First I must state that multiple times during this hike I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. The views were incredible and I didn't know a place like this truely existed - much less right behind my house.
So I knew that I wanted to explore some of the Gore Range but wasn't satisfied with the views from Buffalo and Peak 1, as Red Peak blocked a large amount of the area. The only solution was to get to the top of Read Peak and see what I could. As a note, I listed the times that I reached trail intersections and approximate elevations in feet. I also definitely took my time, taking over 300 pictures during the trip.
I began at my doorstep in Wildernest at 5:15 (9640') and walked up to the Buffalo Cabin (also called Ryan Gulch) Trailhead (9800'). I signed the log at 5:25 and headed towards Red Peak. I took the Buffalo Cabin Trail to the 4-way split and then towards South Willow Falls which intersects with the Gore Range Trail. I reached the Gore Trail at 6:00 and turned west (9600').
The sun rises perfectly along the South Willow Drainage, framed by the slopes of Red Peak to the north and Buffalo Mountain to the south. At the same time you climb gently up along South Willow Creek. The approach is quite gentle especially compared to the slopes of Buffalo Mountain or Peak 1. At about 10,500' the drainage opens up into a large basin with ridges on 3 sides. The trees fade into rolling meadows and alpine wetlands. If I were a buffalo, I think this would be my summer feeding grounds :)
The climb to Red Buffalo Pass(11750') is the first real steep section, and this is also where I began to encounter hordes of marmots. They constantly chirped at me and I encountered more than I had ever before seen or heard on the ridge approach to Red Peak. I reached the pass which is a low point of the north-south ridge connecting Red Peak to Deming Mountain at 8:05. The route to Red Peak then makes its way directly up the south ridge to point 13006 which seems to be a false summit on the way up. A path along the ridge is seldom seen and includes many sections of class 2 scurrying along rocks. I reached this high point at 9:15.
Turning to the east, the ridge makes a short drop in elevation but then the path to the summit is open and close. A short scurry later, lay the summit at 9:30 and 13,189'. Spectacular views of the snow-frosted Gores lay to the northwest. The spot also commands great views of three large basins: The Willow Lakes, Gore Creek with Deming and West Deming at its head, and the whole of South Willow Basin where the climb began. The one-way distance from the trailhead was about 6 miles.
Here I took out my map and couldn't take my eyes from Deming Peak. It's eastern slopes looked amazing and nearly the entire ridge that led to it was visible. I decided that I would probably try to get to it, but would make the decision based on time and weather when I got back to Red Buffalo Pass.
I hurried from the summit at 10:00 and headed down the south ridges of Red Peak. At 11:00 I reached the pass after staring at Deming the entire descent. I only saw one spot on the ridge that may provide some difficulty and only spotty fair-weather cumulus floated in the sky. I figured I could get to the summit within 2 hours. The ridge route south was covered with more wildflowers than I had ever seen and was fairly easy to navigate until reaching approximately 12000'. Here the ridge grew very narrow and large irregular blocks of rock sprouted from it. Several exciting class 3 manuvers were needed to bypass the larger rocks, with nothing but air below. Point 12435 marks the point where the ridges going to Deming, Red Peak, and Buffalo connect. After a glorious run down through wildflowers, the summit of Deming Mountain is only a short distance away. The path to the summit is a relatively gentle climb along talus again with great views and steep drops to the north west. On the way to the top I met three people descending a snow slope, one of which told me about the north couloir and that he was the first to ski it 2 years earlier. I don't really believe that he was the first guy, but I should have asked his name. There is still some snow in the couloir, but just enough to straightline it really - without much of an out-run.
The summit of Deming Peak is somewhat strewn out and it's a bit hard to tell where the summit actually is. The true summit is marked by a cairn with a benchmark a few feet to the northwest of it. A tube with a notepad has the summit register in it and was leaning against the back of the cairn when I was there. I saw Jon's name in there from a few days before. I reached the summit at 12:30 and 12902'. The additional mileage was well worth it as Deming Peak had more gorgeous views of the Gores as well as much of the Tenmile range to the south. The distance from Red Peak to Deming along the ridge was approximately 2.5 miles.
I spent a short time on the summit and decided to decend to Eccles Pass, and then return to the Gore Range Trail from there. I passed accross a scree field underneath point 12435 to the ridge above Eccles Pass. The ridge was covered with pine and provided quite a few navigating issues as most of the opening in the scrub were to cliffed-out drops into the Red Buffalo basin. It would have been easier to stay more south of the ridge and then climb back up a short distance to Eccles Pass than to attempt the ridge itself.
The descent from Eccles Pass(11900') into the Red Buffalo basin was covered with soft snow in many places and definitely made the feet wet. The path north passes directly by two perched alpine lakes that still had a bit of ice on them. Once again, wildflowers were everywhere. The path then rejoined the Gore Trail and I turned east, back on familiar ground. I hurried back to the Willow Falls Trail that would lead me back to the Buffalo Cabin TH. The unfortunate part with this route is that one of the steepest trail sections of the day climbs from South Willow Creek up to the Buffalo Cabin Trail. This was the hardest part of the day. Finally, I got back to the trailhead at 4:20. The total trip was approximately 15 miles and about 5600' of elevation gain.
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