need to do any real rock scrambling. Fortunately, the talus was stable and we were able to make decent time up the slopes. Most of the face consisted of very large talus blocks. Closer to the edge of the ridge was smaller talus that appeared to be a good bit looser so we stayed more on the face and continued up. This part of the Gores contains a good bit more talus than the northern and central peaks.
About 100 feet below the summit, we had to climb some class 3 rock. It was a fun relief to the talus. Beyond the class 3 pitch, we crossed a rock rib or two then began climbing up the solid right-hand side of a small gully to the east ridge. From the ridge, we casually strolled to the top.
There is a very precipitous drop over the north face of Hail Peak. I approached it very tenuously. Unfortunately, due to the slope, I couldn’t get right to the edge and look over so I couldn’t tell quite how high it was. I got within 5 feet or so and all I could still see was just air and the valley floor about 800 feet below. From the top of Hail, we took our summit shots (right) and identified the other peaks that we’d be climbing on this trip.
From the top of Hail, it looked like we could stay high on the Hail-Willow ridge and then drop into the huge alpine meadow that lead to Zodiac View. That was our plan. We headed off and made our way back down the talus.
Hiking up Willow’s west ridge was easy. But when we looked down into the meadow that lay underneath Zodiac View, we saw that we had a lot more talus to descend. We spent another thirty minutes minimum just getting down to the grass. Once on the grass, we had no problem at all – this was the classic alpine tundra: very short grass and small alpine flowers. Once up on the ridge, we had a mere 100 vertical feet of easy scrambling to get up on Zodiac View. This small point (left) is unofficially called “Zodiac View” because of the straight-on views it affords of the “Zodiac Spires”, a rugged ridge running between Red Peak and Willow.
We were up there very quickly. We rested and had some food up here. We saw that the clouds were moving in again so we decided to head back the quickest way possible to the large boulder where we left our packs. The quickest was was back down the steep gully which we had partially climbed at the beginning before exiting to the left. The top part looked really steep.
Fortunately, there wasn’t much to the descent. We were able to skid down the dirt and scree to the steps that took us down to the very bottom. We then began the climb back up into the high part of the valley where our stuff was waiting.
Up at the boulder, I decided to cool my feet in Snow Lake. Where Gore Lake was a balmy 60 degrees, Snow Creek was absolutely frigid at 44 degrees. I didn’t stay in very long, but it was relieving. As we got everything ready for the dreaded hike over Snow Pass, the weather worsened. The dark clouds moved in and the wind picked up. We put on our shells and headed out. It started to rain almost as soon as we started. A few steps beyond the boulder, we were able to see Snow Lake. The lake was bordered by talus on every side and Snow Peak loomed over it on the southwestern side. Ahead of us, the pass looked very high and difficult. At the top, however, we spotted several goats.
The pass looked very grassy which was good news but the prospect of traversing over talus to get to the beginning of the pass did not excite us. However, I spotted a trail that was very solid and easy to follow. It led us directly through the talus, over a couple of snowfields, and on up the pass. The trail ascended the steep grassy slopes for a while then faded out. We put our heads down and headed up to the pass. Sooner, rather than later, we were at the top. It wasn’t nearly as bad as we were expecting, even with our full packs. From the top of the pass, Snow Peak looked really accessible. We also were able to look down onto Deluge Lake, which was really pretty. The rain had stopped for the time being so we took off packs, rested a bit, then headed up Snow Peak (left).
Although Snow Peak looks like a hard climb, the north ridge was actually pretty easy. Most of it consisted of climbing up talus. About 100 feet below the summit, it became more of a scramble. We had to hook to the east then back west to finish to the summit. The top of the peak had a fairly small summit with precipitous drops all around. We took our usual summit shot and enjoyed the views for a little longer. The other side of the pass looked much steeper and looser than the side we’d just ascended. Fortunately, we spied a trail heading down. We headed down the peak, grabbed our packs, and picked up the trail.
There were all sorts of neat rocks along the way to Deluge Lake. Pat, being the geologist, stopped frequently and picked up rocks and identified them. He found all sorts of green and blue rocks, bright green and blue! I can’t remember the name of the mineral that caused this but we grabbed a few of them for souvenirs. Below, the trail crossed grass then as usual in the remote part of the Gores, just disappeared. We still had a lot of talus to cross (not again!) so we headed down and began the tedious rock hopping. We came out on a long snowfield. I skied down it on my boots and Pat and Ruth Ann glissaded down.
The terrain around Deluge Lake is, of course, beautiful. It’s emerald green tundra just above treeline with lots of rolling hills. We dropped our packs where the Deluge Creek left Deluge Lake and went to explore a cabin that Pat had spotted high up on the pass.
The cabin was a fairly new construction. There was a hole chewed in the door by mountain rodents. We went inside and found a some camouflage parkas and a giant combination safe. I have no idea who this cabin could have belonged to; I thought this was National Forest land. Anyway, we didn’t stay long. We went outside and around the back, where we discovered that the cabin is sitting on a bluff perfectly overlooking meadows and forest below. It must be used for hunting, I suppose.
Anyway, we went back to our packs and moved to the west of the lake where we found some smooth terrain for setting up the tent. We got another fire going and started dinner. Pat and I threw the frisbee a little more.
We had another outstanding dinner tonight: tortellini with a creamy tomato sauce. As we were cooking it, we noticed that the sky was clearing. Maybe we’d have a decent sunset for once instead of dark clouds. Well, we didn’t get much of a sunset but there was some spectacular alpenglow on Snow Peak. We interrupted our dinner more than once to set up shots of the alpenglow as the clouds continually thickened and cleared.
We decided to sleep out this night since the weather did seem to be improving. As we lay on the tarp looking up at the sky, the clouds cleared completely, and we had a perfect view of the stars.
After we stopped talking, I drifted off to sleep within minutes. I woke up sometime in the night and opened my eyes to look at the stars which were just as brilliant as ever. I also felt the outside of my sleeping bag and felt that it was wet. It couldn’t have rained because I certainly would have woken up. It must have been the dew…so I went back to sleep not worrying about it.
On to day 4.