| Sunny Fun in the Southern Gore
What up 14ers.com!
I appreciate the chance to present you with the first Peak Report of my 2012 "Peaks for Peace" Campaign! It has been a little while since I have posted here, and I appreciate being able to do so once again. During the next ten weeks, I hope to find the fair weather, good health, safe snow conditions, and motivated partners to ascend and snowboard as many prominent mountains in the Western United States as is possible - with many of you, of course!
Unfortunately, three weeks of unseasonably warm weather has melted away much of Colorado’s already thin snowpack, and my knees seem to disagree with me quite frequently (insertional tendinitis of the IT Ban). So, what would life be without a little uncertainty?
The Undulating South Face of Red Peak B
Last Friday, I dusted off the old splitboard for an exploratory tour into the Southern reaches of the rugged Gore Range. Speedflyer Brett McNary joined up for the adventure, and we set out from the Buffalo Cabin TH around 6:30am. Our goal for the day was simple and understated; check out the alpine basin to the northwest of Buffalo Peak. I, of course, had my eye on the prominent south face of Red Peak – a surprisingly massive low 13er containing a ridiculous set of chutes, faces, couloirs, and bowls to shralp. And Brett, of course, was interested in finding suitable flying terrain with appropriate landing zones.
Brett checks out the rising sun from a clearing on Buffalo Mountain’s East Side
Being my first tour since October of 2011 (yikes), and being Brett’s second tour in 12 hours (double yikes), we set a mellow pace from the get-go. The weather was warm and inviting, unseasonably pleasant. We made our way past the familiar turnoff for the Buffalo Mountain Trail and began a traversing descent passed the base of the Infamous Silver Couloir. Along the way we entertained ourselves with some fine downhill skinning through old growth forest, an uncomfortable and humbling warm up activity.
The Impressive North Face of Buffalo Mountain Stretches Skyward from the Cabin Creek Trail
Previous excursions to this area of the Gore have yielded ambiguity as to a “best” route to reach the upper basin of Red Buffalo Pass. Matt Kamper and Ben Conners suggest staying to the south of the creek. The Summer trail meanders due north from the Silver Couloir and works West from the less dense North side of Cabin Creek. We seemed to do both, heading NW from the bottom of Silver…first gently descending, then gradually ascending, before crossing the creek and finding faint signs of the Summer Trail which we followed for the duration of our tour. In the end I think that the valley presents typical Gore Range Routefinding challenges that each group must solve; headwalls left from ice ages past choked with creeks and timber.
By the time we had worked our way to the Northwest side of Buffalo, the sun had risen high over head, transforming the snow into a warm glue-like state…
Brett makes headway into the Upper Basin – SANS glop!
By high noon, we found ourselves relaxing and recovering just East of Red Buffalo Pass. Surrounded by steep ridge-lines 300 degrees about, we felt good. Our journey had covered 6.6 miles and 2400 vertical feet – and brought us to a wonderful place. The wind was still, the mercury up, and other human presence undetectable. We both wished we had brought our tents, a day's rations, and some whiskey – this basin is prime for Winter Camping.
Soon enough I found myself in motion again – heading up the pass to make an attempt at Red Peak’s Summit from the SW Ridge. Brett stayed below to enjoy his time and scout potential flying zones.
View from the SW ridge! Check out all the terrain!
The couple kilometer hike to the top proved more challenging than I had hoped, though it was tough to feel sorry for myself a midst such spectacular surroundings. The flaring of my knees and intensifying of my respiration was paralleled by an increase in a subtle contentment. It felt good to be hurting. It felt good to be back walking ridgelines in the sky.
By 2 o’clock I had made my destination.
The SW ridge of Red Peak B extends towards Red Buffalo Pass. The North Faces of Demming and Uneva Peaks are seen foreground, with the mighty Sawatch Range rising in the distance.
Looking southeast from the Summit towards Buffalo and Lake Dillon (Dillon Res….yeesh). This line is the more traditional (see rational) route to the top, cutting many miles from our choice of approach. However, the line catches sun from dawn – and we were late. Better safe and tired than…
I called Brett from the top to arrange a second set of eyes on my run. He had already Disgracebooked our progress and shared some stoke with our office-bound friends, gotta love the smart phones. Brett was set up on a highpoint along the pass, eager to fly. I made the changeover in gear and prepared to drop in.
Most times this paragraph would be full of multi-syllabic ramblings attempting to describe the emotion and experience of riding steep and committing lines in the backcountry. Today, I tell you this – my legs were shot and the snow was average. Did I enjoy arcing turns into the softening snows of the SW bowl? Sure! It was great! However, the fatigue of the approach, the secondary choice of lines, and the aches in my knees made Friday’s tour more about…well…the tour!
Brett proving that humans CAN fly!
I traversed back to our lunch spot and prepared to watch my friend take flight. I’m not going to lie, I’m so madly in love with snowboarding that the idea of flying OVER amazing riding terrain seems rather irrational. I mean, what golfer wants to fly over Pebble Beach instead of play it? I’m as fascinated with flight as any other boy who was raised on Air-Shows and the Blue Angles….and I’m also a snowboarder.
With that being said, the smile I saw on Brett’s face after successfully landing a short but technical flight was as genuine as they get. He loves the stuff just like I love riding. Good on ya, Brett!
Coming in for landing (not as slow as it looks in still frame)
By the time we packed up our gear, chowed on some food and water, and enjoyed another bit of down time in the basin, it was a touch past 3 O’clock. We had to get moving to make it back to the trucks before dark. As with many endurance efforts, the exit passed in a drawn out yet fluid and blurred fashion. We post-holed, took less efficient paths, delt with nagging pain, and grunted our way down the basin and back up to the TrailHead. My knees felt terrible, Brett was pretty worn out from 20 hours of touring in 2 days, both of which made the bourbon at the Pub all the better.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):