Of the five trails that begin from near Vail and head generally north into the Gore, four are initially very steep as they climb out of the valley. Only the Gore Creek trail avoids this problem, but there are two trails that take off from this trailhead location and they are now joined at one start at the upper end of the parking lot. A short distance up the trail is a register where you should stop to sign in if overnight permits are required. Head up the Deluge Lake Trail, #2014, for an unrelentingly steep hike.
Turning onto the Deluge Lake trail, you will first find yourself heading west and somewhat downhill for a while before the trail turns abruptly to the ENE and begins the long, gruesome, relentless climb. In two miles, the trail gains about 2,300 feet in elevation! With fully loaded packs, there is no way to make this fun or remotely enjoyable. In addition, the highway noise from I-70 far below, carries up the canyon and proves highly annoying until you finally turn out of the main drainage and head up the Deluge Creek drainage. There are a few switchbacks on the lower end of the trail, and then some others near the higher end, just before it starts to level out some. In between, it is extremely steep and it will be a footing problem on your way back down and out with lots of loose dirt & gravel. Hiking back down, as you encounter day-hikers coming up, you will likely not see too many smiling, cheerful faces. Most will have this look of "Why didn't they tell me this trail was so steep?"
Above the higher switchbacks the trail begins to level out some and takes you across a small creek, through a brief fern forest, across some talus and then on to a nice meadow, still well above the main Deluge Creek. Continue on, passing through more forest and then coming to Deluge Creek, after having crossed a subtle ridge and losing a little elevation. Cross the creek and continued parallel to it, having now broken out into more open meadow. Ahead, you can see the higher bench that harbors Deluge Lake. We had thought we might see a good campsite in this stretch but not seeing one, we found ourselves going all the way to the lake. It took us just over 3 hours with breaks to pack up there. The lake is a beautiful location, half surrounded by Grand Traverse, Mt. Valhalla and Snow Peak, and half by the open tundra of this upper bench. Some nice groups of campanula graced the trail approaching the lake when we packed in in early August. It was blissful solitude there on a weekday.
We spent extra time trying to locate a good campsite, but at the lake, there is no tree cover, so we had to settle for a somewhat exposed site, down south from the lake a bit, and about 100 yards east of an unoccupied cabin. See our approximate coordinates for that site. There were a few very low conifers there.
We have sequenced Snow Peak (UN13,024) with Willow BM/Mt. Silverthorne. In this sequence, we are assuming a climb of Snow Peak first, then heading on over to Mt. Silverthorne. One-way mileage and elevation gain for Snow Peak are measured from a suggested base camp at Deluge Lake. Round-trip mileage and elevation gain for Snow Peak, in this case, assumes returning back to the lake without going on to Mt. Silverthorne.
Some trip beta we had indicated that there was a use trail that would lead us from Deluge Lake to the top of Snow Pass to the east and above and west of Snow Lake, but from Deluge Lake and vicinity we had not seen a clear sign of this trail. Without one, the trek through the endless, steeply sloping scree up to Snow Pass would be a difficult one, so it's worthwhile to find this trail.
From the east side of Deluge Lake head generally ESE, following a stream drainage, in the direction of Snow Pass, gaining some elevation through tundra and then ascending a steep, giant, boulder step to a bench-type boulder field SW below the south ridge of Valhalla. Cross the large, stacked boulders carefully, and start ascending on a steep, tundra slope just to the right edge of talus that comes off the cliffs above. As you ascend up in this sparse tundra, a clear path begins to emerge and then it abruptly turns east from the talus and begins a long, angling ascent toward the pass. We have included a Google Earth view to try and show this trail. It is actually visible on GE. With the advantage of this trail you can move quickly along and have little difficulty crossing the numerous scree fields. As you progress toward the pass, you may have an opportunity to see a number of mountain goats. They seem to enjoy the Snow Pass saddle. As the trail brings you to a few hundred feet under the pass, it climbs more steeply on braided trails created by both hikers and goats that lead up through gravel and small scree with poor footing. At the pass, spend a little time admiring the spectacular view all around. The peaks surrounding Snow Lake are unbelievably rugged.
From the Snow Pass saddle, head south and up along the crest of Snow Peak's north ridge. The first part is a tundra stroll with about 100 feet in elevation gain to a rocky step. Bypass this on the left and top out at a small, minor saddle of tundra and scattered rocks. Make a mental note of this spot. On the way back down, if continuing on to Snow Lake and Mt. Silverthorne, you can veer off here and save going all the way back to the saddle.
Past this minor saddle, continue more steeply up along the ridge. Tundra will gradually give way to mostly broken and embedded rock. As you near the summit block, the ridge will come up against a sheer wall on the right with an imposing drop off. Head left to avoid the problem and begin the scramble on the great blocks of rock. After swinging left some, begin to head back to your right and clamber up to the blocky summit where there's little place to sit comfortably. The last bit of scrambling makes this otherwise quick and easy summit a little more enjoyable.
From the Snow Peak summit, you can plot out much of a route over to Mt. Silverthorne. The views of the rugged ridges and peaks surrounding Snow Lake are quite impressive. Snow Lake itself doesn't seem to have many visitors. The hike down to the lake and continuing east past the lake at the right time in the summer offers a plethora of wildflowers to photograph against the rugged, rocky backdrop of the peaks.