Mayflower Gulch (the location of which Instagram can’t ever seem to decide on – I’ve seen Breck, Dillon, Silverthrone, and Frisco suggested – apparently it’s actually Leadville) has become our most frequently repeated hiking area. It’s easy to get to… after you sit in I-70 traffic for many hours in both directions, very scenic, has plenty of mine ruins to check out, can be used as a trail head for at least three 13ers, and is always loaded with snow in the winter so it’s a great backcountry snowboarding spot too.
There’s mining evidence all over the basin in various states of decay. In the back towards the Atlantic-Fletcher ridge there’s a surprisingly good condition cable tram tower that ran a bucket hoist to a mine sitting only a few hundred feet below Atlantic’s summit.
Incredibly, the 100+ year old lift cable is still attached to both towers. I remember seeing all this the first time we went to Mayflower a year ago and thinking it’d be awesome to check out such a secluded mine. It’s been kind of an unofficial goal to find a mine that’s difficult enough to reach that it’s basically been untouched since it was abandoned. Given that it sat at least 1,000ft up multiple cliff bands, this one seemed pretty promising. It also seemed pretty much impossible to reach, so I never thought about it beyond “would be cool if we could, but…” Every time we went back to Mayflower I looked at that mine and what appeared to be a pretty intact lift platform/loading chute and had the same “would be cool, but… it’s not possible.” But as our scrambling skills improved and I either lost my fear of heights or ascended that hyperbolic section of the increasing confidence curve right before an accident or close call sends it plunging to new lows (see: rule 64), looking up at the platform went from wishful thinking to determination and route finding. USFS maps confirmed a known mine tunnel and given the effort and expense that must have been required to build a tram run that I’d estimate at a half mile long and 1,500ft of vertical, certainly it was a very extensive mine working that would make for epic exploring.
Finally the day came when I looked up at the platform and a doable route seemed obvious – maybe even a few doable routes. The risk:reward suddenly seemed realistic. By all accounts it should be a very large, untouched mine, likely full of artifacts/cool shit, and at this point my opinion of the climb had gone from “impossible” to “it’ll probably go, maybe even easily.”
I’ve learned three rules after a year of being in the mountains out here.
- Everything is further away than it looks – much, much further away
- If a climb looks hard, it’s impossible. If it looks easy, it’s really hard.
- If the rock looks loose, it’s a death trap. If it looks solid, it’s really loose.
No exceptions to those rules here. Standing at the lower mine tunnel at the base of the climb, the rock was much looser than I thought it would be, the slope was steeper, and what was an obvious route looking at the entire mountain from a half mile away became disorienting and impossible to see beyond the couple hundred feet to each successive cliff band.
While getting ready at the lower mine tunnel, the dog took off after a mountain goat. In only a couple of minutes he was half way up and one gully to the west of the route. Locked in a stand-off with the goat on a tiny ledge, he wasn’t interested in listening to any commands and certainly wasn’t coming down on his own. If there were any remaining reservations about the climb, they were gone or ignored as we began up (at that point simply to get him down).
Due to a time crunch (had a really important massage to get to that afternoon), the focus on getting the dog, and the danger of the route, I took almost no photos during the climb. The dog was eventually called back over once we reached parallel to him and I had the pleasure of climbing with him tied to me the rest of the ascent and descent. The route more or less alternated between very loose gullies/dirt between the cliff bands and easy class 3 climbs on solid rock and/or slabs through the cliff bands. None of the route was exposed and none of the climbing was technical. Nevertheless it was slow and tendous with careful route finding being necessary. By far the largest objective hazard was rock fall, with literally everything small I touched coming out and plenty of large (fridge sized or more) ready to go with very little prompting. Thanks to the uniformly steep slope, everything that went, went all the way to the base of the climb.
The crux of the climb actually ended up being trying to get onto the lift platform, which overhung the slope significantly (easily 30ft+ off the ground at its most outer point) and was located on the steepest terrain of the climb, leaving only a scramble over very large, very loose rock to the left, a 20ft 5th class block up the middle, or a “run fast and hope for the best” crumbling sand/rock ledge to the right. We went right and pulled ourselves up to the most disappointing climax of any climb so far.
I think we spent a total of ten minutes at the top, mostly to eat, because there certainly wasn’t anything to explore. The views were incredible and of course it was a “route” totally free of other people, which is always a bonus. I also managed to find a drill bit for a souvenir. But otherwise it was a tedious, fairly risky climb and the biggest reward was a vintage, canned Gatorade (which was actually still full).
I’d still do it again though. I’m not sure why people say, “never meet your heros.” I’d rather know that I totally overhyped them; that up close they’re decimated by rock fall and blocked by 6ft of ice. Why would I want to keep staring at them delusionally and building them up, always wishing I had gone for it? The only real problem is that I now need a new hero.