East Buffalo Peak – 13,300 & West Buffalo Peak – 13,326

RT Length:  11.95 miles

Elevation Gain: 3489’

It was an easy 4WD road to the trailhead.  I was surprised I hadn’t seen a single vehicle on the long drive in.  There weren’t any cars parked at the trailhead, but the dispersed campsite was free, so I parked there, being sure to leave room in case anyone else wanted to camp. I read a bit, tried to eat (and failed), sipped whiskey, watched a curious camp robber, and once again, got to bed early.  The trailhead was just to the west of where I parked (trailhead circled in red)

I woke up hungover.  Or, at least, I felt hungover.  I hadn’t had enough to drink last night to give me a hangover, but here I was, with a pounding headache.  Probably has something to do with the fact I have a difficult time eating while I’m hiking, and I’d already hiked 7 peaks above 13K in the past 2 days.  On the positive side, I wasn’t cold this morning: that’s two mornings in a row!  It was 38 degrees.  I slowly gathered my gear, forced down a breakfast bar, and was on the trail at 6:30am, trudging slowly.  It was going to be a long day.

I made my way towards the trailhead (now with a vehicle parked there I hadn’t heard drive in), and followed the trail southwest to a closed 4WD trail.

This road obviously hadn’t been in use in quite a while, as there were trees growing directly in the middle of the road, and large trees that had fallen across it years ago

I followed this 4WD road for 3 miles, almost to treeline.  As the sun came up, crows started cawing.  They must have known about my headache. Also, this is when I realized I’d forgotten my sunglasses.

There was one set of tracks on the trail, which ended when the road ended.  When the 4WD road ended, the cairns picked up.  Initially, I’d wanted to hike West Buffalo Peak first, but I wasn’t able to find a marked route.  So, instead I took a visual of how I wanted to head back, in case there wasn’t a route, and followed the cairns south that would lead me towards East Buffalo Peak instead.  The cairns initially brought me to willows.  These willows were easy to navigate.

Once out of the willows, I was on tundra.  There were still cairns to guide the way.  I was heading south to the ridge. 

As I was ascending the ridge, I could see East and West Buffalo Peaks

Ok, back to that tundra ridge

Once near the top of the ridge I turned right and headed southwest towards East Buffalo Peak

Here’s the overall route I took up the ridge

And some step-by-step pictures.  First, I skirted the initial hump to the left

Next, I continued to stay just a bit left, rounding the south side of the ridge

From here on out, I stayed right in the middle of the ridge.  It looked like there were game trails here, but they were half-covered in snow.  The rocks were a bit loose, but this was no more challenging than difficult class 2.  I still had a headache, so I decided to drink water, something I rarely do while hiking.  Where there was snow, I re-filled my water bottle.

I topped out and it was an easy walk on tundra and rocks to the summit, heading southwest.

The summit was large and flat and the summit was at the far west end of the summit area, marked by a large cairn.

I summited East Buffalo Peak at 9:30am.

East Buffalo Peak:

From East Buffalo Peak, West Buffalo Peak looks like a straightforward ridge hike.  To be honest, it wasn’t any more difficult than class 2, but it was a little harder than it looked.

I started out by following the ridge west, and came upon some drop-offs. These were easy to navigate

I made my way to the saddle on tundra.  What had initially looked like a rocky ridge was in fact, a very rocky ridge.  I stayed a few yards from the ridge proper to the left.

Here are some step-by-step pictures of the ridge up to West Buffalo Peak

I was initially worried about this area circled in red

However, while it was loose shale, I was able to go straight up and over the top without any difficulty.

From there, it was an easy stroll to the summit of West Buffalo Peak. 

The summit is at the very west end of the peak.  There’s a wind break here, and a summit marker (which says “Marmot Peak”)

I summited West Buffalo Peak at 10:30am

West Buffalo Peak:  

(Sorry about the orientation:  I didn’t realize it when I took the video, and now it’s a pain to fix it…)

I was making this a loop, so I turned and headed northeast, just for about .13 miles. 

Then I descended the ridge, heading northeast towards the 12917/West Buffalo Peak saddle, and then turned right and headed east.

I was hoping to pick up cairns here, similar to the ones I found hiking up East Buffalo Peak, but wasn’t able to locate any.  I wanted to hook back up with the 4WD road.  Much of the route would be below treeline, and in current conditions lined with snow, so as I hiked east, I visualized where I wanted to end up and got out my compass.

The orange line is how I ascended the ridge to East Buffalo Peak this morning.  So, from where I was at, I needed to aim towards the meadows.

Much of this route is below treeline, so pictures won’t be that helpful.  Here’s an overview of the route I took to get to the meadows.  Once at 11650’, (and crossing a drainage) I did my best to stay at around that same elevation, skirting the mountainside, heading towards the meadows. There were some ups and downs along the way, but nothing major.

Here are some pictures of the route

Once in the trees, there were tons of elk tracks.  These were helpful in figuring out snow depth, and I frequently followed them when pertinent.  At one point, I could smell elk near, looked up, and saw a buck with rather large antlers startle about 15 feet from me and bound away.

I made it to the meadows, and followed them back to the 4WD road by trying to stay above them, in the trees

Here’s looking back at West Buffalo and my route back to the 4WD road.  If you’re planning on doing this as a loop and doing East Buffalo first, it’s a good idea to get this visual on your way in.

I was now back at the cairns that would lead me to the road (the same ones that led me to the willows earlier this morning)

I followed the 4WD road back to the trailhead (the crows were still there along the way)

I made it back to my truck at 1pm, making this an 11.95 mile hike with 3489’ of elevation gain in 6.5 hours.

On to the next trailhead!

Author: Laura M Clark

Laura has summited over 500 peaks above 13,000' solo, including being the first woman to solo summit all of the Colorado 14ers, as well as the centennials. After each hike, she writes trip reports for each one and publishes them on her blog, which is read by fans all over the world. Author of Wild Wanderer: Summiting Colorado’s 200 Highest Peaks, which is available to purchase on Amazon.

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