Summit Elevation (m): 2758
Elevation Gain (m): 1020
Round Trip Time (hr): 6.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 16
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something – i.e. your ego
Difficulty Notes: Steep, loose scree to North Buller Pass and loose side-hilling on scree towards the summit.
Technical Rating: OT4; YDS (Hiking)
Map: Google Maps
After a few weekends of general laziness, I was in the mood for some moderate hiking with my family on Saturday, August 29 2015. I was hoping the recent smoky conditions would be calmer than they were over the week previous, but as the day approached we realized that we wouldn’t have the clear views we wanted. Oh well. We still wanted to get the exercise and I wanted to scope out the fall colors that I was sure would be starting in the alpine.
Red Peak and North Buller Pass was an obvious choice for us. I’ve had this one on the radar for a while already. I’d never hiked all the way to Buller Pass but I had been on the trail a few times, once when I scrambled Mount Buller and another time when I approached and scrambled Mount Engadine. Needless to say, it’s been a few years since I was last on this trail and I didn’t remember it. We were the first to leave the Buller parking area in cool, crisp mountain air – a perfect start! The trail climbed steadily at first before losing most of the elevation back to a bridge over Buller Creek which was obviously heavily damaged in the 2013 floods. A wide trail of some sort is being cut into the slope near the bridge, but our trail cut back up the left hand side of Buller Creek. We followed an obvious and pleasant trail past the faint track heading up Buller Mountain. The trail was well-maintained and all bridges have been re-built since 2013. After gaining some height up a steeper headwall section we arrived at the junction between the north and south Buller Passes. The main trail goes right to the south pass, while a much smaller track goes left.
There was some blow down on the North Pass trail, but nothing significant. The trail was hard to find through some of the flooding damage too, but again, there were cairns and flagging if you looked hard enough. We passed a few gorgeous falls in the creek and I was happy to see some brilliant fall colors in the vegetation – more and more the higher we went. When I saw the final slopes to North Buller Pass, it looked much tougher than I was expecting! Hanneke was questioning how hard it would be, but as with most terrain challenges, it looked easier upon closer inspection and soon we were grunting up loose scree / dirt to the high col.
The views from North Buller Pass over towards Ribbon Lake were astounding! The smoke was a bummer, but the brilliant fall colors and sparkling tarns and ponds made for a magical view. Hanneke commented that she expected to see hobbits down there! After a food / water break we somewhat reluctantly turned our attention to Red Peak, which isn’t even visible from the pass. The first task from the pass is to traverse around the east side of the false summit to the north. We ascended ’til just below the false summit and followed a faint trail around it on very loose and annoying scree. Some folks won’t like this terrain if they’re used to hiking on trails. Part way along the traverse we could finally see our obviously red (!!) peak. The ridge to the summit was broad and easy, with some pretty nice views of Buller, Ribbon, Bogart and very smoky views of Nestor, Old Goat and just barely Assiniboine, Eon and Aye. On a clear day this would be a heckuva walk!
The wind was cold at the summit, so we quickly signed the register before heading back down. There weren’t as many entries as I expected, but I guess this peak is off the beaten path and there are many loftier objectives close by. Our descent went well, including an encounter with a black bear in the upper alpine valley. It was a well behaved bruin, walking in a wide berth around us, stopping to look every once in a while. Hanneke thought we should stop photographing and keep walking, so Kaycie and I reluctantly kept going.
I highly recommend this hike / easy scramble for a day when maybe higher peaks don’t make sense, or for a nice family hike. There are many nice views lower down and incredible views once you get to the North Buller Pass. Some day I’ll return and do the Buller Pass circuit or hike over the South pass to Ribbon Lakes.