Buffalo Peaks: A Rare Winter Ascent

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Trip Report
Colorado, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Mar 17, 2007
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Buffalo Peaks: A Rare Winter Ascent
Created On: Mar 20, 2007
Last Edited On: Mar 20, 2007


W. Buffalo Pk (13326')-CO Rank 372
E. Buffalo Pk (13300')-CO Rank 398
13.8 miles RT, 4940' gain
From FR 375 winter closure gate (9160')
Participants: John & Renata Collard, Kevin Baker

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I have been wanting to climb the Buffalo Peaks for quite some time as everytime I drive to the Sawatch they beckon me. Access is a problem on these prominent peaks as low road closures make it difficult to do these in winter. I drove by them on the way to Copper a couple weeks ago and noticed there wasn't much snow around them. Time to give them a shot!

John and Renata Collard joined me for the hike and we met up at the familiar Gunsmoke gas station in Johnson Village. I was still worried that we wouldn't get close enough to attempt them, so I had a couple backup hikes just in case. We followed FR 371 north out of Buena Vista then headed east on FR 375 just before a tunnel. Dave Hale gave me excellent directions and estimated the winter closure gate was at ~9300'.

As we approached, the southern slopes were looking very promising as there wasn't much snow. We came to the winter closure gate just past a ranch gate on the right at around 9160'. I don't think I have started this low on a 13er! The road is not open past this point until April 15, which today didn't make sense because it would have been passable to within 1/2 mile of the summer trailhead!

Where's the Snow?

We couldn't see a whole lot of snow up high, so we decided to forego the snowshoes and ice axe. It was so warm & pleasant that I decided to ditch the winter boots and go with trail runners. Would it come back to bite me? It was 39 degrees as we started at 7:45am. The road promptly loses 100' or so at the outset, but turned into a nice gentle 3.1 mile stroll to the summer trailhead at 9920'. Here we joined the signed Fourmile Creek trail, which follows the creek north to a saddle west of W. Buffalo.

We were amazed at how little snow there was for so early in the year. The trail had patches of snow, but it was well consolidated. Around 10200', the trail bended to the n.w. and we began to posthole. To avoid the snow, we decided to start bushwacking from here as we felt we may be able to avoid the deeper snow by choosing our own path in the trees.

The bushwacking was pleasant at first as the trees were well spaced and the snow was shallow. The going got much steeper as we got closer to treeline and we began a battle with scrub oak and short aspens. We finally cleared treeline at around 11800' and took a much needed break.

Sawatch 14ersThe Sawatch 14ers to the west.

The s.w. slopes of W. Buffalo were totally wind scoured, and we enjoyed the walk up tundra slopes to a talus field a few hundred feet below the summit. We could see some mountain goats on the n.w. ridge, but they disappeared before we could get closer. The talus got a little looser as we climbed, so we countoured left to avoid this and wrapped around to the gentle summit, arriving at 1:04.

We enjoyed a long break on the summit as the temp was a balmy 48 and the winds were not bad. At some point during the day, we identified all of the 14 Sawatch 14ers! We left the summit at 1:30 and headed down the ridge to E. Buffalo, which would be the highlight of the day.

E. Buffalo from W. BuffaloE. Buffalo from W. Buffalo.

Traverse and Descent

John and Renata dropped down a little, but I stayed on the ridge crest most of the way to enjoy the views down the impressive cliffs on the east side. There are a few class 3 scrambling opportunities on this fun volcanic rock.

Buffalo Pks connecting ridgeThe cool connecting ridge between the Buffalo Peaks.

These peaks offer some amazing contrasts as the west side is rather unimpressive and the cliffs on the east side have a true alpine feel.

W Buffalo east faceThe dramatic east face of W. Buffalo Peak.

We took our time enjoying the stunning scenery on the east side and were happy that we didn't try them from that way as it looked like it would have been even a longer approach.

The 450' climb to E. Buffalo wasn't bad at all and we topped out at 2:43. We found a register and noted many 14erworld regulars with the last entry being Jennifer Roach from Oct. It's strange that these peaks aren't more popular, because this was an awesome hike. We lounged on the summit for 20 minutes, enjoying the balmy 44 degree temp.

I wasn't looking forward to a potential postholing fest through the trees on the descent, but it wasn't bad at all. I found a low angle snowfield to glissade with my poles, but it was hard to keep going straight as it sloped right to left. It still saved 600' of pounding on the knees. I waited for John and Renata at treeline and John then did a great job of routefinding down to the vicinity of the beaver dams near the trail. The postholing was minimal, and we made it back to the trail in decent time. The last 3 miles down seemed much longer than the morning and we finally got back to the cars a few minutes before 7. We felt fortunate to get by without snowshoes, or we would have been finishing long after dark!


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