Red - Buffalo Pass  Ruby Ranch to East Vail

Hike taken on Aug. 1, 1999 by Don, Marina, John Drake, Erika Karplus, and Carl Oppedahl

Page updated August 30, 2002 using Topo-Colorado software to combine maps

Total Distance  12.1 miles by GPS, 11.46 by Wildflower Topo

Total Time 9 hours 45 minutes

Wildflowers from this hike can be seen here. Erika kindly identified them for me.

I have made three maps, each to print on a full 8.5 by ll page. The route shown is fairly accurate on the east side, as I borrowed from our Eccles Pass Hike. The west side is approximate. My use of the gps has improved greatly since 1999.

The full map at the 100K Topo series. I have included the profile on this map. I have reversed the profile so it is parallel to the map (in other words mile 0 is in Vail).

Here is a reduced view:


The east map in the 7.5 minute series
The west map in the 7.5 minute series.

Here is the table of waypoints and other useful information:
Waypoint Description Latitude Longitude Mileage Elevation
HOME  1228 Emerald Road 39.642888  -106.101982  9389 
MESACO Junction with Mesa Cortina 39.639477  -106.103404  0.2  9461 
SWILLO Bridge over South Willow 39.637240  -106.112571  0.78  9360 
1STMEA 1st Meadow 39.633452  -106.120205  1.31  9491 
BUFTRA Junction with Buffalo Cabin 39.631805  -106.127238  1.7  9583 
WFCAB  Willow Falls 39.629375  -106.136132  2.26  10003 
RBBLD  Boulder Field 39.628951  -106.149457  10406 
BRIDGE Bridge 39.629171  -106.152397  3.25  10639 
RBST1  Stream 39.623668  -106.165669  4.04  10971 
RBST2  Stream 39.623308  -106.169590  4.27  11177 
RBEP?  Eccles Pass Junction 39.619693  -106.172175  4.58  11420 
RBPASS Red Buffalo Pass 39.623276  -106.176531  4.91  11732 
RBCAMP Camp Ground 39.623550  -106.202924  7.4  10186 
RBGCX  Gore Creek Crossing 39.625390  -106.205526  7.53 10167 
RBPOND Pond 39.625438  -106.219763  8.31  9950 
RBSBRO Sun-Bath Rock 39.628227  -106.242975  9.64  9501 
RBDLCR Deluge Creek Crossing 39.628903  -106.246607  9.82  9445 
RBVAIL East Vail Trail Head 39.627230  -106.274915  11.46  8700 


Here is the waypoint file.

We left our house at 6:45 am and hiked on the Ruby Ranch Spur to the Mesa-Cortina. For those of you reading this not living on or visiting as guests at the Ranch, you will have to find other access to the Mesa-Cortina. The Mesa-Cortina from this point to its end at the South Willow Brook is an old jeep road from the ranch. The morning and early afternoon was characterized by low clouds, so the pictures we took were not the ideal scenic pictures. Examples of what the morning was like can be seen here and here.

There is very little elevation gain for this portion of the hike. The trail is well traveled, with access points from the South at the Mesa-Cortina trail head, Ruby Ranch, and the Willowbrook development. Traveling to the South Fork, you may encounter muddy spots, especially at the following locations: 1) right after the Ruby Ranch Spur meets the Mesa-Cortina (this is also where the Willow Brook trail comes in) and 2) just before the South Fork of Willow Brook. The bridge crossing the brook is a three log bridge, which our dogs negotiate without difficulty.

Immediately after the bridge, the Mesa-Cortina trail ends and becomes the Gore Range Trail. A sign will mark this, with a narrow trail coming in on your right. If you go right, you hike north on the Gore Range trail, paralleling Colorado Route 9. The hike to Salmon Lakes went this way. Our hike continues straight on the old jeep road.

After a brief climb away from the creek, the path levels out. After 1.31 miles you will arrive at the first meadow. On your left will be Buffalo Mountain and on the right Red Mountain. After going through a couple of more meadows, the trail narrows to a footpath and you arrive at the Buffalo Cabin trail on your right.

At this point the trail starts to climb. It passes a couple of small springs / creeks, a scree field, coming at last to the Willow Falls area. The remains of a foundation of a log cabin mark this area, and the falls are about 20 yards beyond. This is at mile 2.26.

Assuming that you don't want to go to the falls (a popular destination on the weekends), just before you come to the log cabin, the trail will take a 90 degree turn to the right and start to climb again. Most people will miss this turn. A tree on the left (not right) has a blaze on it. Also there may be a piece of red yarn hanging down from a tree on the right marking the turn. Look for it right in front of you.  I will get pictures of the hike to the falls at a later date, along with a falls write-up.

Now that you have found the trail (don't worry, you will lose it again later on), it continues to climb through a couple of switch-backs. The creek will occasionally be visible on your left. The trail continues alternating between woods and meadows. At 3 miles, a boulder field will be on your right and in order to avoid it the trail heads towards the creek and passes through Pussy Willows.

The next landmark is a log bridge in the forest at 3.25 miles is the next "landmark" if for no reason that it is something easy to recognize. In the next set of meadows, there will be streams at miles 4.04 and 4.27. On the first stream, look for fallen trees just up-stream. That is where Marina and I crossed. On the second stream, Marina took a fall, bruising her knee.

Here is a picture of a Pika we saw on the way up. I have blown up the image and cropped it, so the image quality is poor.

After negotiating the many streams, the trail reached the end of the valley. Looking up, the low spot to your right, just to the left of Red Mountain is the pass that you will eventually cross. To the left is Eccles Pass. On the next hike up to this point, I will get pictures with labels showing where the trail goes. The trail turns towards the left and Eccles as it climbs through an alpine meadow. We got lost here and bush-wacked back towards the Red - Buffalo pass. However, we think that if we had stayed on the trail towards Eccles, we would have reached the junction we were looking for. The junction should be after small hill on your left. The trail will turn sharply right to head back to the Red - Buffalo pass. Once you are underneath the pass, there will be one switch-back to take you to the top. The elevation here is approximately 11725 feet. Here are the obligitory pictures of all of us at the top. First (from left to right) Carl, Marina, John and Erika. Second Don, Carl, Marina & Erika.

As long as we were at the top, here are some pictures from the top. First looking East at wide angle. Then zooming in, you can see I-70 in the distance.

Then looking West towards Vail.

The trail disappears completely at the top. The topo maps indicate that you should head left and start a series of switch-backs down the Vail side. We never found any trail at the top indicating this. There were some cairns to the right that we believe leads to the summit of Red. If you descend straight down from the top of the pass, you should see some more cairns which will lead you to the left and you will pick up the trail again. The trail will continue descending in a clock-wise or Southerly manner. Looking to the South, you will see where Gore Creek is born.   As the trail starts to turn West, you cross through some wetlands (and this is only the first of many). You then come to the first crossing of Gore Creek.  This crossing has no logs or bridge to help you, but at this point in the creek, it is small enough that you can cross on the rocks in the stream. From this point until the next crossing, the creek remains on your right and you descend though wetland meadows and forests. Numerous small creek crossings will have to be negotiated This part of the hike was extremely muddy, in fact the muddiest portion of the hike..

At 7.4 miles you will see a camp-ground on your right. This is a clue that you will soon arrive at the 2nd and last crossing of Gore Creek at 7.53 miles.. As you approach this point, keep an eye out across the creek and you will see a sign. Arriving at the creek you will find a fairly treacherous crossing. John tried to just wade through, but the water would have gone over the top of his boots, so he joined us on the logs spanning the creek. We went across one at a time. What made this difficult was the first part of the log bridge was a stump that you had to crawl around. Then the main part of the bridge was three logs, but one of the logs had 1 inch stubs of branches which made footing treacherous

On the other side, you will see that the sign marks two graves of settlers from the 1800s. Turn left to keep on descending (versus a climb to Gore Lake which appears to a 1.4 mile hike from this junction and an elevation gain of approximately 1200 feet). The trail on this side of the creek is much drier than on the other side. This is not to say that there is no mud, there is, but it is a much more pleasant hike. The next waypoint at 8.31 miles is a pond in a meadow, then we put another waypoint in at a large rock which happened to be in the sun at the time, and looked to be a good place to catch some rays. The mileage at this point is 9.64, and the elevation is approximately 9500 feet. Further on, at mileage 9.82 you cross Deluge Creek. There is a reasonable log bridge for this crossing.

You are fairly close to the end now. Further along you come to the trail junction which leads to Deluge Lake (a 3.64 mile hike and at least a 3000 foot gain in elevation). Then comes the sign marking the border of the Eagle's Nest Wilderness and a short drop brings you to the end of the trail, at 11.46 miles from our house.

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This page last updated August 30, 2002