Buffalo Fork Peak (North Breccia Cliffs)

Buffalo Fork Peak (North Breccia Cliffs)

Page Type: Mountain/Rock
Lat/Lon: 43.79615°N / 110.07869°W
Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering, Scrambling
Season: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
Elevation: 11310 ft / 3447 m


Breccia Peak-- True Summit

Travelers on U.S. 26/287 west of Togwotee Pass cannot help but admire the system of sheer cliffs paralleling the road to the northeast. Closer to the pass, these are commonly known as the Brooks Lake Cliffs, the highpoint of which is Mount Sublette. The cliff-draped massif to the west of Sublette is home to Breccia Peak (BRETCH-uh) the Breccia Cliffs, and Buffalo Fork Peak, which together guard the southern edge of Wyoming's vast and largely trackless Teton Wilderness, a place thick with grizzlies, elk, and other signature denizens of the American Serengeti that is the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Although Buffalo Fork Peak is not far from a paved highway and actually overlooks it, exploring this mountain is stepping far away from the civilized world, and you'll quickly forget all about that road, which is only visible from the summit ridge, and only then if you choose to look for it.

This page covers the easiest way to get to the summit of the peak. It is also the longest in terms of mileage, but it might be the only reasonable way that isn’t technical.

Note: Buffalo Fork Peak is not on today's maps, but it was named and mapped by the Hayden Survey. It's not clear why the name was left off current maps. It is higher than Breccia Peak and much more prominent, so it is strange to see it not have an official name today. On Google Maps, it's marked as North Breccia Cliffs.

Basic details: About 11 miles RT (slightly shorter and more direct variation possible, discussed in Route Information section), 2500’ elevation gain, Class 3 (almost all Class 1 and 2, but one short section on steep, loose scree where you will likely use your hands, and a Class 3 ridge that can be bypassed on lower, Class 2 ground).

When I climbed this mountain with jimmyjay and thephotohiker on July 11, 2007, there was no summit register, but Jay brought and placed one. Look for it under a small pile of rocks at the summit.

Breccia Peak-- Route Overview
Route Overview-- click for details.
Volcanic Boulders
Volcanic Remnants
Alpine Buttercup
Alpine Buttercup

Getting There

Breccia Cliff Bands
By thephotohiker

About 5 miles west of Togwotee Pass on U.S. 26/287 (I am sorry to say that I forgot to note the exact mileage), look for a sign indicating the Holmes Cave Trail and turn north onto a dirt road accessing the trailhead. This road is between the Lost Lake turnoff and the Togwotee Lodge, so use them as turnaround points if you miss the road the first time around. When dry, this short, bumpy road that ends in just about 0.3 miles is passable for most vehicles; I have driven a Toyota Corolla up it without a problem. If conditions are muddy, though, use the parking area on the right that you encounter just seconds after turning onto the road. At the end of the road, there is an old outhouse; a true historic relic, it actually has a crescent moon carved into it. There is a board here with wilderness information, and this is the trailhead.

Cliffs of Breccia Peak

Route Description

Breccia Peak-- Ridge Approach

From the trailhead at about 8840’, hike the trail to a divide on the boundary of the Teton Wilderness at 10,200’. This hike covers approximately 2.5 miles, and along the way you will hike through lush meadows stuffed with wildflowers. This is also prime grizzly country, and my party saw several fresh tracks in the vicinity of the divide on one of my trips out here. So be alert, make noise, and know what to do if you do encounter a bear. That is all I will say, as I feel anyone not knowing exactly what I mean ought not to be out here in the first place.

From the divide, which has a view of Buffalo Fork Peak (though not the summit) that makes the mountain look perhaps unclimbable, follow the ridgeline southeast around Point 10,385 and attain the saddle east of it. The basaltic composition of the rocks comprising Point 10,385 stands in stark contrast to the loose, light-colored breccia of the peak you are seeking to climb. Point 10,385 is actually quite rugged and provides some interesting Class 3 and 4 sections that I fooled around on back in 2003, but if Breccia Peak is your goal, you will want to bypass this point. Unfortunately, that means boulder-hopping and losing elevation. You can go around either side of the ridge here, but the right (south) side seems a little easier.

When you reach the saddle east of Point 10,315, you will also see not far below a trail running east-west. This is a hunter’s trail and is not marked on maps, but it leads to Lost Lake and also close to the Holmes Cave trail around half a mile before the saddle it climbs from the trailhead. Taking this trail, combined with a short bushwhack through meadows, on the way back cuts a mile off the trip, but it is harder to locate on the way up, which is why I recommend following this route as described and only using the shortcut on the way back, at least the first time.

From the saddle, continue along the ridgeline directly to Buffalo Fork Peak. By now, the inhospitable cliffs look no less intimidating, but a steep yet friendlier aspect of the mountain, left of the cliffs, will have become apparent. The going along the ridge is Class 3 with some brief spots of moderate exposure, but one can dip just below the ridge and follow Class 2 terrain if desired. I don’t like giving back elevation, so I stuck with the ridge. The rock is decent considering this is the Absarokas, but plenty of it is still loose and ready to give or pull out easily.

Where the ridge meets the real massif of Breccia Peak is where the crux of the route occurs. You must traverse and climb some very steep scree and dirt where a slip would result in a long, nasty tumble. In reality, this is Class 2 ground, but it is so steep and loose that you will almost certainly use your hands, hence my advice to expect Class 3 conditions here.

Once past this section, you will be standing on level ground below steep tundra slopes that lead to what you will think and hope is the summit. It’s not. But head up there to reach what is essentially an alpine plateau and continue hiking ESE along the ridge crest and up and down gentle slopes (take time to look over the edge and check out the sheer cliffs that define Breccia’s southern aspect). The true summit, which is on the wilderness boundary just south of Point 11,144, soon comes into view. It is an easy, delightful hike there through the flower-carpeted tundra meadows to reach it. The summit is very small by Absaroka standards and drops steeply and ruggedly on all sides but the one from which you approached. Hoodoos and spires characterize the immediate area, and the seemingly endless views take in great swaths of some of the wildest and most-remote parts the Absaroka Range, the glaciated roof of the Wind River Range, the Gros Ventre Range, the Mount Leidy Highlands, and the Teton Range. Just south is Two Ocean Mountain, a peak on the Continental Divide that has a technical summit block.

Some other ways to attempt the summit:

• From the summit, a couloir that looks climbable drops straight down to the flat, trail-accessible area at the base of the peak (it is a hunter’s trail that does not appear on maps but which can be picked up from the Lost Lake area and from the Holmes Cave Trail. However, one of my climbing partners on this peak had studied the peak from below in hopes of finding a good snow climb and never spotted this as something feasible, so from below there may be an impassable section visible that we couldn’t see up top. When filled with snow, the couloir would be a very steep snow climb at the least. When dry, it would be a nightmare of loose rock and dirt. This couloir seems to be Buffalo Fork Peak Couloir, which you can read about here.

• Hike to the 11,010' summit labeled as Breccia Peak and then contemplate a traverse. From SP member chugach mtn boy: "There is a trail that starts from the turnout on the NE side of the highway 1 mile north of Togwotee Pass and takes you to the big, meadowy 9920-foot pass SE of Breccia, and from there it's a grassy scramble. The route is well described in Rebecca Woods, Jackson Hole Hikes (4th ed. 2004), except that the starting turnout has switched sides of the road in the 2011-12 highway upgrade. The south summit is a fabulous spot, surely one of the best 2-hour summits in the Yellowstone region." This area is popular for winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding as well. From the false summit, one would have to climb steep ridges to the true summit. This is likely to be a technical climb on rotten rock. A safer alternative would be to drop down the other side of the mountain and head back up from the valley below on easier ground, but that would be much longer and more arduous than the route this page describes and really doesn’t make any sense. Chugach mtn boy does suggest this as a possible alternative: "...from the meadowy 9920-foot pass there really does seem to be a sensible route around the open east flank of the south summit leading to the big bowl SE of the true summit; from there, at least two couloirs looked like 3rd-class scrambles in late summer 2012...if it goes it would be a pretty efficient way to get to the true summit." 
Breccia Peak

Summit Views

Breccia Peak-- Summit View
Southeast-- click for details.
Breccia Peak-- Summit View
Southwest-- click for details.
Breccia Peak-- Summit View
North-- click for details.
Breccia Peak-- Summit View
West-- click for details.

"People Shots"

On the Summit
Bob & Jay on Breccia Tundra
Breccia Tundra
Near the Summit

Route Topos

Breccia Peak-- Route Map
Click and then enlarge twice to make this very easy to read.
Topo of Breccia Peak Route

Holmes Cave

From the 10,200' divide, the trail continues about two more miles to Holmes Cave, which is really a sinkhole. The cave is technical and deep, so be careful around the edge and do not go in without the proper equipment.

More Information-- Camping, Red Tape, and Links

The nearest campground, Falls, is about 15-20 miles southwest off U.S. 26/287. This is a large campground and is operated by Shoshone National Forest.

There was no red tape affecting access or climbing in August 2011.

This is prime grizzly country. We found several fresh tracks while out here, and sightings of the great bear in this area are common. Store food properly, try to avoid being out at dark and in other low-light conditions, travel with others if possible, make noise, and consider carrying pepper spray (a canister typically costs $50-70).

For more information on campgrounds and regulations: Shoshone National Forest.