A Magnificent Climb!
6.0 miles round-trip
3045' elevation gain
7:57am - 1:59pm
The two of us were planning this hike for the evening, so we could get some work done during the day; but since the forecast called for a good chance of thunderstorms, we decided to do this hike in the morning instead, hoping to be finished by noon. Well, we didn't realize how tough this hike was for such a short distance.
We left the condo where we were staying in Frisco at about 7:00am, expecting to arrive at the trailhead by 7:20. On the way up Ryan Gulch Road (the road on which the trailhead is located), we were diverted onto another road by a police officer. We tried to drive through the maze of condominiums to get around the road block, but it took a long time before we were finally able to find the correct route, as Ryan Gulch Road was blocked off for quite some distance due to a house fire. Apparently, (and fortunately) no one was killed, as we didn't find a report in the local Summit Daily News. Finally, we made it to the trailhead, at the west end of a loop at the end of Ryan Gulch Road. We then signed the Buffalo Mountain trailhead register at the north side of the parking area and off we went.
The first part of the hike was deceiving, as it slowly climbed through dense (and mosquito-infested) forest. At the 0.3 mile mark, we passed a USFS sign indicating that we were now entering designated wilderness, and another 0.3 miles later, we reached a 4-way intersection. It was well-marked and we took a left turn toward the Buffalo Cabins. Another 0.3 miles up the trail we reached the scant remains of the first cabin, while two-tenths of a mile later we passed by the remains of another cabin. Apparently, this is where the Buffalo Cabin Trail ends and the Buffalo Mountain Trail starts, although there was no sign indicating as such. From this point on, the trail suddenly became steep and stayed steep for a long time!
As we slowly made our way up through the series of switchbacks, we discovered that there were way too many mosquitoes who were faster than our pace, so we finally and reluctantly applied a good layer of Deep Woods Off all over our bodies. I hate the sticky feeling you get from bug spray and the smell of the deep woods is a whole lot better than Deep Woods Off! Apparently, the mosquitoes in this area hate the stuff, as they didn't bother us anymore the rest of the way up. Back in Indiana, where I'm from, putting on bug spray only means that you'll get LESS mosquito bites! The steep climb through the trees did have nice views at times of the broad valley below, where the forest would open up a little while crossing some scree. We also encountered some piles of snow near timberline. 0.9 miles and 1100' up from the second cabin, we finally broke above timberline at 11,400'. The views to the east were great, though hazy, across Dillon Reservoir to numerous peaks beyond.
From this point on, the rest of the climb to the summit was through talus. Although still somewhat difficult to navigate, it was much better than it would have been in the past, as numerous volunteers had made a somewhat "level" path through the talus, marked with frequent cairns. We are very grateful to the many people who made this a much easier climbing experience! We spent the next hour and 15 minutes navigating through the series of switchbacks that climb up the steep slope from timberline, proceeding only 0.4 miles horizontally and 650' vertically. The biggest reason is that Frédérique had severely sprained her ankle in the past and didn't want to risk injuring it again on the wobbly rocks. I whole-heartedly agreed with her wise choice. Near the top of this steep slope we met a couple of mountain goats, one of which was a big billy that was very interested in us and meandered within 5 yards before we hollered at him to go away. Although we were nearly sure he was just coming to beg for food, we still didn't want to risk getting in a head-butting contest on this steep slope!
At about 12,100 feet, the trail worked its way around a big rock outcropping and suddenly the steepness of the slope lessened and we could see the summit ahead! It was also a good deal cooler since we were now in a steady breeze. With the lessened grade of the slope also came more dirt between the rocks and thus a variety of wildflowers to enjoy! The grade of the trail stayed about the same as before, but was much more direct toward the summit and traveled on smaller rocks. The rest of the way to the top was quite pleasant, as we enjoyed the wildflowers, as well as the striking peaks of the Gore Range that were coming into view!
We arrived at the summit at 11:10am, after over three hours of climbing. We stopped there to rest and enjoy the view. I ate some trail mix, but Frédérique preferred not to, as she was feeling slightly nauseous. The stiff breeze at the summit, combined with the cool temperature of 52 made us quickly put on our sweatshirts. The views from the summit were impressive. Dillon Reservoir laid to the east surrounded by the towns of Frisco, Dillon, and Silverthorne. Beyond to the east were numerous peaks, most of which I don't know the name of, although we could pick out 14ers Grays and Torreys. Immediately to the south was the southern summit of the mountain, which appeared to be higher, although it is unmeasured on topo maps. Further to the south were numerous peaks of the Tenmile Range, while to the west were the most beautiful peaks of all in the Gore Range, including Red Peak to the northwest! I checked my topo map when I got back and discovered that many of these impressive peaks don't have a name; it is a shame for such beautiful peaks to go nameless!
After 20 minutes, we decided to head back down, as the clouds in the sky were just starting to get some vertical development. The return trip was almost identical to the upward trip, except that it only took 2 hours and 25 minutes; we passed by the big billy on the way back, who was busy eating so he paid no attention to us. Just down from the summit, we also passed a couple of hikers who asked us if we had taken the "old" or the "new" trail. We weren't sure, as this was our first climb up this peak, so they explained that they had taken the old trail, which was steeper, but more direct. This explains the fact that most reports on this hike claim that it is 5 miles round-trip, yet my GPS track showed that it was 6 miles. (And yes, I verified that this was indeed the true distance by checking to see if there were any erroneous data points in the track log.)
As we drove down Ryan Gulch Road we saw dark skies in several directions and were glad we were down off the mountain! It didn't end up storming in the immediate vicinity, but I never like to risk being above timberline in a storm!
I would recommend this hike to anyone who is capable, as the views from the top are magnificent!
Photo SlideshowBuffalo Mountain Hike Slideshow
|Buffalo Mountain Trailhead||N39.62000 W106.11001|
|Wilderness Boundary||N39.62238 W106.11482|
|4-way Intersection||N39.62348 W106.11920|
|Cabin 1||N39.61985 W106.12238|
|Cabin 2||N39.61906 W106.12369|
|End of Steepest Slope||N39.62011 W106.13520|
|Buffalo Mountain||N39.61659 W106.14280|
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