Trailhead Elevation: 9,465 ft.
Fourmile Pass Elevation: 11,430 ft.
West Buffalo Peak Elevation: 13,326 ft.
East Buffalo Peak Elevation: 13,300 ft.
Distance: 14.95 mi.
Elevation Gain: 4,962 ft.
Start Time: 6:22am
End Time: 3:40pm
With so many visits in hand to Buena Vista, it seems it was only a matter of time until we finally decided to have an adventure with the Buffalo Peaks. They sit prominently in view for everyone passing through BV as well as those driving around South Park. I think one of the big hangups that had kept us away up to this point was simply picking a route we would like to work for the summits. There really is no established trail to either summit but there are some basic routes that get you close.
My father talked to some people about the southern route which heads up a 4WD road to Fourmile Pass and then the west ridge of the peaks. The intel we had said it could be a 10-11 mile day if you had 4WD to get you to the end of the road. The bushwhacking would all be above treeline and at least from a distance appeared to be a straightforward ridge run.
The drive in is all about CR375 which will get you to the trailhead. There was a basic 2WD trailhead that we drove by hoping we'd go another 1-2 miles to a 4WD trailhead. This was where our first surprise came in. We drove no more than a half mile on the easy 4WD and found a well laid out trailhead with a gate and plenty of natural obstacles (intentionally laid down trees) blocking anyone from continuing further up the road. It was quite evident the rest of the road was henceforth closed. It was about a mile stretch of road.
|Hiking up the now closed portion of road
After passing the upper-now-closed trailhead we hit our first bit of singletrack and soon made a short descent down to the Fourmile Creek. The morning temps were quite nice for hiking as they hovered right around 50 degrees.
|Early singletrack not far from Fourmile Creek
At about 1.75 miles in we crossed the Creek for the first time and ascended a bit up out of what would soon become a marsh. As we climbed through an aspen grove we could look down and see a large beaver dam had backed up creek water to form a nice pond.
|Hiking above the creek
|Creek crossing above the dam
|Some of our first views of the West peak
Above the beaver pond we entered a fascinating section of forest that looked like it could be a campground. All the undergrowth was gone and it was mostly a dirt and pine needle floor. The trees were a bit thinned out. The trail jogged to the south in here which has us checking our map to make sure we hadn't gotten lost. One also needed to watch the trail carefully here as the lack of green plants made simply the dirt path your only visual clue to the trail.
|Thin dirt trail through the forest
The rest of the trail up to the pass was mixtures of aspen and then evergreen. The trail remained good the whole way and as it nears the pass it goes into a few sweeping switchbacks. We encountered some backpackers coming down from the pass who said they woke up to 19 degrees this morning on the north side of the peaks. We were slightly skeptical.
We gained Fourmile Pass and the turn off for the Buffalo Peaks at 4.6 miles in from the start. It took us 2 1/2 hours to make it to the pass. There was a bit of snow in the pass but it was melting fast. There is a large wooden pole in the ground marking the unofficial turn off for the Buffalo Peaks. From this point on it was a bushwhack with no trail. We were following someone else's GPS track from this point onward. The first several hundred feet were through thinned trees but it wasn't long til we gained treeline and had slightly more open views as to the terrain ahead. In general, the idea was to keep heading upwards.
|The wooden pole in Fourmile Pass marking the turn for the Buffalo Peaks
|Steep grassy slope working up to the plateau at 12,100
|Looking along the plateau up to Point 12,900
|West Buffalo Peak from Point 12,900
|Pano of the Sawatch Range from the west side of the Buffalo Peaks
We topped out on West Buffalo Peak at 10:46am, a 4:45 hike up to the peak. We were 6.5 miles in at this point definitely looking at more mileage than first intended. My father said this was as far as he was going today, and so I looked at my brother to see his thoughts. I had just put up 17+ miles yesterday on my Antero and White adventure and was looking at 13-15 today depending on our next move. He was interested in heading to the East peak and so I said I would follow. The ridge looked inviting with a bit of fun, easy scrambling along the way. We left our father at the West peak with instructions to hike down to the 12,100 Plateau and wait for us there. We didn't have radios today and so we didn't want to get too strung out in terrain without a clear trail.
|Looking at East Buffalo from the west summit
|More of the middle parts of the ridge between the Buffalo Peaks
|Myself on the East summit with the Arkansas River valley and the Sawatch behind
|Looking back at the West summit. The small snow crossing we made is close to the summit
|A closer in look at the ridge and the cliffed out terrain on the north side
|Neat shot of my brother beginning to head down from the West summit with Elbert and Massive in the background.
We worked real quick heading down from the West Summit and then back up and over Point 12,900. We were hoping after that Point to get eyes on our father down on the Plateau at 12,100. That didn't quite happen. He also wasn't responding to our texts sent. This drew a small amount of attention but we figured he must have continued onward toward the pass. As I descended to the plateau it donned on me he had his Garmin Inreach and I had a data connection. I hopped on his webpage and was able to confirm he had indeed started on his way down. Apparently he had seen two other hikers coming down from Point 12,900, and thinking they were us, he started on his way.
We joined up with him halfway down the steep grassy slope below the plateau and hiked the rest of the way back down to the pass together. Given the bushwhacking nature of this last portion we figured it safest to stick together. Granted, it would be a small risk of someone actually getting severely lost.
|One more shot of my brother now on the Plateau at 12,1000
The hike out from the pass was uneventful just following the trail out. We did stop at one of the creek crossings and I used my Sawyer mini filter to get some water out for each of us to keep going. The temps rose on us and heated us up a bit the last few miles out.
|The long hike out
I have a track and waypoints from the hike all contained in a KML file that you are welcome to download and use (at your own risk).