Buffalo’s Boulders; Finally Finding the Summit of Buffalo Mountain
Oh me, oh my. It has been far too long since I’ve had an opportunity to wander off into the wilderness simply because it was out there + waiting for me. Winter is finally here + the time suck that is a job is finally in full swing. I’m back to working 50-70 hours a week between both jobs. It’s really not that bad, but it is time consuming. Once I add in the time I spend commuting on the bus 4-5 days a week + the long hours of wintery darkness my window of opportunity to get outside has narrowed. A lot. Of course, this is all my own doing + it was fully expected, yet the reality check of how little time I have to roam after a summer dedicated to roaming it’s not an easy pill to swallow.
This also doesn’t mean I’m *not* getting outside…my adventures have just gotten a lot more mundane, like running down the mountain to catch the bus or hiking up the mountain with a backpack full of groceries. You know, the stuff that gets me smiling into the wind but isn’t really worthy of social media oversharing. Life; sometimes it’s boring.
Except when it’s not, like that one time Max + I went on an adventure up about the trees of Silverthorne! I was determined not to let another season go by with me simply living in the shadow of Buffalo Mountain. I was going to get to the top of the rocky summit before I packed up + headed out again. The delayed opening of all the resort [+ in turn, my extra weeks of semi-funemployment] gave me the perfect excuse to go wandering up the mountain side. I’ve been up to Buffalo’s boulder field in the past but I’ve never actually made it to the summit, courtesy of delicious snacks I’d pack + eat on a boulder before convincing myself I’d come far enough. Not this time, this time we were going to the top…the tippy top!
We headed out after a lazy start to the day, around 9am. This gave the sun just enough time to pop up over the mountain tops + warm up our wander. We headed out the back door + up the mountain side. Oh, yes, I sure did remember to thank my life [+ the super awesome people in it, ahem, Robb] a few times for the luxury of a hike-to-trailhead! The meander up to the Buffalo Cabin Trail was easy + straight forward; a route I’d hiked, run + skidded along multiple times alone + with Robb. I’d even run icy hill repeats up to the actual cabin site while prepping for my failed Pico de Orizaba attempt.
Beyond the cabin site the trail launched into twisting switchbacks, a section I’ve learned to avoid when covered in snow + ice. Luckily, the warm weather that gave me all this extra free time was also the creator of nearly dry trails, only dotted with patches of slick, packed snow. Since I had been up these trails multiple times I did very little research, choosing to rely upon my past experiences + cunning ability to follow cairn across boulder fields. Turns out my skills are not quite as cunning as I’d hoped. I lost the official trail almost immediately after breaking above the treeline. Max + I found ourselves surrounded by refrigerator-sized boulders…obstacles I can navigate with relative ease, but something Max’s four legs + padded paws were not very good at clinging to. I seriously considered turning back as I watched Max valiantly battle upward while slipping + sliding over the boulders.
I felt like a massive jerk face for coaxing him upward. He was so full of energy + excited to be out exploring but the boulders were not being very good mountain hosts. I eventually plopped down on a rock near Max + dug up my phone to message Robb. What was the best way to help Max survive a boulder field? Turns out following the actual trail was the right answer. Of course, I had already lost the cairn’ed trail so I opted for Plan B…head left + plow straight up the grassier tundra near the boulder field. Max was completely on board, as he proved by sprinting on ahead of me while I sucked some serious wind.
We found the first false summit shortly after diverting our route to avoid the massive boulders. We scrambled out to the “summit” of this false summit + stared down at the massive boulder field we had just left behind. It was incredibly steep. I’ve spent many commutes staring up at the boulders of Buffalo + I never realized just how steep it was — the long distance gazing does it zero justice, just as these photos will never capture the reality of “whoa, how do they even stay in place” steepness!
Once we popped up to the saddle between the rocky false summit + the even rocky legit summit we found the trail again. At this point the trail was pretty darn obvious — the boulder field had petered out into a scree field + we both scooted along quicker, chasing down a summit in the sunshine. As we followed the ridgeline near the top of Buffalo we finally encountered our second person of the day + our trek down only garnered us an additional two people. Oh, the solitude of mountain trekking on a random Tuesday morning!
By the time we found the actual summit of Buffalo I was sweating in my tank top, hello there November…or not. Max + I plopped down to bask in the sunshine while munching on a sandwich I packed. Yea, I shared with Max. I figured he’d earned it with all his boulder bouncing earlier in the trek. Neither of us got to sneak many M+M’s tho — partly because Max isn’t supposed to indulge in chocolate + partly because the bag of M+M’s were acting as our photographer. Who needs friends when you have a bag of M+M’s?! No, seriously…
On our way down the mountain we opted to stick to the obvious trail as we skirted over the saddle + dropped down north side of the false summit. Turns out, if you can properly follow cairns, the legitimate trail is really quite easy to follow. Now we all know, for future reference! It was a bit icy on our descent, somehow the dusting of snow we’d seen in the past week managed to pile up + get packed down on the shady side of the false summit. I tip toed through the slippery boulders while Max showed me up by bounding way ahead + turning back when he lost sight of me, as if to say “hurry up, human!”.
My legs were jonesing for a run by the time we stumbled our way to the treeline, so off we went! Max, as usual, led the way with a regular glance back to make sure I was still upright and trucking along. It felt good to cruise along, dodging low hanging trees + hopping over rocks. My legs missed the easy freedom of running. As we cruised downhill I rediscovered my happy place, almost on accident. It felt good to run, to pump my arms + gasp for thin mountain air….to be running again, for the fun of it. I might not get a lot of running in this winter but when I do get around to it sure does feel good to run, just because. Besides, when I’m not running there are plenty of boulders to scramble around on to get my dirty trail fix!