Peak(s):  East Buffalo Peak  -  13,300 feet
West Buffalo Peak  -  13,326 feet
Date Posted:  07/04/2015
Date Climbed:   07/03/2015
Author:  rajz06
 Lassoing the Buffaloes   

Starting Point: FS 431 / FS 431.2D (10,600')
Peaks Climbed (in order of ascent): East Buffalo (13,300'), West Buffalo (13,326')
Route: Northeast ridge ascent of East Buffalo, connecting ridge to West Buffalo and loop
RT Distance: 9.8 miles
Elevation Gain/Loss: ~3,600 feet per Google Maps (gpx estimate is over 4k')
Hiking Partner: Jay

The high rounded domes of the Buffalo Peaks first piqued my interest some 18 years ago when I drove past them on Hwy 24 on the first of many peak-bagging quests for loftier summits. Vanity and ego somewhat sated over the years, I've lately focused my sights on truly enjoying what these mountains have to offer - wilderness majesty, beauty, spectacular views and perhaps even some solitude.

Buffalo Peaks from FS 431

We started the hike from a pull-out on FS 431, about 8 miles west of the US 285 junction. FS 431.2D is a useful marker for this station.


Like many lower 13ers, there is no maintained trail to these peaks but there are some helpful trip reports on this very site documenting this approach. Starting the hike at 9:30 a.m., we knew we were taking a mighty chance with the weather as we set out on the dirt road heading south. In just a few minutes, a clearing in the trees gave us our first view of both peaks.

First glimpse of the peaks

The view would then disappear for a while as the road climbed the relatively densely treed hillside with a couple of notable switchbacks marked by cairns or other creative indicators.

Follow the Arrow


We ignored the first of these and decided to head directly south up the hillside. This would work if you're willing to put up with some sustained bushwhacking but we retraced our path shortly and opted to follow the beaten track.

Path through the woods

The road in one form or another climbs past 11,000' although we did bypass it once, opting to climb the hillside directly through a clearing in the trees.

Clearing in the woods

Nearing treeline, the route is a bit more obvious, cairns adorning the path even though there is no trail.

Approaching treeline

The peaks come into view for good shortly thereafter but there is still some bushwhacking required.

Bit more bushwhacking

Some of the hardy pines stake their ground as high as 12,200' before you're rewarded with the first unobstructed sight of East Buffalo.

East Buffalo looms ahead

I don't know how these peaks got their name, but I couldn't help wondering if it was the resemblance to the buffalo's prominent hump, the trees farther down conspiring to act as the mane covering the buffalo's shanks. Some may just have been that buffaloes roamed this wilderness freely at one time. We didn't spot any buffalo, er...bison, but we saw a lot of elk droppings below treeline and some sets of larger droppings that a camper identified as belonging to a young moose. Apparently, the moose population has been growing in this area.

First clean view of East Buffalo

Meanwhile, back on the hike, we scoped the route ahead and I decided to angle toward the saddle west of the first grassy hump on EB's northeast ridge; my friend opted to climb directly south up the tundra while aiming for a lower point on the ridge.

Aiming for the saddle

I made good time to the saddle and surveyed the remaining route to the ridge.

Surveying the ridge to EB

The first hump could be entirely avoided but the scree was a bit loose on the lower sections so I ended up climbing most of this false summit before skirting its peak. Jay had chosen to drop lower on the shoulder to avoid the somewhat tippy talus closer to the ridge.

Looking down the ridge

The remaining route to East Buffalo's summit involved some boulder hopping followed by a relatively easy walk up the tundra.

Skirting the ridge to the summit

Upon reaching the top, I wandered around on the broad, grassy summit enjoying the views while waiting for my friend to join so we could take stock of the weather.

Atop East Buffalo

Harvard and Columbia

La Plata towers in the distance

The Gentle Mosquitos

Jay joined me momentarily and we decided that the clouds weren't menacing enough to not continue on to West Buffalo. As we scoured the ridge to West Buffalo, it was clear the we'd be skirting the ridge proper by staying on the south side.

Surveying the ridge route to WB

Shortly after we started the descent to the saddle, a light drizzle ensued accompanied by thunder, signaling that our good fortune may be coming to an end.

Those clouds mean business

The saddle between the peaks is around 12,700' and the easiest ascent from there angles directly to West Buffalo's summit, staying below the ridge and sidehilling while still gaining elevation. There is a section along the ridge with very interesting rock formation - big, smooth slabs of granite that would probably make for fun scrambling if one stayed the ridge proper.

Interesting rocks ahead

In the meantime, the drizzle gave way to a mix of sleet and graupel. Not good...

The white stuff is graupel!

I turned around to check how my friend was doing. We were now committed to the traverse and there would be no advantage in turning back.

Looking back

Thankfully, the mixed precipitation didn't last long and we soon resumed hopping boulders with renewed vigor.

Easiest route to WB

The trudge to the second peak of the day took less time that I'd anticipated. Under clearer skiers, the views of the Sawatch from West Buffalo would've been better, but we certainly weren't complaining.

Emerald Peak in the distance

We descended West Buffalo's broad northwest shoulder, the talus fields eventually giving way to an easier descent on the grassy lower slopes.

Scanning the descent route

Looking back at the descent off WB

Staying on tundra

Below 11,600', we encountered a boulder field and opted to traverse across it to reach the grassy shoulder which, while equally steep, gave us better traction for a speedy descent.
Skirting the boulder field

There are multiple drainages on the lower slopes and when we angled down to the main one that bisects the two peaks, we had the choice of continuing downhill or climbing 200 vertical feet up the hillsie to the east to join with our ascent route. The latter option would shorten the round-trip distance a bit while adding a bit of elevation gain.

This drainage bisects the two peaks

We chose to continue down the drainage and eventually joined with trail segments that routed us down to FS 431, about 0.25 mile northwest of our starting point. The trail came and went as was the order of the day, and when it disappeared we took the path of least resistance through the woods before joining with the beaten track again.

There it is!

The clouds had threatened to evict us off the first peak but our perseverance and gamble paid off. Soon after we made it to the trailhead, the drizzle resumed, eventually morphing into a torrential downpour that lasted most of our drive home. As in life, you win some, you lose some; no prizes for guessing which side we were on today!

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

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 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32

Comments or Questions
07/05/2015 10:20
Looks like you had a pretty day out in spite of the precipitation. Quick question––how was the road in to the trailhead? Something a passenger car could’ve gotten up, or do you need high clearance/4WD?

FS 431
07/05/2015 13:26
The road is perfectly manageable for passenger cars. We were surprised at how good the overall road condition was despite the recent rains.

07/06/2015 09:51
I always enjoy your reports, Raj. Like you, I eyed those peaks for many years before I got around to doing them. I seem to recall there was something of a climbers trail across the talus on EB (your pics 13-15) but maybe I’m remembering that incorrectly. Looks like the two of you had a fantastic day!

Edit: I also seem to recall that a lot of people camped in RV’s, 5th wheels, etc., just along the road near where you started up. Bet it was pretty crowded on a holiday weekend, eh?

07/06/2015 17:28
Jay! Yes, there is a faint, discontinuous trail leading to EB. There was no dearth of campers along FS 431 either so I imagine everyone got their fix!

Brian Thomas
07/08/2015 13:21 has been overdue for another rajz06 trip report. Thanks for posting!

Went for it!
07/13/2015 09:01
Rajz--thanks again for the beta! My car indeed had no trouble making the pass, and I ended up mostly retracing your steps (though on the ascent of E Buffalo, stayed on the road longer till it ended in a meadow, then cut up to eventually meet the faint trail). The weather was kinder to me, the views were exceptional, and wildlife abounded--elk, coyote, and mountain goat among them! I never knew the Mosquito Range could be this beautiful...

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