Two Tries at Buckskin BM
After several days of acclimatizing at lower altitudes, My wife Blynn and I and our friend Rick established a high camp in Minnehaha Gulch just below treeline on July 26th. The following morning we were moving slowly and missed the planned alpine start for our attempt at Buckskin BM. We didn’t get started until nearly 9 AM, and although we were fairly close to the peak, we knew we might not have enough time. We hiked up into the tundra toward Buckskin pass and turned off at the Willow Pass trail junction. Our plan was to hike about 0.4 mile to just below the steep grade to Willow Pass and hike off trail and ascend to the saddle between UN 12,733 and the Buckskin summit and climb the peak’s south ridge. As we approached the saddle, however, we were greeted by a surprisingly steep and icy lingering snowfield. Blynn and Rick had no snow climbing experience and I had hoped to do some practicing with them on a more moderate slope before attempting anything this difficult. The only way around the snow was up a very unpleasant looking red sandstone scree slope. Furthermore we were approaching our agreed upon turnaround time, so we decided to head back toward camp and regroup. On our way back to the trail we found a fresh marmot skeleton and some mountain lion tracks. We also saw four bighorn sheep on the ridge above Willow Pass. We reviewed our maps and decided we might be able to climb Buckskin BM the next day in combination with a couple of lesser peaks. After a meal and several hours of lightning and rain we went to sleep with plans to get an early start the next morning. We got up before 5 AM and were hiking before 7 AM. We made it to Buckskin Pass by 8 and since it was so early we had the pass to ourselves. It was quite chilly with the temperature in the lower 40s and a stiff breeze. The surrounding peaks were mostly in the clouds. Snowmass Mountain and Capitol Peak were completely obscured but we could see glimpses of Snowmass Lake. We started our mini-enchainment by heading south from the pass and hiking up to UN 12,462. On the way up we saw a mountain lion den, which we were surprised was so close to the heavily traveled pass. We walked back over the pass, traversing the ridge and began climbing up to UN 12733. While this climb was an easy walk-up, the views from the top were outstanding and the summit itself is a nice point that looks considerably more exposed than it actually is. As we descended from UN 12733, we continued north on the same ridge and began our second attempt on Buckskin BM. We made good progress along the ridge and the lower two thirds of the peak’s upper slopes. At this point, however, it became clear that our historically poor route finding skills still needed some work. Buckskin BM is supposed to be a fairly easy class 2 climb. As our turnaround time approached, we found ourselves climbing through a 50’ tall band of crumbly class 3 sandstone. The climbing was straightforward and did not present us with any difficulty but once through it, we found ourselves 10 minutes past our scheduled turnaround time with another 100’ class 3 pitch to the summit. According to what I had read, there was probably a way around the crumbling rock and/or with enough time, we could have climbed through it safely, but with our limited skill set, one helmet between us and time becoming an issue, good judgment dictated that we turn back. Nonetheless, it was a great day of climbing and we were all pretty stoked when we got back to Buckskin Pass. As we walked back along the ridge, we found a good sized snowfield that gave me an opportunity to review some ice axe techniques with Rick and Blynn. After meeting the huge crowds on their way to Snowmass Lake, we were grateful for the solitude that awaited us at our campsite. Despite the huge number of people that climb to Buckskin Pass and beyond every day during the summer, from 3 in the afternoon until mid-morning, it felt as if we had the entire wilderness area to ourselves. Shortly after getting back to camp, a cold wind-driven rain began to fall and it appeared that it might actually turn to snow. Instead, the rain stopped the sun came out and we had no more significant rain for the remainder of the trip. We decided to make the following day a “rest day” –taking several shorter hikes above treeline to get photos with the sun at different angles. Rick spent the afternoon exploring the boulder field and lower ridges on UN 12,942 much to the dismay of a large colony of picas. Our hike back to the car the next morning was gorgeous –with the Maroon Bells and the crags of the West Maroon Valley reflecting beautifully off of Crater Lake. I enjoyed this hike a great deal more with a lighter pack going downhill.