Log In 
Peak(s):  Buckskin Benchmark  -  13,381 feet
Unnamed 13048  -  13,048 feet
Date Posted:  09/18/2018
Date Climbed:   09/14/2018
Author:  bergsteigen
 Doing it for the Elk views   

Pt 13,039 and Buckskin Benchmark

  • Mileage: 13.12
  • Elevation gain: 4,697'
  • Trailhead: Maroon Lake
  • Partners: Solo
  • Class: 4 (you might find 3, but it will be less fun)

After a relaxing day hiking Igloo Peak off Independence Pass, I was recovered enough from my Gore day to attempt another ambitious day in the Elks. The Elks are not my favorite range to hike in. The rock is loose and rotten. Of all the ranges in Colorado, it is my lowest 13er completion percentage! Today would at least bring my number over 40%, still the lowest, and there's not that many 13ers in the Elks in comparison to others!

With my short day on Inde Pass, I was able to snag campsite #1 along the Lincoln Creek road for the afternoon and night. That would mean a short return to hwy 82 and into Aspen. With all the snarky signs from the FS saying not to sleep in cars at the Maroon Lake overnight lots, I'm done with that scene. I spent the hours reading Dante's Inferno. What a foreshadowing of events to come of my descent (ascent) into loose talus Hell!

I drove up to the overflow lot, the only one with empty spots at 4:30am, and slowly got ready. I probably should have started the hike upon my arrival, but I just didn't. Even with starting a while before sunrise, the photographers were lined up at the ropes along the puddle they call Maroon Lake. There was a FS employees watching so that people wouldn't cross the mini fence. I kept on walking, and made it up to Crater Lake (ie mini puddle) for sunrise.

Rim of Fire

From there it was up to Buckskin Pass. I had been on this trail a couple times before on route to North Maroon, but never after sunrise. So it was a treat to pass by the off shoot trail in daylight and get views that I hadn't seen before along the way.

North Maroon and Sleeping Sexton
Maroon peeking out in-between
Trail up to Buckskin Pass

I noted the offshoot trail up to Willow Lakes Pass, which I hoped to be coming down later that day. Met a backpacker on the way down the pass, she seemed intent on making the trailhead that morning!

From the pass, there is a use trail up to the cliffs on Pt 13,039. Lots of backpackers will even hike up to that point as well. From the previous TR's I knew there was a crux right below the summit, but no one seemed to mention this first one right off the pass, other than to say they scrambled up it. I must not have been fully awake, as I'm not sure I chose the best/most efficient route up this section. Straight up the ridge looked a bit intimidating, despite a use trail up part of that section. I saw a use trail in the sun to my left, going up the loose scree and rock. To the right was all dark still this morning, but looked like loose talus. Which Way?

13,039 as I approach Buckskin Pass
13,039 from Buckskin Pass
The first crux

Since no one had mentioned this crux before, I figured it had to be 'no big deal' scramble. Some sandbagging 13er hikers have called this route "Class 2" - I call BS * 1000! They shall remain nameless for that reason, no need to advertise their arrogance. Lists of John calls it class 3. I can agree with this, but come prepared for class 4 and loose as shite!

I was called by the use trail in the sun to the left. There appeared to be a semi solid scrambling ramp up to the talus above. So I went there without scouting the other options. It was loose, tedious and quite time consuming! When I got there, I tried a variety of options, back tracked, tried something else, bailed, looked back and then found a way that was marginally OK.

The first route ended up being really solid, but everything was down slopping and was rapidly going class 4. A slip would have been bad. So back down I went.

Didn't like the slope of these rocks

Next option I hugged the extreme left side by the cliffs, and found myself on a solid class 5 mini cliff. Problem was, the necessary left foot to mantle up was marginal, and it topped out onto some serious loose talus. I stood there on the wall for quite a while, analyzing my options. I was doing Newton force diagrams in my head, seeing if I could get the physics of the moves right, without bringing down the loose talus on me, or under me. I didn't like it. So I decided to bail. So I carefully scrambled down the cliff on my right side, with both hands and feet on it, since the scree was almost unmanageable. I got down a ways and looked back up. To the right of the cliff was a precarious talus ridge feature. Running the physics, it seemed marginally OK. So back up I went. I got there, and it looked a bit worse than from below, but I figured with really really careful and slow movements, I would be able to find the solid 10% within the loose. Tested every rock, and chose carefully what I would put my weight on, and where I needed a feather light touch. Once on top, I could breathe slightly easier, even if my anxiety was now sky high - since I had to go back down...

Far left options with my route just right of the vertical cliff spot

Once above that, it was steep loose talus to the ridge top. Nothing terrible, the worst was over. The walk to the summit pitch was uneventful in comparison

Summit ridge, easy here!
Summit crux

Just below the summit I was presented with the crux that Chicagotransplant mentions. I liked the look of the chimney crack just to the right of center. I walked up to it, and decided to put my camera into my backpack - it would be a tight squeeze, even for me. From there it was a tight shimmey up, and I found a nice mini 1 cm wide ledge for my right foot, to push my way up through the chimney. When you walk up to the crack, it was at my short stature eye level on the outside. Above the chimney, it was a short and easy scramble to the summit. That was FUN!

Pano NE

Pano west

Hagerman, Snowmass and Capitol
Sleeping Sexton and the Bells
North Maroon. I skied that face?!
Maroon with a person? (10:22am)
Buckskin BM and hopefully the other 2 peaks today.

This was one summit that I really wanted to get off of fast. Usually I like to take a bit of time. Not today. I wanted to get back to the pass and off that lower crux. My anxiety was still maxed.

Amusingly this summit was #700 above 13K (including unranked peaks and repeats). Amusing to total up the numbers Monday morning on my peak lists.Spend enough time in the mountains, and these numbers get larger than you realize!

On the return, I decided to drop down the northern shady side. I saw some human foot prints, so I thought maybe. I got down a little ways, but couldn't see very far. It was getting looser and steeper and I didn't like it. Unlike Ryan #richardsonwouldpoundthis, I don't like crappy loose gullies. So I went back up and decided to go with the devil you know, versus the unknown. The descent went better than I had feared, but it was still exceedingly slow and tedious! (A backpacker I would meet on the pass was watching my slow progress)

Back on solid, safe ground I could finally relax. Beatrice had delivered me out of my own personal version of Hell. I took a zoom of the option to the far right and turned for Buckskin BM.

The option on right. Would have to traverse this, then go up loose steep talus

Option 3: Straight up the center. According to Takemetoyoursummit (Brad) he went up the center and found class 4 to low class 5. So pick your poison.

After chatting with a couple on the pass who had watched me coming down 13,039, I was up the nice gentle grassy slope of Buckskin BM. I still had thoughts of going over to 13,020 and the next, and was scoping my options to not take the direct ridge traverse, which Marmot72 was a bit sketched by (that's saying something), but descending directly the south ridge to Willow Lakes Pass. From my views, it would go. A loose traverse in spots, but it would go.

Buckskin BM from the pass
Looking back on 13,039
Buckskin looks so nice and smooth!

As I neared this summit and the edge of the ridge, I wasn't sure if ridge proper would be a good idea, but staying close goes.

The southern edge of the ridge looks a bit cliffy and rough
Interesting combo of innocent and devious

Thankfully Geologic time is not NOW, but I'm guessing soon.

After some minor, unnecessary class 2+ scrambleyness for fun, I was on the summit. Now to sit and contemplate my options.

Pano SE

Pano west

Bells and 13039
13020 and that other unnamed 13er that I know is loose and class 3 like
Willow Lakes basin
Hagerman, Snowmass and Capitol with a soaring raptor at the top of the frame. Best shot I captured of it
Pyramid and the Bells
Kremmling Fire blew up since I saw it last!

Sitting on the summit, I ran the numbers to descend down to Willow Pass and then down into the basin, up the next pass, then up and down 13020 and then up and down the other 13er. The last one will be loose and involve some class 3. The ridge looked long and involved. Another 2K plus a little mileage. I had the uphill in my legs, but I wasn't sure about all the downhill. I hate hiking downhill. If the terrain was as easy as Buckskin BM, then it was a no brainer, I had the time and the legs for it. As it was, the loose terrain was just not sitting well with me. So instead of pushing it, and being completely spent afterwards, I decided to just sit on Buckskin for almost 3 hours or so (I lost track of time), and just enjoy the view. I was entertained my a small raptor who was using the thermals to soar up into the air from Willow Lakes basin, over my head and then beyond. Sad I didn't capture a photo when it was closer to me!

Eventually I had to descend to get back before sunset. So down the lovely grassy slope I went.

Descending Buckskin BM
Another zoom of 13039's first crux, now with the north side fully in the sun

At the pass, I met another backpacker who was dreaming of burgers and not camping another night, so we ended up mostly hiking down together. It was a long steep downhill on the trail, but at least I didn't have to make harder decisions than where to put my feet on the trail. Even if I did ring my left leg like a tuning fork on a badly placed step. Stupid rod in my tibia.

Pyramid from the pass

Back at the lake, the tourist photography zoo was mostly over, since the sun was behind the Bells and blasting out cameras. I utilized the posts on the fence to get my shots! So they have some use other than to help the tourist figure out where they should stand.

Moon over Pyramid's shoulders
Color is not quite there yet

Lake so Low

I picnicked in the overflow lot and made my dinner before driving up over Inde Pass to my next campsite. I wasn't completely spent, but I also wanted a nice full nights rest. Plus the swarms of weekend leafers heading in my direction was becoming blinding. Streams of non stop headlights, like a river, and I was the salmon swimming upstream. Eyes can only take so much.

The remaining Elk 13ers??? I think spring snow and skis are in order for the majority of them. My tolerance for that type of loose rock is waning. Solo makes it easier in that I don't have to worry about partners and rocks, but it also makes the route finding that much more intensive. Snow is easy. See it, ski it. Done.

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 33 34 35 36 37 38 39

Comments or Questions
9/18/2018 4:01pm
On 13,039, we ascended a more direct snow route, but descended that steep ridge stuff in dry conditions. I remember it getting my attention, and would agree it is tougher than 2+, but still fairly quick and painless.

As I've told you before, I owe many of my routes and link-ups to you and your TRs, thank you thank you thank you! Though there seems to be a bit less enjoyment/happiness coming through in recent ones...may just be the loose rock...anyways, wishing you well in ur pursuit of happiness above 13k!

9/18/2018 4:06pm
Liked your report and photos a lot. Always like to see familiar peaks from unfamiliar angles.

Maroon Lake not looking so good, but maybe it's the angle of the shot.

Thanks for posting.

The Elks
9/19/2018 12:56am
13,039 and Sleeping Sexton linkup been on the radar for awhile. Really want to try them now, and thanks for the heads up on the crux. My experience has been to stay as close to the ridge as possible in the Elks, with rock there being marginally more solid. But I find Elks rock generally better than the San Juan volcanic choss that you've been enjoying so much recently

9/19/2018 6:42am
Saw your name on the register when I was doing the 4 pass loop yesterday. That summit block did have some character!

Beautiful color!
9/19/2018 9:45am
I was seriously considering Buckskin BM when my Belleview partner bailed on me this past July, but then I decided against it. If you don't get Belleview before next summer and want a partner, please let me know. I'd like to get back there again next year!

9/20/2018 10:03am
Rainer_Wolfcastle - So which route did you go? Left, right or center? As to enjoyment or lack thereof: I really hate loose terrain! Iâm also recovering from an injury, so that kind of terrain is especially frustrating for me right now.

rrk - Maroon Lake is definitely hurting. Much dryer than I was expecting myself.

Natalie - Hope you can find a better route than what I did. Youâve also been climbing a bit more than me this season, so straight up the ridge should be fine for you. Elks VS SJâs for crap rock. Hmmm... Iâd rather have volcanic choss than death landslide!

Aholle88 - That summit block was fun! Nice and solid!

Doug - You will have to add Buckskin BM to your list. Iâll also save Belleview for next year, for you. Should be a long trail walk with a short summit ascent.

Chicago Transplant
My TR mentioned it
9/24/2018 10:01am
Hmm, not sure what you missed in my TR? I definitely noted that the lower cliff band was at least class 3, and to be prepared for 4. Direct quote: "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."
Sorry, but you seemed upset with previous beta and I wanted to defend myself.

Reading interp off...
9/24/2018 11:20am
Chicago Transplant - Dang, my reading comprehension was completely off. I read your TR numerous times, but not right before the trip (since yours was in snow). I looked at all the others just previous to going, and they mostly glossed over it in summer conditions. When I first saw the cliff band I figured I would find a way, but then the loose rock anxiety meter pegged, and I must have forgotten everything. Sorry!

Chicago Transplant
No problem!
9/24/2018 4:20pm
Thanks! Hopefully having that ridge documented both dry and snowy will help future climbers be prepared for anything.

   Not registered?

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. 14ers.com and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless 14ers.com and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the 14ers.com Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

Please respect private property: 14ers.com supports the rights of private landowners to determine how and by whom their land will be used. In Colorado, it is your responsibility to determine if land is private and to obtain the appropriate permission before entering the property.