13,692 Feet (Unranked)
13,865 Feet (Ranked 76th in CO)
Trailhead: Buckskin Joe Mine (Approximately 10,833 Feet)
May 9th, 2009
11.0 Miles Roundtrip
Elevation Gained: Approximately 3,500 Feet
Greenhouseguy (Brian), Derek, Zoomie83 (Todd)
Mount Buckskin was named for an old gold mining camp called
Buckskin Joe that was founded in 1861. Buckskin Joe was named for early
Higginbottom, who always dressed in deerskin clothing. The town was located about two miles west of Alma, and it was the county seat of Park County before the courthouse was moved to Fairplay in 1867. The postmaster and grocer was Horace Tabor, who later made millions as the owner of the Matchless Mine in Leadville. Another famous resident was the dance hall girl known as Silverheels. She nursed many of the miners during a smallpox epidemic in 1861-1862, and later contracted the disease herself. Nearby Mount Silverheels was named in her honor. The town's itinerant minister, Father Dyer, also has a peak named for him. The town was virtually abandoned by the early 1870's.
The most popular routes on Mt. Buckskin start at the Sweet Home Mine (noted worldwide for its rhodochrosite production) or Kite Lake (also the primary trailhead for Mts. Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, and Bross). These routes on Mt. Buckskin are short and steep, and may not be the best choices when avalanche conditions are considerable. A third route, which is not as frequently traveled, is the southeast ridge route. This route ascends the ridge crest gradually from below treeline and avoids any serious avalanche terrain. In light of recent soft slab slide activity in the Mosquito Range, the third option seemed like the best idea for our attempt on centennial thirteener Mt. Buckskin.
I knew that the road conditions on Buckskin Road would be pretty good, so I took my low-clearance 2WD Saturn coupe. I turned on FS 192, and was able to make it across the creek and to the first big curve in the road. Snowdrifts blocked our progress just a few yards short of the ruins of the Buckskin Joe Mine.
We could see from the bottom of the gulch that the ridge was wind scoured, so we left our snowshoes in the car. Crampons turned out to be unnecessary, and ice axes were only used for glissading. Any snow that we encountered on the forest service road was frozen solid, so we were able to walk over it with ease.
This area was intensively mined in an earlier era, and there are quite a few ruins of mining structures on the hillsides. Numerous waste piles and collapsed mineshafts dot the landscape.
The forest service road and various mining roads follow the ridge fairly closely, so we used the roads on the lower and middle sections of the route. Cutting straight through the forest to shorten the route would have made little sense because the snow was deep and some of the land along the road is private property. As we approached treeline, we encountered snowdrifts that must have been at least 15 feet deep. The snow was firm, so we were able to walk over the drifts and pick up the road on the other side.
It was not necessary to follow every switchback in the road. We left the road at about 11,400 feet and made a beeline straight up the ridge. We had to walk around some rocky areas, but for the most part hiking on the tundra was pretty easy. While the grade was pretty gentle, it still took a lot of huffing and puffing to make it up this long stretch of ridgeline.
We picked up the mining road again at about 12,250 feet, and followed it until we reached the ruins of a fairly substantial mine at about 12,800 feet. We left the road at this point and navigated off-trail for the remainder of the route.
There were a few stone cairns and wooden posts in random locations on the ridge, but it would have been difficult to lose our way above treeline. We could see our objective from miles away.
We saw some mountain goats high on the ridge, and they apparently saw us. They kept moving up the ridge and eventually disappeared from our view. I would have loved to have seen them up close, but these were not like the nearly-tame animals on Mt. Evans.
We made very steady progress, and soon found ourselves on the upper part of the ridge heading for Loveland Mountain’s summit. The temperature was in the upper 20’s or lower 30’s, but the breeze was pretty stiff (somewhere between 20 and 30 m.p.h.). It was time to break out the overmitts, balaclavas, shell jackets, and goggles. I had to stop a couple of times to warm my fingertips because I only brought my liner gloves. Exposure became more noticeable as the ridge narrowed. I would rate the exposure at about 2.5 on Bill Middlebrooks’ five-point scale.
Loveland Mountain’s summit was fairly broad and flat. I paused at the south end of the summit before I noticed that the north end was slightly higher. Most of the snow had been scoured off by the wind, particularly on the west side.
Loveland Mountain has superb 360-degree views. Mt. Democrat, Mt. Cameron, Mt. Lincoln, and Mt. Bross seemed close enough to touch. Buckskin Gulch seemed incredibly deep. South Park and the towns of Alma and Fairplay were visible to the east. The valley on the west side seemed to be holding a lot of snow; the Mosquito Pass Road did not look like it would be clear any time in the near future.
The traverse over to Mt. Buckskin looked a little sketchy, but we agreed to give it a try. We could turn around if we encountered any unsafe conditions.
We found that there was a narrow shelf trail just below the crest of the ridge. The virtually snow-free trail avoided many of the ups and downs of the ridge, and it kept us off of the relatively unstable talus on the steep slope. It would have been a bad idea to stray from this trail.
As we approached Mt. Buckskin’s summit, we had to cross some moderately sloped snowfields. The wind slab had softened just enough to allow us to kick steps in it. Crampons would not have been overkill, but they were not truly necessary. I took the basket off of one of my trekking poles so I could plant it more deeply in the snow. We moved carefully but deliberately towards the summit.
Todd caught his second wind and summited a few minutes before Derek and I got there. I was relieved to see that the route did not have any last-minute surprises for us.
Derek and I got to the top at about the same time, and it became apparent that there was not a whole lot of space on the summit. The slope dropped off steeply to the northeast, and I didn’t want to get too close in case there was a cornice. We briefly considered going over to the slightly-lower northwest summit (13,860 feet), but we decided that it was not worth the additional effort.
This was a very cool summit with views that would compare favorably to those on many fourteeners. Virtually all of the fourteeners in the Mosquito and Sawatch ranges were visible. Much of the snow had a reddish tinge from the dust storms in Arizona, which should hasten the melting process.
Looking at the Sawatch Range beyond Mosquito Peak and Pt. 13,548 (?)
Although it was still cold and windy, the exertion of the traverse between the summits had warmed me up considerably. We took plenty of time to enjoy the scenery, but we had to get moving again before we got too cold. Looking back at our route was sort of disheartening, because we had to re-summit Loveland Mountain before we could descend the ridge.
We got past the steep snowfields and picked up the trail to Loveland Mountain. It was fairly rough terrain, so we weren’t moving very fast even though we were headed downhill. Things rapidly got worse on the other side of the saddle when we had to start slogging uphill. We already had several miles and several thousand feet of elevation gain behind us, so we were not moving very quickly. Counting steps and counting breaths helped us keep a steady pace.
We stopped on Loveland Mountain for a food and water break. The wind relented as we dropped down lower on the ridge. What a relief! We layered down and enjoyed the blue skies and sunshine.
Re-summiting Loveland Mountain
The cornices on the leeward side of the ridge were visible on the way up, so we went out of our way to avoid them. They were much more visible on the descent than they had been on the ascent. Venturing too far out on one of the cornices would probably result in a rapid trip down into Buckskin Gulch.
Descending the middle part of the ridge was pleasant, and we made excellent time on the easy terrain. This part of the ridge is exceptionally wide, and the crest is not very pronounced.
There was still plenty of snow on the steep slopes just above treeline. We decided to have a little fun by glissading down to the road. I didn’t have my ice axe with me, so I used a trekking pole with the basket removed. It was already mid-afternoon, so the snow was too soft for really good glissading. Oh well, maybe next time.
This was a very rewarding early season hike. The majority of this long route is above treeline, which appeals to many hikers. The broad expanse of tundra gave this hike a unique alpine atmosphere. A long section of this ridge hike offers excellent 360-degree views of innumerable mountains. It is easily the safest route when there is any danger from avalanches. Getting one of Colorado’s highest 100 peaks and getting a “bonus” peak along the way is always a good day for me.