OverviewPorcupine Peak is an unofficial name for Peak 11,173 that is located in the southern section of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area. It is not a very conspicuous summit, even though it is ranked (433 feet of prominence) and is the 22nd highest ranked summit in the Park Range.
The summit is only a few feet off the Wyoming Trail/Continental Divide Trail, but most people walk right by it not noticing that it a ranked peak. Most people on the Wyoming Trail are headed for destinations such as Lake Elbert, Luna Lake, Mount Ethel, and Lost Ranger Peak. Porcupine Peak is so inconspicuous that two years after climbing it, I am having a hard time deciphering the peak in the photos! Even though the peak is not very conspicuous, it has some nice views. It is worth a few minutes of your time if you are on the way to the more well known areas of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness.
According to the Forest Service, the Buffalo Pass and Mad Creek drainage areas (where this peak is located) are the snowiest places in Colorado, beating out their rival, Wolf Creek Pass in the San Juan Mountains, by a healthy margin. Snowfields on the peak can last year round, despite the peak’s low elevation by Colorado standards. The area stays green for much longer in the season than many other mountain areas in Colorado.
Park Range: 11,000+ Foot Peaks with 300+ feet of Prominence
Getting ThereIf you want to climb this peak only, the Buffalo Pass Trailhead is the logical place to begin.
Buffalo Pass can be reached from the Walden area on the east and the Steamboat Srings area on the west. I am familiar only with the western approach. Be aware that the road over the pass isn’t usually open until mid-July and sometimes later. Even in dry years the pass is usually still closed in early July.
From Steamboat Springs and on the main drag (Lincoln Avenue/Highway 40), turn north on 3rd Street. Drive one block and turn right onto Amethyst. After 1.6 miles, the road joins Highway 323. Stay right and drive 2.4 miles before turning right onto CR 38, which is signed for Buffalo Pass.
Drive 13 miles up the sometimes rough road to the pass. Most passenger cars can make it when dry. Park in the parking lot on the south side of the road signed for Trail 1101.
See also the Mount Ethel and Lost Ranger Peak pages for other possible trailheads if you are planning on combining those peaks with an ascent of Porcupine Peak.
Routes OverviewVia Buffalo Pass
This is the easiest and most logical route on Porcupine Peak. The road to the trailhead usually doesn’t open until sometime in July.
This route follows the Continental Divide/Wyoming Trail north from Buffalo Pass. This is a beautiful route and much of it is above timberline. Since there aren’t many places to descend along much of the trail, this isn’t a good route when you have a bad weather forecast.
The route follows the rolling Continental Divide from the trailhead and is about 11.0 miles round trip.
To reach the peak from the Wyoming Trail/Continental Divide Trail, simply walk west up the gentle slopes from the trail just before it drops down to the forested saddle between Mad and Newcomb Creeks.
Any strong hiker and climber could do this route in one day, assuming the weather is good, but there are many side hikes to various peaks and lakes, so it’s easy to spend several days in the area.
See the Mount Ethel and Lost Ranger Peak pages for several more routes that can be used to access this area.
Red TapeNo permits are reqired. Standard wilderness regulations apply.
Camping is prohibited within 100 feet of any trail, wilderness lake or stream. Camping is prohibited within 1/4 mile (1320 feet) of Gilpin Lake, Gold Creek Lake and Three Island Lake. Camping, leaving camping equipment or personal property or otherwise occupying national forest system lands for a period longer than 14 days within a 30-day period on a ranger district is prohibited. Camping within 200 feet of a posted sign reserving a site for a commercial outfitter is prohibited.
Storing equipment, personal property or supplies is prohibited within the wilderness for more than 14 days within a 30-day period, including time the area was used for camping.
Building, maintaining, attending or using campfires is prohibited within 100 feet of any trail, wilderness lake or stream. Building, maintaining, attending or using campfires is prohibited within 1/4 mile (1320 feet) of Gilpin Lake, Gold Creek Lake and Three Island Lake.
Dogs must be leashed or under control.
Possessing, discharging or using any kind of firework or pyrotechnic device is prohibited.
The maximum group size is a combination of 25 persons and/or pack/saddle animals, with the maximum number of persons being 15.
Shortcutting switchbacks is prohibited.
When to ClimbAugust and early September is the most popular time to climb here. July is fine too, but this area gets more snowfall than anywhere else in Colorado, so winter snows tend to stay late and through most of July. Stream crossings along some routes can can be very problematic in June and July.
The road to the Buffalo Pass Trailhead isn't even open until Mid-July and sometimes later.
Be aware that if you do climb in July, be aware that the area has one of the biggest mosquito populations in Colorado. My first attempt on the peak was a failure due to mosquitoes. By August, the mosquitoes taper down in most years.
Fall is a fine season as well, but wear blaze orange during the hunting season. Big snowfalls usually don’t come until late September or early October.
Winter ascents of Lost Ranger Peak are certainly possible, though it’s a long trek in when the roads are closed. Because of heavy snowfall, trail breaking will not be easy, though there are routes with minimal avalanche danger. For the well prepared climber, a winter ascent would prove a worthy challenge.
CampingCampgrounds and Vehicle Campsites
There is a campground at Summit Lake right near Buffalo Pass. There are also some informal campsites along the access road.
There are several developed campgrounds along Seedhouse Road for those making the using the Savonia, Three Island Lakes, and North Lakes Trailheads.
There are no campgrounds at or near the three east side trailheads, but there are many informal campsites around each trailhead.
There are many backcountry campsites in the area, but there are no good campsites around the peak itself because of its exposed nature.
Buffalo Pass Route
If you are using the Buffalo Pass route, Luna Lake would be the most popular campsite in the area, but it can be somewhat congested.
Some really nice and secluded campsites are located six miles in from Buffalo Pass and just east of the saddle south of elevation 10969 on the map. There is a spring here that feeds Newcomb Creek.
Mountain ConditionsFor current information, contact:
Hahns Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District
925 Weiss Drive
Steamboat Springs, CO 80487-9315
CLICK HERE FOR THE WEATHER FORECAST FOR THE MOUNT ZIRKEL WILDERNESS
Below is the National Weather Service Climate Summary of Steamboat Springs. The data is from 1908-2012. This is the closest long term weather station, but be aware that higher elevations will be much wetter and colder. Steamboat Springs is at 6695 feet elevation, so expect the temperatures on Porcupine Peak to be 15-20 degrees colder than in Steamboat (except for cold winter nights).
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