Wintery mining ruins at Mayflower Gulch by snowshoe
By The Numbers
Mileage: 5.6 miles round trip
Time: Roughly three hours
Elevation gain: 1,419 feet
Gear: Snowshoes, XC skis, tele skis or split board recommended
Getting there: From Interstate 70, take Exit 195 towards Copper Mountain / Leadville and travel south on Highway 91 (towards Leadville) for about 5 miles. Look for a large parking lot on the left side of the road where the trailhead will be.
Writer’s note: This is a bi-monthly winter hiking guide. Until the trails thaw, stay tuned for more winter hiking reports from January to April.
A new year means new adventures. It means a year-long bucket list filled with new hikes to check out, mountains to climb, places to camp and national parks to visit.
Some of these bucket-list items aren’t new at all. Mayflower Gulch, for example, is a hike that carried over from last year’s bucket list to this year’s.
I had first seen Mayflower Gulch in passing last March en route to Avon, without knowing its name. In a brief opening between trees, the breathtaking amphitheater of Mayflower Gulch flashed before my eyes.
At the next available pull out, I turned my car around and headed back to the expansive opening. I had to get another look at those rugged, toothy ridges. It was a remarkable experience first seeing Mayflower, even from the roadside pull-off, which made snowshoeing out to it in early January all the more rewarding.
New Year, new gear
Recently I celebrated a year of living in Summit County, and in my first year of living in Colorado I acknowledge being somewhat of a “Jerry” last season. Hiking boots do the job just fine — less so in the winter, but they suffice — and last winter the deep snow didn’t keep me from getting out. I hiked, even if it meant falling into pockets of waist-deep snow multiple times on a single hike. Because bad weather doesn’t exist, just bad gear. Right?
Bad gear was right. Instead of hiking boots, this season I hope to take snowshoes and cross-country skis out on Summit’s High Country trails. For my recent Mayflower Gulch trek, and my first installation of this winter hiking guide, Oliver, my adventure friend from Boulder, and I set out in snowshoes.
There were many modes of transportation happening on this trail. Folks were wearing hiking boots, snowshoes, cross-country skis, snowboards and splitboards. Every type of snow gear you could think of was going out there.
In talking to some fellow trekkers, I found out I wasn’t the only first-timer on snowshoes on the Mayflower Gulch Trail. Easily accessible, the roughly 5.8-mile trek was a great trail for my first attempt at snowshoeing.
Even from the parking lot, glimpses of the natural amphitheater were visible. The snow and ice beneath me glistened in the winter sunlight as I bent down to strap my boots in.
The trail was a winding, snow-covered road through thick forests. It really felt like a road, with fellow trekkers passing in and around each other. Boarders, skiers, snowshoers and dogs went weaving about — all sharing the snow-packed trail.
You could see the amphitheater and the open valley clearly for the first half-mile or so. After the first half hour, the trees grew thicker and swallowed our visibility. Gradually, the trek took us uphill through thick, quiet forests made more muted by the thick blanket of freshly fallen snow. Although the elevation gain is nearly 1,500 feet, it didn’t feel so.
The trail’s incline change is so slight, and spread out over the roughly 3 miles to the amphitheater, that it’s almost unnoticeable. The trek was playful, as any first experience should be. I took many daring attempts to step off the trail and onto the snow crust, trying to move as gingerly and daintily as possible in our somewhat clunky snowshoes.
The snowshoes allowed us to go where hiking boots would prove challenging. In these off-trail escapades, I could feel that they really made my step more delicate, more distributed (although the snowshoes did feel cumbersome at first).
In the amphitheater
Farther down the trail, we felt a gradual descent and were tickled by the notion that we would soon drop into the amphitheater. It was getting late in the afternoon — late on winter’s clock — at 3:30 p.m., and we seemed to have missed the crowd.
We circled a few old mining structures: tumble-down shacks that were covered in snow, their roofs falling in. Not once did I plunge below the first few inches of surface layer snow while romping uphill and downhill around the ruins. Two other pairs of people were exploring the scattered mining shacks. In the distance were three dilapidated cabins, and the first still had its walls intact, but no roof at all. It seemed to me a dream house, although quite the fixer-upper.
Shuffling about the snow-covered “floor” of the shack, we played house like we were kids. I imagined getting to wake up to views like this: through one window a profile of the Tenmile Range, through the other an abundance of peaks well-over 13,000 feet in an amphitheater formation.
We took our time basking in the amphitheater. In a half hour we turned a full 360 degrees, standing side by side while pointing out various features to each other. We speculated what chutes looked fun, where alpine lakes might be, where glaciers might have been and what jagged points of the entire set were our favorites.
Another hiker was flying a drone with a camera. Its hum could be heard as it soared above us taking-in unimaginable sights. Mayflower Gulch stirred excitement in me and set the pace for the many hikes to come this winter season.
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