Saturday, February 4, 2012

Buffalo Cabin Snowshoe

Distance: 3 miles round trip
Elevation: 9,760 ft - 10,619 ft
Elevation Gain: 700 ft
Date Hiked: 15 January 2012
Dogs off leash:  Until Eagles Nest Wilderness Boundary
Bathroom at trailhead: No

The view of Lake Dillon, the Continental Divide and the condos of Wildernest from 700 ft up Buffalo Mountain
Buffalo Mountain (12,777 ft) is the large as in very large as in immensely large round mountain you see after jetting down from the Eisenhower Tunnel heading west.  Climbing Buffalo Mountain (3 miles/3,017 ft elevation gain) is one of the steepest ascents around but snowshoeing 1/3 of the way to the summit to the ruins of Buffalo Cabin is something mere mortals can do.   While devoid of views unless you press on for at least another 0.2 miles, it is very popular with the locals.  This is in fact why I was on this trail.  I wanted something close by to exercise both the dog and myself on a Sunday afternoon.

Standing at the trailhead and looking at the parking lot.  The trail to Lilly Pad Lake is just around the bend.
The trailhead
The route starts at the Buffalo Cabin Trailhead, 3.5 miles up Ryan Gulch Road (one of two main roads that shoots straight up the mountain's slopes).   Note this road starts out as Wildernest Road lower down.  This trailhead shares a parking lot with Lilly Pad Lake, which you can also access from Frisco.

Playing with the shadows on the snow.
The route is easy to follow if a bit monotonous.  You pass the Wilderness Boundary at 0.36 miles and come to a 4-way junction at 0.6 miles.  Go straight to intersect the Gore Range Trail and South Willow Falls, go right to dead end at the end of the other road that goes up the mountain, and go left to continue climbing.

Typical trail segment.  Packed snow in the trees
There are actually several ruins of cabins along the way but it can be hard to tell in the snow.  The first one appears around 0.95 miles while the official (e.g. largest) one occurs shortly thereafter at 1.1 miles.  All that remains of these cabins are a few logs piled on top of each other.

Trail sign at the 4-way junction
I had snowshoed this trail before but it had been 9 years ago and my memory was very foggy.   I do remember reaching a point where I could not go any further and this trip was no exception.  On this trip, I was in microspikes and reached the point where the angle of the trail became very steep.  Snowshoes and poles would have been required to go any further.   I snapped a few photographs of the views and headed back down.  This spot is only a few tenths of a mile beyond Buffalo Cabin, but it is up and around another switchback.

The ruins of Buffalo Cabin.  With all the downed trees it is hard to tell what is a tree and what is a cabin log.
Buffalo Mountain was so named because it reminded the early settlers of the large hump of a buffalo.  There are two prominent avalanche shoots that the grace the eastern side.  These slid in 1986 and 2003.  The large cirque that is also one of the prime identifying feature was carved by glaciers.

The view at the turn around point
I would not send tourists on this trail since there are so many more scenic options in the area, but for general exercise this trail will get your heart pumping and burn off last night's fried chicken wings.  Sometimes that is all you want.

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