Buffington Peak P300 RS
Peak 2,431ft P300 RS
Balanced Rock 2x

Jan 25, 2019

With: Steve Sywyk
Eric Smith

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2
Balanced Rock previously climbed Feb 19, 2018
Balanced Rock later climbed Feb 12, 2022


Our last day in Valley of Fire was to be a short one. Eric wanted to start heading back to New Mexico with Leroy by noon, but this didn't mean getting started in the morning any earlier. Like the previous two days, I was up earlier than the others to get a decent hike in to satisfy my primal urges, then around mid-morning we headed into the park.

Buffington Peak

This limestone summit lies a little over a mile north of White Basin Overlook, a P1K that I climbed a few months earlier. I had hoped to do Buffington at the same time but had run out of daylight. I spent about 45min driving from camp up to the same turnout I'd used for White Basin Overlook, on the west side of the crest, near where the road climbs to its highest point. The road getting there from the north is pretty rough, but having done it on that previous occasion, I knew the jeep was up for it. It was about 7a when I started the hike, taking just over half an hour to find my way to the top. The distance is short, about 3/4mi, but the elevation gain is over 1,000ft. The summit is less than 20ft lower than White Basin Overlook and there was a good view of it from Buffington's summit not long after sunrise. I took an alternate route on the way back, funneling into a nice gully that had some fun scrambling. Just after 8a when I got back to the car, I would spend more time driving on this one than actual hiking.

Peak 2,431ft

When I got back to camp the boys were just about ready to start breakfast and still had some packing to do before we could head to the park. When all the morning chores were completed, we headed out in two cars, Eric driving his so he could exit the through the east entrance of the park on his way home. We drove to the end of the main road at White Domes to start our hike from there. Peak 2,431ft was the last sandstone peak in the park that appears in Purcell's Rambles & Scrambles I had yet to visit. It lies about a mile WNW from the White Domes parking lot, not far beyond The Orphan, another Purcell summit that had been a very fun scramble a year earlier. We started off on the loop trail heading counter-clockwise, leaving it soon after passing through the first rock gap by the road. We followed a semi-random wash system into the orange/red sandstone hills, going around the south side of The Orphan. The tenajas were filled with water from recent rains and Leroy enjoyed drinking from them and even a bit of swimming. We hiked only about 30min before we'd reached the turnaround point to get Eric back to the parking lot on time for his departure. We took a photo of our little group before saying our goodbyes. Steve would hike back with Eric while I continued on, Steve and I then catching up a few hours later back near the start.

I did some class 3 scrambling to get out of the current drainage and into the next one to the west. This would lead more readily to the south-facing gully described by Purcell. This easy class 3 gully leads to a notch on the west side of the summit where cliffs appear to stop further progress. Continuing through the notch and around the corner leads to a suprisingly easy break in the cliffs up a shorter gully leading to the top, no more than class 3. A register had been left in 2015 by some CO climbers with only a single other entry from 2018. After taking in the views looking around the park, I returned back via the same route to the bottom of the south-facing gully.

Peak 2,411ft (fail)

I next turned my attention to this slightly lower summit about half a mile further west. I was a little surprised that it got no mention in Purcell's book as he seemed to have gotten all the other points with significant prominence covered. I would soon discover a possible reason why. Although it was fairly straightforward to get from the base of one peak to the other via typical VoF sandstone scrambling, the peak looked to offer no easy way to the top. The view of it from the south was imposing, and though there looked like routes that might work on that side, I dismissed them as likely needing a rope, gear and partner. I decided to go around to the west side and see if something more reasonable might not present itself. This one also had a south-facing gully leading up to the west side, and I dutifully followed it though it did not look promising above. And indeed, this turned out to be the case. I was able to scramble some class 4 and low 5th to climb another 100ft higher than the top of the gully, but I was ultimately confronted with an unclimbable wall that wrapped around the north and west sides - there would be no getting up this way.

Upon returning back down to the base of the peak on its south side, the next obvious line of inquiry would be to try one of the routes I had considered on the south side. Doing so would have put me past the time to meet back up with Steve so I decided to leave this for a future endeavor. I took another photo of this side before leaving, still uncertain that there is any scrambling route up it. I spent the next hour+ wandering back out through the sandstone landscape, finally having a chance to do the larger portion of the White Domes Loop Trail that I had not done on two previous visits. It's quite popular, taking in some great scenery and a narrow passageway through towering rock walls on either side. There's even the remains of a rancho from a western movie set, constructed and filmed many decades earlier. Steve was not back at the parking lot as I had hoped when I arrived shortly before 2p. I would have to wander back out on the trail we had started on hours earlier, climb a small overlook and search for him. I spotted him about a quarter mile off across the open wash area, and after a few minutes of waving got his attention. He'd been hanging out in a quiet spot where he'd expected me to return past.

Not quite ready to leave the park, Steve wondered if we couldn't find a nice rock to hang out on for an hour or so. We drove back out on the road a few miles, finding some lightly-colored sandstone south of Gibralter Rock that would do nicely. We had enjoyed a few beers with the views, whiling away an hour or so before it started to get chilly.

Balanced Rock

After returning to the van, we drove back to the Visitor Center to get more firewood for the evening and I suggested to Steve that he might enjoy the short scramble to nearby Balanced Rock. I had done this on a previous trip, finding the formation had an improbable route with a class 4-5 crux move that I figured Steve could manage. And so we paid it a visit, following the same route we'd used before, Steve enjoying the hero moment at the very summit. I had to do a bit of extra scrambling up and down to both get the hero shot and get back to coach him back through the crux, but it was all good fun. A couple out for a walk around the feature while we were in the process of ascending it looked up nervously at us. Steve called down to them, "I suppose it's not going to be very enjoyable watching someone die." They gave a half-hearted laugh but kept going - I suspect that's exactly what they didn't want to ruin their vacation.


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