Keystone Hiking Trails: Argentine Pass Trail
September 4, 2015
Argentine Pass is one of the many Summit County hiking trails offering beautiful views of the surrounding area
Argentine Pass Trail is an intermediate Keystone hiking trail in Summit County. The distance to the ridge above Horseshoe Basin from the parking area near the Shoe Basin Mine ruins is about 2.6 miles. The elevation rises from 11,300 feet to 13,200 feet, nearly 2,000 vertical feet. The local hiking trail is host to several challenging sections, including small scrambles over areas damaged by sliding boulders on the extremely steep slopes of Argentine Peak.
Dating back to 1869 as a transportation corridor, the Argentine Pass Trail is one of many Colorado hikes that is actually the remnant trace of a wagon toll road from Georgetown to mining camps on the western slope of the Continental Divide.
In 1864, five years before the road was developed, silver deposits were found on the slopes of McClellan Mountain (13,587 feet), found 2 miles north of an area later named Argentine mining district. Argentine Peak (13,738 feet) was named after the Latin word argentum, meaning silver, and the ruins of area mines are plentiful throughout the Peru Creek watershed.
The Argentine Central Railway was constructed on the gentler eastern face of Mount McClellan, running from Silver Plume to Waldorf and up to the summit of Mount McClellan. Rail construction did not begin until 1905, when it was spearheaded by Edward J. Wilcox, owner of 65 mining properties in the Argentine mining district.
The rail was extended from Waldorf, a mining town destroyed by an avalanche, to the top of Mount McClellan with the intended destination of Grays Peak (14,270 feet) as a tourist attraction. The Panic of 1907 brought the collapse of the silver market and ruined Wilcox's fortune. The railroad was sold at a loss of $256,000 in 1908, and the narrow-gauge railway subsequently went bankrupt by 1911. The tracks were removed in 1920.
Give yourself a few hours of hiking upwards to ascend the trail to Argentine Pass. Carry at least a liter of water on a cool day, more if the day is hot. Pack a windbreaker and fleece to prepare for high winds, chilly breezes near the ridge, and unpredictable weather you can experience on this Keystone hiking trail.
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The path through the Peru Creek Valley is lush with fields of wildflowers. In mid-summer, blue columbine, paintbrush, groundsel, arrowleaf balsamroot, mouse ear, figwort and penstemon are abundant. In the high-alpine stretch of the trail, pale blue sky pilot, pink moss campion and yellow Old-Man-of-the-Mountain cover the gravel beside the trail.
From the top of the pass, Mount Edwards (13,850) rises north along the ridge. West of the pass, Grays Peak (14,270 feet) forms the west face of Horseshoe Basin, with Ruby Mountain (13,277 feet) and Cooper Mountain (12,792) lining the path of the lower Peru Creek Valley to the base of Peru Creek Road. East of Argentine Pass, a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive road continues down through the Leavenworth Creek watershed.
How to get there
The Argentine Pass Trailhead is about 16 miles from Silverthorne and east of Keystone. From the Interstate 70 interchange in Silverthorne, drive east on U.S. Highway 6 to Keystone and exit to Montezuma Road. Drive 4 miles, crossing a bridge, and take a left turn on Peru Creek Road (U.S. Forest Service Road 260). Although the road is rough with erosion and water diversion berms, low-clearance vehicles can reach the junction with Cinnamon Gulch Road, 4 miles up Peru Creek watershed. Park here for a look at the Pennsylvania Mine Ruins, or continue another half-mile to the parking area for Argentine Pass. Hike a bit farther on the road above the ruins of the Shoe Basin Mine to find the Argentine Pass trailhead. The trail drops to Peru Creek from the road and continues up Argentine Peak to the Continental Divide.
Map: "Trails Illustrated," Idaho Springs, Georgetown, Loveland Pass, 104. Latitude 40°, Summit County Colorado Trails.
Author Kim Fenske has written extensively on hiking trails throughout Colorado. His writing includes, "Greatest Hikes in Central Colorado: Summit and Eagle Counties" and "Hiking Colorado: Holy Cross Wilderness," available from Amazon Kindle Books.
Originally published in the August 20, 2015 issue of the Summit Daily News and regularly vetted for accuracy
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