Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Eccles Pass Loop - Finally!

This was my third year attempting to run the Eccles Pass Loop around Buffalo Mountain.  In prior attempts, I either got lost or was thwarted by deep snowpack.  You can read about them here:

2010:  Attempt #1
2011:  Attempt #2

We spent a few days around the 4th of July holiday camping at Lake Dillon.  My brother and family came out from Minnesota for some fun in the mountains.  I snuck away early Thursday morning for my Eccles run. This year the snowpack would not be an issue, and I was determined to stay on the right trails!  After biking the three miles to the Meadow Creek trailhead, I began my run by headlamp.  For some reason, I misjudged how long it would take me to get up and over there, so I was ready to roll at 4:40am!

As the sky lightened a bit, I noticed it was quite cloudy.  It had rained the night before, but usually CO mornings start out clear.  I ended up needing my headlamp much longer than expected because it was so dark in the forest.

I made a quick stop to go to the bathroom and found this guy looking at me.

Eccles Pass front & center

So far so good at staying on the trail.

From Eccles Pass looking at Buffalo Mtn's backyard.

The northern slopes of Buffalo.

The Gore Range

Lots of elk having a party back there.  Check out the video below.

Many small tarns reflecting the sun breaking through the clouds.

I love the singletrack on this loop.  Lots of beautiful sights to see like above and below.

For a split second, I thought I might have time to tag Red Peak.  I'm so glad I passed on it.

Crazy cool sunrise.

I captured my only wildlife encounter on video.

Here's where the real fun began!

You just knew this was coming!  Yeah, the trail was NOT this obvious.

I had been doing so well on this run that I just knew I'd find a way to screw it up.  I came upon the creek pictured above and the trail went from one side to the other and then continued on.  The only problem was that it faded about 75' after this creek and it was nothing but forest.

I spent about 10 minutes walking back and forth trying to find the trail.  I knew it had to be around there somewhere.  With no such luck, I decided to continue on past where the trail faded in hopes of reconnecting with it somewhere further down the the drainage basin.  What followed was about 45 minutes of total bushwhacking through the forest on the side of the mountain.

Yes, I eventually got back on the trail, but I had wasted precious time and now had to fly in order to get back to the campsite and meet the family for a hike.  The final six miles had me running full force and if you know that trail, there are a few really tough & technical spots.  I was frustrated, so the hard running actually came easy.

I'm really glad to finally knock off this loop, but wish it ended better.  I'm now thinking that running it in the counterclockwise direction is the way to go.  Since we camp at Lake Dillon almost every year, I'm sure I'll get another opportunity to do it right!


  1. Great post, you are becoming a Dillon area Jedi. I was actually trying to get to Eccles when I accidentally did a run up Buffalo Mtn. this spring, after taking a wrong turn off the Buffalo Cabin Trail. Lol. It was fun, I recommend it when you're in the mood for something steep.

    The video is great too. Beautiful morning and terrain.

  2. I was laughing, thinking how in the hell does Woody get lost on that trail. My memory had me executing a perfect trail day last year when I ran the loop (counter-clockwise, by the way). Then, I see Mtnrunner2's comment above and remembered that I went about a mile up the Buffalo Mountain Trail before running into two women who informed me I was on the wrong trail.

    I agree going counter-clockwise is the way to go. That way you get the beetle killed forest out of the way early, and then it's all glorious alpine and sub-alpine fun.

  3. Oh just wait until I post tonight about my run up Buffalo Mountain the next day. Surely, I couldn't get lost two days in a row...on trails that I should know like the back of my hand!

    Mtnrun2 - I can't believe you kept going up Buffalo that day! That trail is ridiculously steep. Probably one of the steepest I've encountered in a long time!

  4. I did the exact same thing. Came to a creek, hoped over it, and the trail was gone. I dropped down to the river and eventually reconnected with the trail. I never could figure out where the trail actually went. Looking at your map, it must skirt down the creek a ways. Nice run, going to be strong for LT.

  5. Well that makes me feel better Todd. I'm pretty sure if I run it counter-clockwise, the mystery will be solved.

  6. Nice job getting that one done (one way or the other). I remember your report from last year, it ultimately pushed us into giving up on our Gore Range backpacking plans and going further south. Quite a difference this year.

    The video was great. So cool to see the elk acting like actual wild animals.

    1. Thanks. I'll try Eccles one more time to nail it (yeah right!), and then it's on to other runs in the area. I'm intrigued by a traverse of the Ten Mile Range, but there's some logistical issues with that one!

    2. Here's a good account of the ten mile traverse that i found when i was looking into doing Peak 1 to Miners creek loop.

  7. Thanks for this post. Ran this over the July 4th weekend and had the same issue of losing the trail after the creek crossing as you. Lots of bushwhacking until I reconnected downstream, but still stumped as to where the actual trail goes after that creek crossing. So, yes, I echo the sentiment of doing this counter-clockwise for those uninitiated with the trail.

  8. I wonder if you drop straight down the creek, the trail appears again. At least that is what my map above suggests. But if I recall, there was no way to go down except by walking in the creek. Glad you had fun!

    1. I just did this hike this morning after reading your post last night.

      The trail is to the left of the creek and pretty high most of the time. You rarely see the creek, but at this late in the season it seems to be pretty easy to find. You cross the creek once at the top, and then there is a steep slope and then it evens out a bit.

      Thanks for your original report!

  9. Finally hiked this loop successfully summer of 2012. Got lost a couple of years ago and a kind neighbor gave our group a ride back to our cars. What an adventure! Not bad for a 54 yr old!!

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