Peak(s):  Buckskin Benchmark  -  13,370 feet
Unnamed 13039  -  13,039 feet
Date Posted:  10/10/2011
Date Climbed:   10/09/2011
Author:  Chicago Transplant
 A Gathering of One   

A Gathering of One

The Peaks:
Buckskin Benchmark (13,370') - 343rd highest
PT 13039 (13,039') - 615th highest

The Stats:
11.5 miles round trip
4375' elevation gain
Maroon Lake trailhead (~9600')

Just lonely ole me

Warning: This 13er trip report contains gratuitous images of (gasp) 14ers. But I don't think you will mind...

I think they call these the Maroon Bells?


It all started with a post from Darin Baker back in early August - a gathering for 13er enthusiasts from this site to get together and bask in the "low elevation" glory of Colorado's "vertically challenged" peaks. The posts went back and forth on dates and peaks before finally settling on the Sangre de Christo peaks around the Horn Creek area on October 8th and 9th. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum, and winter weather decided to make an appearance. Participants were dropping like snowflakes, myself included, not wanting to drive 4 hours in 6" of snow to potentially be shut out. With the forecast closer to home being more favorable, I decided to stop ignoring the Elks and see if I couldn't salvage something out of this weekend.

Saturday it snowed off and on in town all day, but never very heavy. The ground was so warm that the 1" I awoke to melted off during the morning, even as more snow fell. I watched the radar periodically through the day, and it seemed the Elks were being spared as well, this consolation prize to the gathering might just work! As I left my house at 5.30am, I could see stars in the sky...

Beyond the Tourist Trap

I pulled in to the parking area for Maroon Lake around 7.30, where the tripods were already lining the shore as people sipped lattes and awaited that perfect morning light. I paused for a quick shot with the point-n-shoot and pressed on, I had bigger plans! The early going on the trail went well, but soon the dry trail gave way to some ice before drying out and turning to frozen mud as I got closer to Crater Lake. Just before the lake the trail to Buckskin Pass heads up to the right and begins a steep climb. Not much snow on this early part of trail and where there was snow it was well tracked out. Only about an hour from the car and I was starting to break treeline and soak in the views of the rugged surrounding peaks.

Sleeping Sexton snuggled in a blanket of white

North Maroon profile

So far the snow conditions had been pretty good, there wasn't much at all in the way of new snow and I was following a broken trail. Probably a good 6" or more of "old" snow, but with the trail so well broken it was not slowing progress at all. The sun was out and the blue skies were gorgeous. It was chilly, but now that I was getting into the sun it was shaping up to be a nice day and I was making good progress towards Buckskin Pass. The broken trail dwindled down to just one person, which I now had to re-break through the 3-6" of snow that had fallen the last couple of days. This slowed things down a little bit, but it was nice to at least have some kind of broken trail.

Looking up at Buckskin Pass from trail

A quick break at the pass admiring the surrounding peaks and I was off for the first objective of the day, PT 13039. I decided to go with this one first in case I got a wild idea of adding the two unnamed 12ers to the east of Buckskin BM. The broken trail went down the other side of the pass and I was now on my own. The ridge to PT 13039 started out easy enough, despite plodding through sometimes as much as 18" or so of snow.

North Ridge of PT 13039

Soon, however, I was faced with the first major hurdle of the day, a band of cliffs midway up the ridge. The snow was going to make this interesting! Dry I have heard class 3 from some people, and class 4 from others. It definitely felt class 4 with the snow, but its hard to say if I would feel the same with it dry seeing as the snow could have been obscuring some holds, and also because the snow made me want to avoid certain ledges that may have made the route easier dry. In any case, come prepared for class 4 if you climb this peak.

Cliff Band

I scrambled carefully up the first section, and made my way up snowy rocks to the base of the upper cliff. Here I was able to dust off the snow to find good flat ledges and steps and it was actually easier than the lower part. I carefully continued on above on the steep now class 2 ridge to the crest. Here it flattened out and I could see the summit in the distance. Hmm, looks like another headwall guards the final moves!

Ridge heading towards summit

Summit block up close and looking intimidating

This is where it got interesting, the easiest route appeared to be the gully directly below the summit cairn, but as I approached it and tried to make the first move to get into it, the snow was just too much. I was sinking to mid-thigh and not finding anything for my feet that was solid enough to get me up to the nice ledge 5' above me. I saw a tough 4th class ascent to my left, but I wanted no part of downclimbing it, and wasn't sure if I should continue on. I decided I would go up the 4th class and down the easier looking gully, if I had to, I would jump into the soft snow on my descent from the base of the gully. The ascent was methodical and very careful, but the holds were good. I bet dry it would have been a lot more fun, but I was a little more interested in not slipping to fully enjoy it. The summit register had some familiar names in it (hi SuperPolok, Papillon and Wooderson, welcome to the gathering!) and fantastic views of those silly 14er things people seem to like to climb.

Pyramid Massif from PT 13039

Maroon Bells from PT 13039

I had a snack and prepared for my descent. The gully I thought would make an easier route was certainly easier to downclimb than the way I had come up, but as expected, when I reached the last step I had to jump the 5' off of it into the snow. I sat on it and pushed off like slipping into a swimming pool to minimize the drop to about 3'. A nice soft landing and I was on my way back down to the cliff band. Downclimbing the upper part went well, the holds there are pretty good. Carefully I worked my way down to the small lower cliff and again decided to just jump into the snowbank. I am sure there are some nice holds hiding in there when its dry, but it felt safer to have a controlled jump into the snow rather than risk slipping and banging body parts into the rocks. From the saddle I could tell that Buckskin Benchmark was going to be the easier peak of the day for sure! It might have been 900' of vertical away, but it looked class 2 and I could see grass sticking out of the snow.

Buckskin BM from pass

I contoured around a low false summit on the left staying to the snow that had the grass sticking out, this was about 6" deep and probably was all new in the last couple of days, I think the previous storm had been wind swept off this part. As I rounded that false summit I even saw some dry patches on the lower parts of Buckskin! I pretty much just took a direct line up the ridge, through some rocky bands and to the summit ridge. Like PT 13039, the summit is off in the distance after you crest the ridge. It was a cool ridge, red rocky bands adding some nice character!

Working towards the ridge crest

Cool red rock formations along summit ridge

At this point some clouds had started to roll in and the breeze has picked up a little. There was a 20% chance of snow showers in the forecast, I guess the trailing moisture out of the cold front that had swept through the previous days. Between that and not wanting to have to break more trail than necessary, I scrapped the 12ers at this point and just enjoyed the now cloudy view of the neighboring 14ers while having a snack. Snowmass was working on living up to its name, while Capitol looked as steep as ever.

Snowmass Mtn and Lake


I retraced my steps down the ridge, around the false summit and back to Buckskin Pass and then rejoined the trail I had re-broken that morning. It was smooth sailing on the descent as I passed my first people of the day, a solo hiker going to the pass, two backpackers headed to Snowmass Lake and then 2 more day hikers hoping to make the pass. Between the group of us there is now a strong trench to Buckskin Pass, with the dry forecast this week its going to still be there next weekend (hint).

The 12ers, saving those for another day

Pyramid looks really impressive from the trail!


Once I rejoined the Crater Lake trail I don't think I went more than a minute without seeing another person. That area really does get hammered with visitors. I guess they were hoping for some fall color, but unfortunately most of it has fallen to the ground now. Definitely "past peak". The earlier frozen mud was now just mud, the ice has softened a little, and it was kind of entertaining to watch people whose idea of a hike probably normally means pavement navigate through it all. Sometimes I wish they would just close the road 3 miles down, ditch the $10 fee and everyone could just buy 50 cent postcards in Aspen, but at the same time as annoying as the crowds may be, its nice to see people getting out. I guess some areas have to be sacrificed to the tourists, but if you venture beyond the tourist trap, you will be rewarded. Thanks for reading.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Comments or Questions
Nice route!
10/10/2011 17:52
And great photos. This looks like it was fun!

great pics
10/10/2011 18:26
what equipment did you use?

Good stuff, Mike
10/10/2011 19:37
Sounds like a great day. Congrats on 2 more 13ers.

10/10/2011 19:48
I immediately wondered how your ascent on this one went in winter conditions. I'd say in dry it was Class 3 with one Class 4 move on the lower cliffs for us shorter folk. You probably saved yourself some pain on waiting on the 12ers, it's a rather loose descent from Buckskin to West Maroon Pass. Good job on getting out and enjoying the weather!

I didn't know you climbed Elks?
10/10/2011 20:55
Buckskin BM is a fine summit, I need to explore -039 (when drier though). You need to check out Willoughby sometime this winter/spring if you can pry yourself from the tourist trap in which you live.

10/10/2011 21:14
Great stuff, Mike! Super shots of the peaks in the area dressed in white! You've been busy lately! Thanks for sharing!

Good stuff
10/10/2011 21:25
Photo 6: I remember making one big stretch to clear the lower cliff band and we chose not to descend that route and instead opted for a descending traverse on the loose mess to the right of the cliffs. In retrospect, I should've probably downclimbed our ascent route and spotted Sarah.

I thought the views up there were pretty slick and encompassed everything good about life on the 13er circuit.

13,336 and 13,020 are on my radar for next summer via the Willow Pass cutoff. Maybe we can get a group together for it.

Way to persevere through the snow.

Chicago Transplant
Thanks all...
10/10/2011 22:42
Thanks for all the kind words! Turned out to be an alright day to be out in the fresh fall snow
CinciKid - I have a 3 year old Canon PowerShot A720 IS ”point and shoot” digital, not a fancy camera but the mountains are so photogenic it does the trick!
Papillon - I was already thinking coming in from Willow Pass would be a good way to do those two (and those 12ers I skipped), let's make sure to set something up next summer!
Floyd - For some reason my Elks have been a little light, I need to work on that for sure!

Should have stopped by and said ”hello&rdquo
10/11/2011 04:10
Nice work Mike. I was there that morning shooting the Bells before sunrise.

10/11/2011 04:20
Thanks for the report. Thinking about heading up Buckskin Benchmark on Saturday. Kane, that shot is amazing.

10/12/2011 01:25
That's a nice place to 'gather' Mike!
My 'gathering' was looping Tweto to Mosquito w/Anna. Our morning was similar to yours, but the late morning/early afternoon felt like winter.

Chicago Transplant
Thanks again
10/12/2011 14:29
Kane - Sorry I missed you! I admit I was too busy looking at the Bells to really notice the people. Nice shot!
Carl - It would be a good time to go for it and take advantage of a nice broken trail.
Darin- Thanks for all the effort on the gathering, and thanks for the invite Sunday, if they weren't repeat I would have joined you for sure.

Kevin Baker
Nice trip
10/14/2011 15:30
Nice outing, Mike! Way to safely find a way up 13039! Adding those 12ers would have been a huge day with snow. I did that whole loop in summer and was pretty beat.

10/19/2011 01:19
Love the shots in the new snow. Sometimes I think snow this time of year is more difficult than winter...

Nice photos, fun report, and of course, incredible area! Good call on the ”Gathering of One.”

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