28 June 2015

Uncompahgre: Silver Jack Mine

Uncompahgre National Forest

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5 | DAY 6

(Day 2 of 6) The night was cool, but not freezing. Today, I will find out if it is too early to get out of the canyon because of snow. It is all melting just about as fast as it can. A little breakfast, a little packing, and I am set to really start the trip. I drop back to the trail below and start up the gentle slope beside the East Fork once again.

stretch of pointy rocks high above
The crags across the river from camp in the bright morning light.

red and yellow columbines
The few columbines along the trail are the least frilly I have seen.

east fork
A glance up the East Fork.

One advantage of the snow being so busy melting is that most the seasonal waterfalls are flowing with vigor. Of course, below each one on this side of the river, there is a creek to cross. Most the creeks are easy to cross, but some are a challenge to find a place to hop across the rocks and one has cut quite deeply below the trail level in a narrow channel. Still, I have dry shoes and great views so all is going well.

waterfall draining a basin above
With the basin above, this may be a longer lasting waterfall.

Bumping into the overnight backpackers, they are full of bad news. They stayed up by the mine where they met one bear in the evening and it came by with a friend in the morning. Proper food storage will be a must if I end up staying there. They also say the ford is waist deep and swift. The trail comes back to this side of the river after a mile, but the canyon will not allow travel on that side. As for the snow, one abandoned an attempt to come over the pass from the middle fork to here on the last weekend because he was post holing up to his hips. On the other hand, they did very much enjoy themselves poking around the canyon.

Uncompahgre Peak
A suspiciously high mountain ahead with some significant snow fields where the sides are not so steep.

narrow waterfall
A thin waterfall tumbles down another bit of rocks.

lots of little waterfalls
Quite likely this is the last of this waterfall.

I am wondering if I will see the mine, which is somewhat off the trail on my map, when I come upon a couple roofs of collapsed cabins and some metal works. Looking further, there are more and more old iron pieces. Further out, there are some more old buildings that are now fallen and rotting. Way up the hill, there seems to be a little more built up. It is fun to try to guess what all the machines once did as a little bit of rain makes a meager effort to fall.

collapsed buildings for the mine
Cut wood and a metal and wood roof mark where cabins once stood. Behind it is one of the many pieces of iron.

rusted out stove
The stove is not in very good shape.

gear under a bush
A massive gear has been taken over by a gooseberry.

drill from New York
One of a few drills from New York. Other items were made in Denver.

The river crossing is shortly after the mine. The trail sort of vanishes as it gets to a branching creek. Snowmass Creek was, in every way, a larger crossing than this. Not only that, but today I am prepared to cross it with a pair of neoprene socks and an extra pair of shoes that will not absorb much water. Perhaps I will find it is an illusion and the water really is as deep as they said? But no, the crossing only gets one knee wet and that is from splashing. It is swift, but that is not as much of a problem when not much more than a foot deep. With the socks, my feet do not feel the fresh melt chill until after I have finished the crossing. They are great. I keep them on for the inevitable crossing of some little creek just a little too wide to jump that people go ahead and ford because they have just forded something. There is one. Then I keep on going with them since the next crossing is not much more than a mile up.

river ford
Looking back at the river ford, which is not so bad.

There are suddenly no footprints on the trail that had been well adorned. I expected the old road to end with the mine, but there is still evidence of a road here. There is even an old sign marking the end of motor vehicle travel, almost illegible from time. As I climb, I spot one more building up the hill near the ford that has not collapsed and looks like it may be newer than the rest. It has me a little suspicious, but I am climbing until there is too much snow now. I will check it out if I have to come back this way. Otherwise, it will remain mysterious. Patchy snow has already started being near the trail.

water supply for the mine
One last remnant of the mine in the pipes that supplied it with water.

The river seems to be shrinking quickly as I climb. The tree cover is too and I am enjoying the more open canyon greatly. The canyon below does get narrow, but it is just a short inner canyon and someone could probably get past it by simply climbing higher soon enough. The scree slope further up shows signs of hikers along its lower edge suggesting some do skip the river crossings.

higher meadow
Ever higher and larger meadows beside the river. It is slow and easy through here and has a beaver further up.

Matterhorn Peak
Coming to the first cutoff opportunity, a trail directly to the Middle Fork in the shadow of Matterhorn Peak.

Any worry that I will be confined to the canyon by snow is also quickly shrinking. There are large snow fields, but the trail generally does not go through them. I can spot the line of the Matterhorn Trail crossing one, but I plan to take a shorter, lower route. After the second crossing, I am back into my wool and hikers. The neoprene is surprisingly fine to hike it. Not perfect, but much better than expected.

second river crossing
Looking down the valley from just after the second river crossing.

Matterhorn and Wetterhorn Peaks
Matterhorn Peak is joined by the higher Wetterhorn Peak as I look up the toward the start of the East Fork.

I somehow lose the trail somewhere under the trees. It seems so clear as it crosses one creek, then dissolves into deer tracks. I check out a waterfall below me, figure it must be above me somewhere and start climbing for it, and then find it again below me. This makes no sense, but it is only a short segment. Then, just after another waterfall, there is an extra crossing although now I have left the river, technically.

rush of water
The second waterfall, or perhaps more of an impressive cascade.

With my neoprene back on, I trudge on through and look around to find my trail trudging right back across. There is a curious old cabin on this side, so I check that out before dipping once again into the fresh snow melt. Now there are posts marking the trail. It is usually not necessary without snow, but it is still quite helpful.

dirt track coming out of the creek
Oh, there the trail is.

East Fork Cimarron River
Leaving the East Fork (which heads off to the left) and climbing. The cabin comparable in size to a pup tent is down there, too.

strips of snow across the land
The snow does increase as I get higher. The question of climbing the very high peaks is still there.

The next junction offers a cutoff to continue on the main loop I have planned to take, or to take a spur off to the higher of the two mountains I want to climb. The north side certainly looks clear, although that could be because it is also quite vertical, and the trail goes up the south side. Looking across at Wetterhorn and Matterhorn, it looks like there are huge snowfields southwest that would be difficult to traverse. I really have to take that gamble. If I have to turn around before the top, so be it.

yellow mounds of decomposed granite
The changing view. Now the rocks seem to be a yellow decomposed granite.

sand, snow drifts, trees, rocks
Above the gentle curves of the valley, I can see shapes in the rocks.

Just past the next junction, I start looking for a spot to camp. This is mostly because it is the lowest spot now that I have crossed over the ridge and the sky is threatening a little. There is no indication of older camps, so I pick a flat area among some rocks. Now I can take off the neoprene again and be assured that there will be no more fords. They were nice through the occasional snow field, too. There have been footprints in the snow when I hit it, but they are from elk who also take the trail.

a rocky flower
A columbine with a foothold on the windbreak rock for my campsite.

some color in the sky
Threatening weather also brings rainbows.

elk at the top of the hill
The first view of elk in person is as a shape on the edge of the hill.

three elk
Three of nearly a dozen elk that came by eating the nearby greens and drinking from the same pond I got my water from.

Continue reading: day 3

©2015 Valerie Norton
Posted 11 Aug 2015

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