Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Red Buffalo Pass - and Today's Happenings

Located ten miles to the north west of Silverthorne, Colorado, Red Buffalo Pass is a paradise of high alpine splendor in the midst of the Gore Range of mountains. This pass - though not particular well known played a minor role in the US environmental movement. In the late 1960’s the Federal Government was in the process of completing the Interstate highway system across the United States. One of the biggest areas that had yet to be spanned by highways was the planned I-70 corridor through the Rocky Mountains west of Denver. As the highway planners looked for a likely route from what would become the Eisenhower tunnel and Silverthorne to Vail, their interest fell upon an isolated mountain pass called Red Buffalo Pass. This pass provided the most direct route from the town of Silverthorne to Vail. However this pass was located in an area of pristine wilderness that had not been substantially exploited during the gold and silver rushes of the late 1800’s. As the plans started to be discussed as to where I-70 would go, opposition began to mount concerning the proposed route over Red Buffalo Pass. The public outcry lead to a Federal Transportation Department decision in 1968 to route I-70 through Ten Mile Canyon along the route already used by US 6. Ten Mile Canyon, while scenic in its own right had been heavily mined and exploited during the late 1800’s. At one point in the 1880’s it was reported that over 10,000 people lived and mined the area in Ten Mile Canyon. Today Red Buffalo Pass sits in the midst of the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area and is forever preserved in its pristine condition. The name Red Buffalo Pass comes from the fact that the pass is located in a “saddle” between Buffalo Mountain to the south and Red Peak to the north. The hike to Red Buffalo Pass is long and depending upon the route it can be quite difficult. This hike is better taken as an overnighter as opposed to a day-hike. Regardless of how difficult the hike to the pass is, the view and the wildflowers are well worth the effort.
I last made this hike in the summer of 2005. I started my hike from the trail head access point at the top of Ryan Gulch Road in the Wildernest development. The hike starts with a very steep climb that is followed by ¾ of mile of scrambling over boulder fields as you make your way around the side of Buffalo Mountain. Unfortunately, during this scramble you are losing a lot of elevation as the trail is generally heading down hill. You break out of the forest in a dramatic fashion as you come across a wide and very long avalanche run on the northeastern side of Buffalo Mountain. The trail re-enters the forest and crosses South Willow Creek and intersects with the Gore Range Trail. About ½ miles after the trail intersection, you come upon one of the hidden gems of this hike – South Willow Falls. The falls are made up of several narrow plumes eroded in the rock through which the water tumbles downs. The volume of water forced through these narrow plumes is pretty remarkable and the falls are actually quite impressive as the water falls over 50 feet. After the falls you enter an area of thick scrub willow and scrub oak through which the trail winds. This part of the hike is difficult and you are constantly being snagged by the trees. During my passage through this area, I saw 3 marmots gorging themselves on as much food as they could. The growing season at this altitude is so short that the animals that live there use every hour of the summer to bulk up and prepare for the long brutal winters. There were signs of numerous avalanche runs descending from both Buffalo Mountain and Red Peak in this area. I know people snowshoe/cross country ski into this area in the winter, but to me it appears too dangerous. Finally after what seemed to be ages you break out of the scrub willow and oak and emerge into a wonderful world of high alpine meadows filled with small lakes and wildflowers. The pass itself rises up from the “bowl” that forms in the junction between the two mountains. When you are finally at the top of the pass you can see a trail snaking downward into the forests below. If you were to follow this path you would eventually reach Deluge Lake and Gore Creek – from which you have easy access to Vail.
It took me the better part of the day to reach the pass and to return to the trail head. According to my GPS I logged over 15 miles of hard hiking that day. It was very tiring day that left me exhausted but as you can see from some of the pictures posted in this entry, it was well worth it. I took these pictures with my 35mm Digital SLR. As for what is going on today – not much except for a lot of work. Things at work are very busy and hectic. Zack had a good day at school and we managed to fit some out door activity after I was done with work and Zack was done with his homework. Before the sun went down we head out and took a couple mile hike on the Lee Gulch Trail in Littleton. I even persuaded Nancy to go out to dinner with us. Nothing fancy we just went out to IHOP, but nonetheless it was the first time I have managed to get Nancy to go out to dinner with us in ages. Going to IHOP was a bit of a mistake as it was “National Pancake Day” and you could get free pancakes – so the place was packed. Zack did a nice thing when we were there. He had a dollar that Nancy had given him for having a good day at school. (She gives him 50 cents per day that he doesn’t get in trouble.) He took the dollar and put it in the donation kettle for the Shriners who were collecting donations there tonight. How thoughtful was that of the little boy! I am so proud of my little man! On another note – today is my sister Stephanie’s birthday. Happy Birthday Stephanie! Thanks and peace to all!

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