LoJ: #343 (G & M: #341) / 13,370' Buckskin Benchmark

Range › Elks Range
Quadrangle › Maroon Bells
Summit Location › Peak Route Icon N 39° 06' 48.45", W 106° 59' 26.23" (Not Field Checked)

Peak Summary

Buckskin Benchmark is a Class 2 hike on typical Elk Mountains crumbly maroon rock. Most of the hike is on maintained trail. The peak pairs well with UN13,039 and possibly Sleeping Sexton on a good weather day. The Maroon Lake Trailhead is accessible by any passenger car, but depending on what time of day you arrive, you may have to ride a shuttle bus.  

Buckskin BM South Ridge Route

Class 2
Peak Icon Peak Icon
Long Day // Back for Dinner
Climbed with UN 13039
RT From Maroon Lake TH: 10 mi / 4,380'
From UN 13039: 1.30 mi / 910' (One-Way)
  • Trailhead
    • Maroon Lake TH

      For quite a few years now, in order to regulate and reduce the vehicle traffic flow to Maroon Lake, the Forest Service has restricted vehicle traffic to Maroon Lake. Go to this link to search for detailed information: fs.usda.gov/whiteriver, but generally speaking, you can only drive a vehicle in before 9:00 AM or after 5:00 PM. Limited parking is available and can fill up rapidly on summer days. If arriving between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM, you'll be required to ride a shuttle bus that runs every 20 minutes up to the lake.

      From State HWY 82 on the west side of Aspen, drive through the traffic circle south heading for the Aspen Highlands Ski area and Maroon Lake. This traffic circle is about 1 mile west of Aspen on HWY82 or 40 miles SE from Glenwood Springs, and after the airport and Aspen Business Center by the airport. The road number is CR13. The so-called "welcome station" is 4.7 miles south and that's where you must pay a vehicle use fee of $10. If attempting to drive in during restricted hours, you'll have to park at the Highlands Ski area and ride a free shuttle in. The trail to Crater Lake is what you need to locate at the SW end of the parking lot. The trail goes around Maroon Lake on the north and west side.


      Camping

      Designated, fee campsites are available at the Silver Bar CG, the Silver Bell CG and the Silver Queen CG along CR13 as you drive in to Maroon Lake. These campgrounds are almost always occupied, especially on weekends. The White River National Forest website indicates that sites in these campgrounds can be reserved by calling 1-877-444-6777. There is no at-large camping allowed anywhere else along the road to Maroon Lake. Technically, vehicle camping in the parking lot at Maroon Lake is also off limits, but still practiced by many. Attempt at your own risk. The nearest other campground will be the Difficult Creek CG up HWY 82, about 4 miles east of town toward Independence Pass.

    Approach Map Photos
    • From UN 13039


      All of the five 13er summits that we have placed in the Buckskin Pass Group can be accessed as a day-hike from the Maroon Lake TH. It is possible to also backpack up Minnehaha Creek and set up a base camp from which all five summits could easily be done in about two days. UN13,039 we have sequenced with Buckskin BM for a fairly long day-hike from Maroon Lake.

      From the Maroon Lake parking area, head south on the Crater Lake trail #1975. Make sure you don't get diverted over onto the scenic Maroon Lake trail. Walk 1.5 miles to Crater Lake amid hordes of dayhikers, touroids, etc., unless you've gotten a good early start. View the "Deadly Bells" warning sign. If you're going to backpack in and camp overnight, you'll also need to self-register. At Crater Lake, turn west and head up Trail #1978 toward Buckskin Pass. This trail heads up Minnehaha Gulch and begins to gain some serious altitude shortly after Crater Lake. There are/were some backpacking campsites near the lake and the trail intersection. At about 11,100 ft., there are/were some excellent campsites on the ridge to the right above the trail if camping overnight. They are located a short distance before the trail crosses Minnehaha Creek at 11,060 ft. It's about 3 miles to this location. Be sure and check recent regulations regarding backcountry camping in this area in case a designated site system has been implemented.

      From where the trail crosses over Minnehahah Creek, continue a little farther toward Buckskin Pass. At a switchback on the trail at about 12,080 ft., you can break off the trail and head toward UN13,039 and its north ridge. (You can of course also continue to the summit of Buckskin Pass as well.)

      Follow a mostly tundra-covered slope more directly toward the summit of UN 13,039. This route will take you through something of an enclosed ramp and then on to the north ridge of the peak, just below the first cliff band. This first band requires one little rock climbing maneuver over an 8 ft. slab that we surmounted by jamming a foot in a crack. Near the summit, there is one other minor rock and cliff problem that required a little more scrambling, and then, you'll arrive at the summit.

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    Peak Icon Route Map Photos

    Route Info Buckskin BM South Ridge

    Route Description

    Year Climbed: 1999

    All of the five 13er summits that we have placed in the Buckskin Pass Group can be accessed as a day-hike from the Maroon Lake TH. It is possible to also backpack up Minnehaha Creek and set up a base camp from which all five summits could easily be done in about two days. We have sequenced Buckskin BM with UN13,039 for a fairly long day-hike from Maroon Lake. One-way mileage and elevation gain to Buckskin are measured from the summit of UN13,039. RT measurements assume completion of the sequence.

    From the summit of UN13,039, walk back down along the north ridge, navigating the two minor steps you may have encountered on the way up. At Buckskin Pass, you will likely encounter hikers, especially on a weekend and another frequent high country resident, the marmot. These audacious creatures have become rather accustomed to visitors at this pass so don't leave you food laying around unguarded.

    From the pass, it's a simple .9 mile walk to Buckskin. The terrain is largely tundra with scree-like rock mixed in. Bypass unranked Pt. 12,733 on the left (west) to contour over to another saddle, then begin the gain to the summit of Buckskin. Like other summits in this area, the view is impressive with Pyramid to the SSE and the Bells due south. Willow Basin is a vast tundra bowl with rugged summits  abounding. To the west is the Snowmass massif and Capitol Peak.

    If done for the day, heading back down the south ridge is the easiest way off the peak. A couple hundred feet before arriving at the first saddle, you can exit SE into the beautiful tundra basin south of Willow Pass. This area is part of the headwaters for Minnehaha Creek and there's a nice section where the gurgling brook meanders through the tundra before plunging over the edge to begins its tumbling descent to Crater Lake. Pick up the trail coming down from Willow Pass, head on down and rejoin the Buckskin Pass trail for the long journey back to Maroon Lake. As you begin to encounter the frequent hikers between Maroon and Crater Lakes, and see the busloads of tourists coming and going, you'll feel like you have passed from one world into another - pristine wilderness back to the hubbub of civilization. Almost makes you want to throw your cell phone away and just head back up, never to return again.


    Additional BETA

    Links to other information, routes & trip reports for this peak that may be helpful.
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