The days aren’t very long in November. Lupe and SPHP should have gotten off to an earlier start. The plan was for Lupe to climb Buffalo Peak (11,589 ft.), the high point of Jefferson County, Colorado. With no trail and over 3,000 feet of elevation gain involved, it was a fairly ambitious plan for this time of year.
SPHP had intended to park the G6 up at Stoney Pass, but just past Wellington Lake there was a creek running across the road. The creek wasn’t very large. It was about a foot deep, and maybe 6 feet wide, as it crossed the road. SPHP stood peering into the clear water. The creek bottom looked flat and smooth and firm. But, what if it wasn’t really? The G6 didn’t have much clearance. If it sank another foot into mud and the engine got wet, Lupe and SPHP were in for an adventure of the wrong sort.
It would probably have been fine to ford the creek with the G6, but SPHP wasn’t going to chance it. Not way out here. SPHP found a place nearby to park. Lupe and SPHP were just going to have to walk the 1.5 miles up the road to Stoney Pass. The only real problem was the time it took. It was already 9:42 AM when Lupe and SPHP left the G6 behind.
It was a beautiful, clear and calm day as Lupe crossed the little creek, and started up the road for Stoney Pass. It was already 45°F. Back in Arvada, where Lupe was staying with cousin Dusty while on vacation in Colorado, it was supposed to get into the low 60’s. It wouldn’t get that warm out here, though, not way up on Buffalo Peak. Even so, at least weather wasn’t going to be an issue.
SPHP reached Stoney Pass after a trudge up the road. Lupe had already been busy racing around in the forest sniffing everything of interest. Now it was time to leave the road together and plunge into a dense forest. The plan was to reach the summit of Buffalo Peak by following a ridge from the NE. SPHP already knew there was no trail, that the mountain was heavily forested, and that the ridge wasn’t all that distinct.
The topo map showed the climb up would be pretty relentless, although there were some flatter areas near the top. SPHP wondered if there would be any viewpoints along the way. It would sure help to be able to catch a glimpse of the summit every now and then, just to make certain Lupe was going the right way.
Despite the possible obstacles, SPHP felt pretty confident Lupe was going to reach the top. Lupe showed no concerns, whatsoever. It was just another big, fun romp in the woods to her. As Lupe started the climb, SPHP wondered what the summit would be like. Would it even be worth the effort to get there? From a distance, Buffalo Peak had looked like just a big forested hump. Would there be any place from which to get a view? Or would Lupe’s efforts just end at a high spot in a forest that looked like the entire rest of the mountain?
There hadn’t been any snow at Stoney Pass, but as Lupe climbed, she started encountering a thin layer of snow. SPHP worried that Lupe was going too far to the W instead of heading SW. Lupe didn’t really seem to be up on a ridge. The blue sky seen between the trees above was always hundreds of feet higher than where Lupe and SPHP were. There was little deadfall timber at first, but as Lupe went on, gradually there was more. Most of it was pretty small stuff, though, so it wasn’t much of a hindrance.
Lupe climbed a very long way before she finally came to a big rock outcropping. SPHP was eager to see what could be seen from the other side. Lupe and SPHP found a way through to the SW side of the rock outcropping. The view wasn’t all that encouraging. Farther off to the W than SPHP had been hoping was what might be a part of Buffalo Peak near the summit. To the SW was a little valley, and beyond it another ridge. Now SPHP wasn’t even sure Lupe had been following the correct ridge up.
To the S of the first big rock outcropping, Lupe passed through a nearly level area. She headed for the next ridge that SPHP had seen ahead. She climbed several hundred feet up it to find a 2nd big rock outcropping. The views from here were a little more encouraging. What SPHP believed was the summit area was now at least in clear view.
Lupe had to head S down into another valley from the 2nd big rock outcropping. When the land started rising again on the other side of the valley, Lupe and SPHP faced another long climb. The snow got deeper. Maybe SPHP was just getting tired, but the climb seemed to go on and on. Except at the rock outcroppings, it was difficult to have much sense of where one was in the snowy forest.Finally, Lupe reached a viewpoint on the N side of the mountain. SPHP isn’t certain about it, but this may have been the high point marked on the Peakbagger.com topo map as point 10,778. Wherever Lupe was, there were some impressive views to the N from this high point.
If Lupe was at point 10,778, there was still another 800 feet of elevation left to be gained. Lupe and SPHP headed SW still climbing, but the mountain was no longer as steep as it had been. The going was easier. The main concern was the time. SPHP knew that Lupe had to hurry if she was going to make it to the summit of Buffalo Peak, and still have enough daylight to make it back down to the road at Stoney Pass.
After climbing and heading SW for a considerable distance, Lupe emerged into a little open area where the ground was flat. Here it was possible to catch a glimpse of mountains to the S between the trees. Lupe had to be getting close to the summit of Buffalo Peak. There couldn’t be an awful lot of elevation left to gain.
Lupe and SPHP turned W from the little clearing. Lupe hurried onward, but it was still farther to the summit than SPHP realized. Lupe would have to gain more elevation and cover more ground, if she wanted to reach the top. At a bigger opening in the forest, the summit area was still ahead and higher up.
SPHP knew it was decision time. Although the sun wouldn’t set for close to 2 hours yet, Lupe would need all that time, plus any twilight, to get back down to Stoney Pass. Continuing onward clearly meant breaking the rule. The rule is that Lupe and SPHP are supposed to turn around in time to be able to reach a road or trail before dark from which SHPH knows for certain the way back to the G6.
As far as complying with the rule goes, it doesn’t matter if the road or trail to the G6 is a long one. It’s perfectly fine if Lupe has to spend a few hours of the night getting back to the car. Darkness isn’t the problem. Not knowing the way to go in the darkness is….
Buffalo Peak is a big mountain. It is heavily forested, and the forest offers few views even in the daytime. There is no trail. Except near the top, the mountain sides are fairly steep. It was November. There were a lot of good reasons for Lupe to abandon the attempt on Buffalo Peak and turn around.
On the other hand, the summit of Buffalo Peak wasn’t much farther. Lupe was very close to it compared to all the distance she had already come. SPHP decided to break the rule.
SPHP reasoned that even though it was going to get dark before Lupe reached Stoney Pass, she would have enough daylight and twilight to retrace most of the way back to the road. Once darkness descended, Lupe could just head directly for Green Mountain. She would inevitably reach the road, even if she didn’t hit it right at Stoney Pass. In a sense, the route was known. It just wasn’t a trail or road.
Lupe continued onward. The snow was 6″ deep in the forest near the summit. At first, SPHP wasn’t even certain this was the summit of Buffalo Peak. SPHP was surprised by what Lupe found in the forest. Ahead was a 30 or 40 foot high ridge of rounded red rocks and boulders. To the NE, the forested ground was steeper than expected. To the SW, there was – nothing? SPHP couldn’t get a clear view over there, but it seemed like there might be a cliff.
The ridge ran SE/NW. There was no easy way up it from the SE end where Lupe first reached it. Lupe and SPHP worked around to the NW along the NE side of the ridge. Before long there was a place where Lupe could climb up. When SPHP got up there, the view was both fantastic and concerning.
From the narrow, rocky ridge, there were fabulous views in every direction except to the NE, which was hidden by the forest. SPHP’s earlier concerns that Lupe would climb all the way up Buffalo Peak to see nothing but trees was totally unjustified. The top of Buffalo Peak offers splendid views.
The object of concern was to the NW. In that direction there was clearly a break in the ridge. Beyond the break, the ridge continued. What concerned SPHP was that the ridge was clearly a little higher beyond the break. Lupe was not yet at the true summit of Buffalo Peak. It was going to take more time for Lupe and SPHP to work their way back down and around through the snow, deadfall and boulders to reach the true summit.
Well, there was nothing to do, but spend the time necessary to reach the true summit. Lupe and SPHP carefully climbed back down to the NE off the ridge. It only took 10 minutes or so even with the snow, deadfall, and rocky terrain to get over to the higher NW part of the ridge. Lupe and SPHP were soon up on top of it. SPHP was very happy to find a register and a USGS Benchmark. Lupe had made it to the very top of Buffalo Peak!
Lupe and SPHP were soon signed in on the registry. It was fun to see that Lupe’s blogging and peakbagging acquaintances Beth & Sprocket from 3UpAdventures had been here over a month earlier on 10-2-15. (Those two peakbagging maniacs had also signed the Thunder Butte registry the same day!) Lupe had the good fortune to briefly meet Beth & Sprocket in person (in Dingo?) back in the Flat Top Mountains in August, 2015.
After registering, it was time for a little break. Lupe gobbled up most of the Taste of the Wild supply. SPHP hadn’t bothered to bring any human food along. SPHP eyed the remaining Taste of the Wild, but decided to save it for later. At least there was plenty of water. Lupe wasn’t drinking much since she prefers to eat snow. After a short rest, it was final summit photos time. The Carolina Dog was quite willing to add a little canine interest to some of the shots.
After all the time and effort it took to get up here, it was a shame to have to leave so soon, but it was important to get as far down the mountain as possible before the light was all gone. SPHP was glad the snow was around on the way down. Lupe and SPHP followed their tracks back down the mountain for a long way, before SPHP lost them for the final time.
The sun went down. The twilight faded. The mountain and the forest went on and on. The deadfall, which hadn’t seemed too bad on the way up, seemed more prevalent, larger and troublesome on the way down. The slopes seemed steeper in the darkness. Still, Lupe succeeded in losing a tremendous amount of elevation before it was so dark the flashlight had to come out. By that time, SPHP thought Lupe must already be getting close to Stoney Pass.
SPHP was wrong. Down, down, down went the dingo in the dark. Lupe and SPHP headed for the black outline of Green Mountain against the stars. It was the only thing that showed the way. Once SPHP distinctly heard voices. SPHP must have been losing it. There was no one out here. Suddenly a big bird flew away with a great deal of noisy fluttering. Lupe had passed beneath its perch.
Finally the steep slopes grew less steep. Lupe and SPHP emerged from the forest into a small grassy and level valley. A low dark ridge loomed ahead. There didn’t seem to be a road. Green Mountain was out of sight. Just great! No telling which way to go. It didn’t make sense. SPHP shone the little flashlight around.
A small patch of light similar to others on the aspen trees nearby looked a little different. It looked a little like it was reflective. Lupe and SPHP headed toward it. Soon it was clear that it was indeed reflective. There was some kind of sign. Before SPHP even reached it, Lupe found the road. A little wandering around in the grassy valley brought Lupe to a familiar spot. She had come down the huge mountain in the darkness to arrive just 150 feet NW of Stoney Pass.
No worries now. Everything was cool. Lupe and SPHP headed NW down the road. Although it was only 1.5 miles back to the G6, it seemed to take a longer than it should. Time always seems to go by very slowly in the dark. Lupe crossed the little creek that had prevented the G6 from reaching Stoney Pass. In just a couple of minutes, she was at the G6. It was 7:17 PM and 30°F.
It was after 9:00 PM by the time Lupe and SPHP were back at cousin Dusty’s house in Arvada. SPHP served up some Alpo for Lupe and Dusty. Andrea had a roast, potatoes, carrots, and onions ready and waiting in the crock pot. SPHP wasn’t going to have to finish Lupe’s Taste of the Wild after all.