Red Peak B
UN 12,313 “Eccles Peak”
~14 miles, ~5,500 feet of elevation gain, 8 hours
360 view from the 13,189 ft. summit of Red Peak
Although I unfortunately spend as much time perusing Gore trip reports as I do actually climbing in the Gores—and thus cannot possibly be considered a true afficiando—I do possess the requisite reverence for and fascination with these special mountains. After stumbling on Theron Welch’s Gore page in the early 2000s, I decided to get involved. In 2004, I packed into Deluge Lake, up and over to Snow Lake, out Gore Creek and was hooked. Problem was, I didn’t live in Colorado and haven’t since 1986 (other than a brief stint in 2003). With family in Colorado, though, I’ve made it back enough to explore the range a bit more – at least the more accessible areas.
Although Red Peak lacks some of the mystique of Gore peaks further north, it is certainly accessible. Ryan Gulch trailhead—where I started this Gore adventure—is probably no more than two miles from I-70. The Meadow Creek trailhead is basically right off the highway. Red is also visible from all over Summit County, and it’s nice to have climbed mountains that you see (relatively) frequently.
The original plan was to climb Red Peak only on an out-and-back, but I eventually decided to (partially) complete the “Red-Buffalo Rim Loop” with the addition of Eccles Peak and Buffalo Mountain.
I left the Ryan Gulch trailhead under clear skies at 6:31 AM. The trail climbs gradually for the first ¼ mile before entering a lodgepole forest and flattening. Near the end of this section, the trail reaches a junction, with the Buffalo Cabin trail to the left and a spur trail to some condos to the right. I continued straight. Shortly after crossing a talus field, the trail descends ~400 feet into the South Willow Creek drainage. I reached the Mesa Cortina Trail junction at 7 AM (+0:29). Here, the trail turns west and continues toward Willow Falls, offering excellent views of Buffalo’s north face. The falls themselves are a short (5 minute) hike off the main trail to the left.
The north face of Buffalo from near the Mesa Cortina trail junction
Willow Falls…would be more impressive if it had actually snowed last winter
After the falls, the trail continues up the valley and gains elevation more consistently. It tails away from the creek to the North but eventually rejoins the creek. I lost the trail here and had to ascend through a steep (but far from vertical) chimney, which put me atop large domes of rock, with clear views east up I-70 toward the Eisenhower tunnel. I looked across the creek for the trail and had to check the map to confirm that the trail always remains on the north side of the creek after the Mesa Cortina junction (it does). I bushwhacked south on easy terrain until I found the trail. Shortly afterward, I happened upon a steaming pile of mammal (not dog) turd smack in the middle of the trail and resolved to make more noise!
Typical terrain encountered in the Red-Buffalo Basin. Eccles Peak is in the background
Generally, between Willow Falls and the upper reaches of the basin, the trail alternates between dense pine forest and sparse avalanche paths descending from Red Peak’s south face. Near treeline in the upper basin, the trail turns left (south) and contours the hillside. I left the trail around 11,400 and headed straight for the pass, only intercepting the trail ~30 feet below the pass. I reached the pass at 8:57 (+2:26). From here, views of Deming, West Deming, Snow Peak, Gore Lake and the Gore Creek Drainage are excellent (actually, much better views can be had by climbing 5 minutes beyond the pass toward Red Peak).
Deming and West Deming from near Red-Buffalo Pass
Buffalo looming from near Red-Buffalo Pass
There is a reasonably well-worn trail over grass and talus from the pass toward the summit, which ascends 1,400 feet in 1.1 miles. At ~12,950, the ridge bends right (east) on a rolling traverse. The drop toward the Willow Lakes drainage from here is impressive.
Mt. Silverthorne and the Willow Lakes drainage from ~12,950 on Red Peak’s South Ridge
I reached the summit at 9:53 (+3:22) and took it in. Didn’t see a summit register, but who cares? This website is a pretty decent summit register.
Mt. Silverthorne and the Gore Range from Red Peak
Deming Mtn. from Red Peak
Buffalo Mtn. from Red Peak
Eccles Peak and the Tenmile Range from Red Peak
Snow Peak, Grand Traverse Peak and Valhalla from Red Peak
A shot into the heart of the Gores from Red Peak
Zoom of the Willow Lakes from Red Peak
I hung out on top for ~20 minutes, refueled and headed back down. On this cloudless day, in typical Gore fashion, I saw my first human companion after summiting – a 65 year old warrior who’d started at Meadow Creek.
The Upper Red-Buffalo basin. Eccles Peak and Pass on ridge in background. Red-Buffalo Pass at right edge
I arrived back at Red-Buffalo Pass at 10:52 AM (+4:21). The weather looked good, so I decided to head for Eccles pass. I followed the faint trail to the lake near 11,440, where I rejoined the main trail. The traverse across the basin was beautiful and quiet. I reached Eccles Pass, where I saw several larger groups, at 11:26 (+4:55). I followed the good trail from Eccles Pass at ~11,900 to “Eccles Peak” (which did have a summit register, go figure) and then down to the Eccles-Buffalo saddle at 11,900. There is a very well-defined trail that descends south/southeast from here into the “North” Meadow Creek drainage (for another day).
Red Peak from Eccles Peak
Deming Mtn. from Eccles Peak
The 850 foot climb from here to Buffalo’s south summit (“Sacred Buffalo”) was an excellent reminder that I live at sea level (i.e., it was f-ing steep). For the first ~200 feet, I ascended up and to the right toward a left-trending grassy ramp and slightly easier grades before heading more or less straight up.
Red Peak from Buffalo’s south summit
I finally reached the summit at 12:40 (+6:09) and was greeted by an unfortunate reality: the traverse to Buffalo’s north summit—which one must gain to descend directly to Ryan Gulch—requires either a downclimb/horrendous scree traverse or a class 4+-looking ridge traverse (that I would later learn is Class 3). I used to welcome these situations, but the combination of solo travel and the thought of my kids waiting at home weighed heavily. The ridge looked safer than the scree traverse, though, so I set out and found easy though exposed Class 3 travel until the first major tower. Ascent to the tower looked to be Class 3, but I had no view of the other side and didn’t want to have to retrace my steps, so bailed to the right via a steep, narrow gully and worked my way down to the scree and eventually to Buffalo’s north summit at 1:10 (+6:39).
I won’t bore you with a description of my descent of Buffalo, but it’s worth noting that the trail was re-built in 2004 and is now longer and less steep (although still quite steep) than I recall from a 2002 Buffalo climb. I arrived at the trailhead at 2:28 (+7:57).
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):