| A Gathering of One
Buckskin Benchmark (13,370') - 343rd highest
PT 13039 (13,039') - 615th highest
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.
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):