Bison Peak
12,431 Feet (Highest in the Tarryall Range)
Southwest Ridge Route
Ute Creek Trailhead, 8,760 Feet
September 29th, 2007
Approximately 12 Miles Roundtrip
Approximately 3,800 Feet Elevation Gained
Greenhouseguy, Keith K., and Brian K.

 

 

Tarrying in the Tarryalls

 

 

Bison Peak is well known for its numerous pink Pikes Peak granite domes, spires, and monoliths. By all rights, this unearthly landscape should rank among Colorado’s most frequently visited summits. However, because it is not one of Colorado’s highest peaks, many hikers ignore this worthy mountain. Hikers can enjoy unspoiled views from the 12,431-foot summit, which is the highest in the Tarryall Range, the Retirement Range, and the Lost Creek Wilderness.

 

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Image of Bison Peak taken from “Zephyr” Peak

 

Keith and his brother Brian planned a trip to Bison Peak, and invited me to come along with them. I was psyched to finally get to hike Bison Peak, but somewhat skeptical of our prospects for success because of a sketchy weather report. Most of the lengthy hike is below timberline, so we would be able to enjoy the relative safety of the trees while we observed the weather. There would be plenty of opportunity to turn back if we did not like what we saw.

 

We started from the Morrison park and ride, and headed down Hwy. 285 to Kenosha Pass. Shortly after we crested the pass, we arrived at the town of Jefferson. The intersection with Park County Rd. 77 (Tarryall Rd.) is well marked. We turned left on Tarryall Rd., and followed it for 20 miles to the Ute Creek Trailhead. The last part of the road has some serious potholes, and I hit my fair share of them. The scenery along Tarryall Rd. was pretty interesting. We saw several historic log cabins in various states of decay, and several elk. Some of the rock formations along the road gave us a taste of what we were about to experience on our hike.

 

We arrived at the Ute Creek Trailhead and found that it had a small but adequate gravel parking lot. The sky was gray and cloudy, but it did not appear to present any immediate problems. An interpretive sign at the trailhead told about the Ute Indian practice of stripping Ponderosa Pine bark to eat the nutritious inner cambium. A dead tree on the opposite side of the creek bears a scar from having bark harvested back in the 1800s.

 

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Interpretive sign at the Ute Creek Trailhead

 

We started out by crossing Tarryall Creek on a decent bridge.

 

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Bridge over Tarryall Creek

 

The trail started out with a gentle grade, and remained that way for more than two miles. The trail is generally in good shape, but it could use repair in places where foot traffic has worn a deep trench in the middle of the path.

 

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Brian and Keith on a worn section of the lower part of the Ute Creek Trail

 

There is no trail register, but hikers are requested to fill out a wilderness card with some basic information about the size and makeup of their party. A sign marks the point where hikers enter the Lost Creek Wilderness.

 

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Lost Creek Wilderness sign on the Ute Creek Trail

 

We crossed Ute Creek on some small logs. It really is not much of a creek, at least at this time of year. After we crossed the creek, the trail veered to the right to follow the East Fork of Ute Creek.

 

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Brian on the opposite bank of Ute Creek

 

On the gentle lower portion of the Ute Creek Trail, the forest of Aspens and Ponderosa Pines is not very dense. The colorful Aspens broke up the monotony of the evergreen forest.

 

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Hiking down an allée of Aspens

 

As we gained altitude, the Aspens became less numerous and Bristlecone Pines took the place of the Ponderosa Pines that we encountered in the lower stretches. Hiking was still easy on the broad and well-maintained trail.

 

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The upper portion of the Ute Creek Trail

 

I glanced to the right, and wondered if this interesting crag was Bison Peak’s summit. A closer look at the map revealed that it was actually Point 11,963. The scenery was starting to get interesting.

 

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Point 11,963 viewed from high on the Ute Creek Trail

 

At about 11,200 feet, the Ute Creek Trail merges with the Brookside-McCurdy Trail. One fork of the Brookside McCurdy heads north to the Lost Park Campground; the east fork goes toward Bison Arm and McCurdy Mountain. Bison Arm is the broad, flat saddle between Bison Peak and Point 11,963.

 

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Marker at the junction of the Ute Creek Trail and the Brookside-McCurdy Trail

 

As we started up the Brookside-McCurdy Trail, more interesting sights came into view.

 

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Interesting rock formation on the top of a steep slope

 

The grade on the Brookside-McCurdy Trail was much steeper than it was on the Ute Creek Trail, but some well-placed switchbacks made hiking much easier.

 

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Easy hiking on the middle portion of the Brookside-McCurdy Trail

 

We slogged onward, and before long we saw some of the “bison herd” (boulders) on Bison Arm.

 

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Some of the “bison” on Bison Arm

 

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Starting to look rocky…

 

The Brookside-McCurdy Trail meets Bison Arm at about 11,760 feet. The landscape changes from timber to tundra near this point.

 

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The upper portion of the Brookside-McCurdy Trail where it meets Bison Arm

 

When we arrived at Bison Arm, it was like landing on a different planet. To say that it is a broad plateau is an understatement. The tundra was the color of golden wheat, but it must certainly be more colorful in the summer time. An army of boulders, spires, and monoliths surrounded us and stretched as far as we could see. The spectacle extended beyond Bison Peak to the slopes and summits of neighboring McCurdy Mountain.

 

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Huge boulders on the edge of Bison Arm

 

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Rock pile on the southeast edge of Bison Arm

 

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Bison Peak’s summit viewed from Bison Arm

 

The Brookside-McCurdy Trail traversed the saddle and continued to McCurdy Mountain. There was no trail to the summit of Bison Peak, so I chose an obvious route that approached the summit from the east. This route took us past the well-known Bison Monolith and the Amphitheatre.

 

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Edge-on view of the Bison Monolith with the Amphitheatre in the background

 

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Frontal view of the 60-foot tall Bison Monolith

 

The area around the Bison Monolith seems to have the most unique granite features. This bizarre tower is one of the more interesting structures.

 

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Unique rock near the Bison Monolith

 

The landscape on Bison peak is fascinating, and there is no way that images can do it justice.

 

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More granite

 

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More outstanding scenery with McCurdy Mountain in the background

 

I hiked around to the east side of the peak, and lost sight of the true summit. I climbed the north side of a 12,300-foot subpeak, and found more inspirational sights.

 

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Cloud cover building over a 12,300-foot subpeak of Bison Peak

 

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A great place to get out of the elements

 

The true summit was just a stone’s throw from the subpeak. The weather was getting progressively worse, and I got pelted with graupel for a few minutes. The wind really picked up, and I started to think about getting down to timberline in a hurry. But first, I had a summit to visit.

 

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Bison Peak’s true summit

 

The summit block is a large jumble of boulders. It can be approached from any side, but some routes are obviously easier than others.

 

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The summit block on Bison Peak

 

There is a mayonnaise jar summit register on the highest part of the summit block. There are some weathered remains of a viewing platform falling off to one side, and some masonry remains of an old stone stove.

 

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Summit block and register, with precipitation falling in the background

 

The views from the summit were inspirational, although they were somewhat obstructed by clouds and haze. There were practically no signs of mankind in any direction. While we were not far from civilization, the feeling of solitude was overwhelming.

 

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The center of this image is the valley of the South Fork Lost Creek, with the Kenosha Mountains rising in the background

 

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The massive northwest slope of McCurdy Mountain. Pikes Peak is visible through the haze directly behind McCurdy Mountain’s summit

 

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My summit self-portrait. The wind nearly blew the camera off of the summit

 

Keith and Brian took a different route to the summit, and they arrived a few minutes later. They were as concerned about the weather as I was, but they wanted to enjoy a few minutes on the summit.

 

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Keith (L) and Brian (R) behind Bison Peak’s summit register

 

The clouds parted as we left the summit. The wind persisted, but the warm sunshine was more than welcome. I was no longer anxious about the weather, so I took plenty of time to enjoy my surroundings on the return trip.

 

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A granite castle viewed through a window rock

 

As we worked our way back down to Bison Arm, we had a good view of the Mosquito Range. Mt. Silverheels, Mt. Sherman, Mt. Sheridan, Mt. Lincoln, Mt. Bross, and Mt. Democrat were visible on the horizon beyond South Park.

 

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The snow-capped Mosquito Range on the horizon beyond South Park

 

Our descent presented no difficulties. The trail was not steep, and it offered good footing. It was an easy six miles back to the trailhead.

 

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Heading back down the trail

 

As we approached the trailhead, some colorful River Birch served as a reminder that Aspens are not the only fall foliage trees worth viewing.

 

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Golden foliage on a River Birch on the banks of Tarryall Creek

 

It was sunny and pleasant when we reached the trailhead. Our feet were pretty sore from the 12 miles that we had covered, but we were all in good spirits because of the magnificent scenery that we had experienced. I was already planning to visit the equally majestic McCurdy Mountain. A snowshoe expedition is definitely in the works for this winter. Bison Peak is too incredible to visit only once.

 

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