Last fall Josh and I went on our first backpacking adventure into the wilderness. I’m a little delinquent in getting this trip report out but… better late than never. The area is known as the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness and is located at the southern end of the Mosquito Range. It is a small wilderness area of 43,410 acres and is the only designated wilderness in the Mosquito Range. We had completed an earlier car camping trip to the area in July and enjoyed a pleasant stay at the edge of the wilderness area. See this article for a report.
We liked the area so much that a return trip was deemed essential. The top of the peaks looked as though they would provide a magnificent view of the Collegiate Peaks (Continental Divide) to the west and Josh was particularly interested in composing a panoramic of the mountain ranges. Labor Day weekend looked promising…..Ronda was planning a trip back to Iowa leaving us boys to play.
In the interim Josh began building a special purpose offset-bracket that would allow his camera to be rotated on the tripod without changing the focal point of the images. He bought some scrap aluminum plate and designed the approriate distances/angles, cut it out and smoothed it down, drilled and threaded the holes, and I put the final bend on it with a sheet metal bender at work.
Gear was another issue. Neither of us had an approriate sleeping bag, a backpacking stove, or various other “lightweight” items like cooking pans. These things take on a whole ‘nother perspective when you have to haul them in on your back. Our last excursion to the area was a good training event though. Lesson learned… it get’s COLD up there at night. Those summer-weight sleeping bags just don’t cut it. We are fortunate that we have a local REI Outdoor store. We both found good deals and I picked up good bag for Ronda while I was at it. I bought a neat little stove that uses several kinds of fuel and a nylon tarp too.
Josh already had a nice backpack he had purchased a number of years ago. The only thing I had was an old-school external frame pack we found at a garage sale for $2.00. I decided that despite it’s rudimentary design there was no reason it wouldn’t work for this trip. We knew we had too much to carry… the camera gear (both of us took our cameras, extra lenses, and Josh needed his big tripod) , the food, water, tent, sleeping bags, and so on. Sure enough by the time we had everything stuffed in or strapped on each of was was toting a little over 50 lbs. I was a little apprehensive about the weight given my previous back surgery but the packs are supposed to transfer a majority of the weight to your hips so I figured one can only but try…
We tossed it all into the Jeep, grabbed Abby, and headed out on Friday afternoon. It’s roughly a two-hour drive from the Springs. We had determined from earlier research that an assualt from the NW side coming up Rough & Tumbling Creek Trail would put us into an area called the Buffalo Meadows. The Buffalo Meadows are a sweet series of alpine meadows resplendant with flowers and small beaver dams to the north and west of the actual Buffalo Peaks. Seemed like a good place to establish our base camp. Our intent was to complete a day-hike on the following day to the summit of the Buffalo Peaks for our photography mission.
We drove in along the north side of the peaks to get to the entrance of the wilderness area. The Buffalo Peaks have a completely different look to them from the north. Much more dramatic.
Arriving at the trail entrance we registered, hoisted our packs, and headed down the trail. Abby took point and we proceeded approximately a mile before we intercepted the Rough & Tumbling Creek Trail. We took a short break and tried not to think too much about what lay ahead. The pack weight was bearable but heavier than either of us liked. After a brief rest we began our ascent up to the Buffalo Meadows via Rough & Tumbing Creek. The weather was perfect (around 50 degrees as I recall) and we made our way up the scenic creek, winding through the trees and boulders.
We had to rest a number of times and it got to be a fairly agressive climb before we finally broke out of the trees and into the beginnings of the meadows. Needless to say we were pretty exhausted and probably would have pitched the tent right there if there had been a suitable spot. We followed the trail perhaps a mile or so into the meadows and located a nice campsite up the side of a small hill kind of in behind some trees. I don’t ever remember it feeling so good to get something off my back!
The tent went up quickly and we gathered a few stones to build up a fire ring. It wasn’t long before we had a nice roaring campfire and dinner cooking on the new stove. Abby was, of course, delighted with the entire scenario and was constantly running off to explore the neighborhood. I was a little concerned about her staying close by and not getting herself lost but this was her second overnight camping trip and she did quite well with staying close. Dinner that evening was simply superb. I think it could have been boiled tree bark and we would have thought it was great after the workout we had getting there.
The temperature dropped quickly as the sun went behind the hills to the west of us so we put on some warmer clothes, got a little closer to the campfire, had some nice chatting time, and enjoyed the evening. As darkness settled in the stars began to come out in a big way. The sky when viewed from a remote wilderness area is simply astounding. The Milky Way was very much in evidence and the sheer number of stars was difficult to absorb. We had come prepared to attempt some night photography and Josh got the tripod all set up. The plan was to take some timed exposures and capture the effect known as “star trails”. It was a beautiful night but the effort of the day was evident and after the photography we decided to get some rest. The new sleeping bags performed wonderfully and we stayed warm as toast.
Saturday arrived with more sunshine, scattered clouds and a bit too early to suit us. We cooked up some oatmeal for breakfast and surveyed our intended destination… the Buffalo Peaks. They were still quite some distance off and about 2,500 feet higher. Neither of us were moving too rapidly, definitely feeling the effects of yesterday’s ascent, and had mixed feelings about our proposed course of action for the day. Looking around we identified an alternate course of action…off to the SW of our campsite was another peak that would also provide a nice view of the mountains to the west. It was closer and not nearly as high. After some deliberation, and disappointment, we decided on the easier path. As it turned out…we made the right choice.
We cleaned up the campsite, gathered up the photo gear, and headed across the meadow. The “meadow”, in this case, is a tad bit boggy and full of waist-high braken. We threaded our way across fifty yards of this while stepping over the numerous rivulets flowing down the meadow, finally reaching higher ground. We discovered a very nice campsite here amongst the trees and considered relocating but finally decided it wasn’t worth the effort. We pressed on across another small meadow, through the forest for a ways and stumbled onto the trail again. We could see our destination now, the base of the hill was just across another somewhat larger meadow. Unfortunately this meadow was considerably wetter. There were numerous beaver ponds visible and a crossing seemed ill-advised.
We quickly evaluated that a side-trip up the valley would put us on higher ground allowing us to cross with dry feet and thence come up the north slope of the hill which looked less steep. This we did and after much huffing and puffing we found ourselves at the top of the hill gazing out over the continental divide. It was lunch time by now so we settled ourselves into the rocks, out of the wind but still in the sunshine, and ate our lunch.Josh then set up his tripod and camera and started taking pictures. I also took a number of shots with my camera, experimenting with a new telephoto lens I had recently acquired. As we sat up there and admired the view we looked back at the Buffalo Peaks, considered the effort it took to get where we were and concurred that we made the right decision. The Buffalo Peaks will have to wait for next year but we will be back.
We descended the steeper southern slope of the hill with caution and remarked on how glad we were that we didn’t try to come up this way. Upon reaching the bottom and eventually the meadow, we were surprised to discover the trail simply disappeared. Faced with either trekking way back up the meadow where we had crossed earlier or taking our chances across the beaver ponds we conferred for a bit and decided to risk the meadow. Josh started out first and I followed shortly after. We each ended up picking our own path through, stepping very carefully across the tiny streams of water, sometimes walking along the tops of the beaver dams, and slowly wended our way across a hundred yards or so to the other side. Remarkably, neither of us got our feet wet. That in itself was a small miracle. We decided to stick to the trail for the return trip and had an easy stroll back to camp.
By the time we got back to camp, clouds were appearing in the west. We settled back into camp, took a short nap, and started thinking about dinner. The water we had brought with us was gone so we went down to a small spring that was flowing nicely and managed to fill up our water bottles. We boiled the water just to be safe before we used it. Dinner that evening was another dehydrated packaged meal we had purchased at REI. It tasted just as good as the first one. We had another enjoyable evening around the campfire and went to bed a little early as the clouds had finally covered up most of the sky. It never did rain.
Morning dawned with sunny skies again and we had our final breakfast. We broke camp and repacked our gear. The packs were substantially lighter now with the food and water mostly gone. We headed back down the trail and stopped several times to photograph the water pouring over the rocks. The trip down was much more pleasant and we were back to the Jeep in a surprisingly short time. Thus ended our first backpacking experience. We learned a lot and the next trip will no doubt be better.