Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Marmot Peak

For all the years my father has lived in Buena Vista he has set a goal of hiking all the prominent peaks that can be seen from his house. This has included Mt. Princeton, Mt. Columbia, Red Deer, Midland Hill, the Buffalo Peaks and Marmot Peak (its possible a few more are missing my list). Marmot, a mostly obscure peak, was the last missing goal. It sits in the southern shadow of the Buffalo Peaks and is accessible from the Fourmile Recreation area roads. There is no trail to the summit but a reasonable bushwhack can be made from the nearby Salt Creek Trail and that was our goal.

Trip Info:

Salt Creek Trail to a bushwhack to a summit
Trailhead Elevation: 10,402 ft.
Distance: 8.42 mi. 
Elevation Gain: 1,865 ft.
Start Time: 11:03am
End Time: 3:57pm

Trip Report:
The approach to our trailhead began at Trout Creek Pass off of US285 just east of Buena Vista. At the pass we turned west onto the dirt road 311. We followed this to an intersection and a right turn onto the 309 road. We followed this a couple miles through some rutted sections to another intersection. This was a left turn onto the 436 road which lists as a "dead end" when you turn left (west). We followed this road to its end.

Leaving the road, starting onto the Salt Creek Trail

The Salt Creek Trail leaves the road at a left turn where the road heads downhill into a dead end turnaround area. We parked at the turnaround and then walked back up to the hill to catch the trail. The elevation gain is mostly easy going. In some sections where the woods thin and open up you need to keep an eye on the trail so you don't lose it. While the trail was in good condition it is lightly travelled and can be obscure at times.

Beautiful walk in the woods on the Salt Creek Trail

At 2.35 miles in we began our bushwhack toward Marmot Peak. There is no obvious area to do this and we relied almost entirely on the GPS. The terrain is largely flat, you can't hardly see any peaks and at first its even hard to tell which direction would take you up the hill. We were almost exactly due north of the summit when we began the bushwhack. If you do compass work, a due south heading while ensuring you're heading uphill might do the trick.

A sneak peek at the bushwhacking

More bushwhacking

Thick aspens as we neared the summit

The bushwhack on the ascent was for about 1.75 miles. There was never any obstacle overly steep though there was plenty of downed trees which were the greatest trouble. We wanted to make a straight beeline up the ridge but constantly were shifting left or right on the ascent to find the path of least resistance. I had my phone in hand with GPS app loaded almost the entire time just to try and keep a relatively straight line of ascent. We didn't want to much meandering around.

Views through the trees

The summit rocks

Sawatch Range

More Sawatch Range

Nearing the summit, the terrain flattened out again and you can get some brief views through the trees. Its enough to let you know you're getting close. We could tell from the GPS map that the summit was still a bit ahead. We pushed through some thick aspen trees and then saw a mound of boulders and climbed it to find the true summit. Atop those summit boulders you do have 180 degree views of the Sawatch range and Arkansas River valley to the west. The eastern views were a little blocked by the aspens. We were worried about this being a truly tree-covered summit but were not disappointed when we took in the views.

Buffalo Peaks through the trees

On the descent we mostly retraced our ascent bushwhack. For awhile we tried to stay more true to the ridge and the contour lines suggested this might offer easier terrain. This worked until I realized that the contrours in my app (using the Accuterra map) were missing a certain rock hump which pushed us off the ridge. Upon returning home I noticed the Google Terrain map layer showed the extra contours for this hump. Not a big deal but we had to skirt the side of the ridge to get back down to the Salt Creek Trail.

This hike was well worth the effort to gain the views of the Sawatch range. I'm not always a huge fan of bushwhacking blindly through the trees but today's efforts weren't all that bad. A good GPS and some ability to navigate will get you there.

The end of the road

I have a track and waypoints from the activity all contained in the embedded Google Map. Check it out and use at your own risk.

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