A 50-year journey comes full circle on the summit of Buffalo Mountain
A hike up Buffalo Mountain 50 years ago changed Jeff Simley’s life.
The Summit County resident remembers riding in his grandfather’s Jeep to Buffalo Cabin in August 1972 as he embarked on a solo mission to forge a path up to the summit, which towered over their house on Lake Dillon.
Unbeknownst to him, his trek that day would lead to a lifelong journey related to what he found at the top. A lifelong lover and collector of topographic maps, he remembers being intrigued by the towers that greeted him at the summit block.
Called “triangulation” stations, the equipment was common back in the ’50s and ’60s as a way for the U.S. Geological Survey to get accurate elevation readings for major peaks. The equipment stood out to Simley because of his interest in topographic maps, which he collected growing up.
Fascinated by the science and his up-close interaction with the equipment, Simley decided to pursue a degree in cartography from University of Wisconsin, which set him up for a mapmaking job with the U.S. Air Force and later a 27-year career of his own with the U.S. Geological Survey, where he used the surveying data that was collected on top of Buffalo Mountain.
To honor of that life-changing event, Simley has been planning a 50th anniversary hike for years, and he successfully accomplished that goal on Aug. 10.
While climbing up the peak for the second time, Simley started to notice some differences since his maiden voyage up the mountain back in 1972.
Although the tundra environment at the peak almost seems to be suspended in time, Simley noted that the towers he once saw are now gone. As he peered down from nearly 13,000 feet above sea level, he took note of how different the towns look — perhaps going through as much change as he has — over the past 50 years.
“Back in ‘72 it was a really rural community,” Simley said. “There were three grocery stores in Summit County, and there was only one hardware store. Now there are so many people, which is totally different.”
While scavenging his way to the top 50 years ago, Simley did not see a single person, which was not the case when he made his climb this year. He counted at least 20 people on the trail at the same time as him.
“Back then there was no trail to the top, and you had to figure out your own way to the top, bushwhacking through the forest,” Simley said. “Then there was an avalanche path that is still there, but you can’t see it very well.”
Another difference Simley noticed was how much harder the hike was now that an official trail has been created.
“The trail goes through about 1,000 vertical feet of boulders,” Simley said. “Climbing over those boulders is really hard, especially for an old guy like me. It is actually a lot harder than 1972 because I went around the boulder field.”
After reflecting on his journey and prior to heading back down to the trailhead parking lot, Simley took an extra moment to soak in the beauty and serenity that was present all around him.
“When you are on top of a mountain like that, the distance between you and heaven is really close,” Simley said. “I call it the “thin space.” It is kind of a spiritual feeling, and when you climb a mountain you experience that “thin space.” That is how I felt. It was an exhilarating and rewarding, spiritual experience to be on top.”
Simley’s 50th anniversary hike up Buffalo Mountain marks his 98th summit in his lifetime. Simley is hoping to get to a 100 peaks by the end of the summer. He plans to round out the summer with summits of Ypsilon Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park and Atlantic Peak in the Tenmile Range in Summit County.
“It was a real wonderful thing, and I love climbing mountains,” Simley said. “I am going for a 100, that’s my big goal.”
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