Private Property: Mt. Shavano Summit Riddled with Mining Claims

By Maisie Ramsay

The entire summit of Mount Shavano, in the Sawatch Range, is located on private property, but not of the “trespassers will be shot” variety.

There are no fences. There are no signs. Save for a cairn and a couple of weather-beaten survey posts, there’s nothing to indicate that the entire summit block is composed of private mining claims – except, perhaps, the poor condition of the trail.

Private, high-elevation mining claims have precluded the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) from restoring the path to Shavano’s summit, leaving the route to degrade steadily with each passing year.

The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI) has come up with a novel solution to this problem: buy the mining claims and give them to the Forest Service.

“Shavano was a high priority for the agency, but was stuck behind the private land inholdings,” said Lloyd Athearn, executive director for the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative. “I put together a proposal on Shavano to investigate who owns the lands and acquire them, whatever was necessary to build the trail.”

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The Hilltop Mine – A Relic at 12,900 Feet

Story and photos by Maisie Ramsay

High atop the wind-blasted saddle between Mount Sherman and Mount Sheridan sits the time capsule that is the Hilltop Mine. This is not the kind filled with trinkets and buried for future discovery – no, the Hilltop Mine is an accidental time capsule, a relic of times long past, a monument to human ambition. Crack open the history books, and get a glimpse of the past.

The Hilltop Mine is now little more than a sun-bleached outbuilding clinging precariously to a 12,900-foot talus slope. The massive infrastructure that transported tons of ore has largely disappeared. What meager evidence remains is slowly dissolving into the earth.

“Some see (these sites) as a monument to history and our founding economy, others see them as an eyesore and something environmentally destructive,” says South Park historian Christie Wright. “I find them quite fascinating … but then you look at Leadville, a Superfund cleanup, and the EPA spill in Ouray. It was the founding economy of our state, both good and bad.”

The Hilltop Mine was not the Mosquito Range’s first high-elevation claim, nor the most well-known. Rather, it was among several high-elevation mines extracting precious metal from the Mosquito Range during silver boom of the 1800s. 

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Summit Myopia

By Maisie Ramsay

Only the women remained.

It was the middle of November, and they had been trudging uphill for nearly six hours. More than a mile of elevation gain lay between the trailhead and the goal: Mount Oxford, a destination that first required us to summit Mount Belford.

The male component of the team – two men and two dogs – had long since fallen back, deterred by poor gear, injury and the suspicion that perhaps one mountain was enough for the day. The women, however, pressed on.

The journey began with Mount Belford’s northwest ridge, a relentlessly steep slog through windblown snow with all the traction of confectioners sugar. Then another mile and a half to Mount Oxford, separated from Belford by a broad saddle that tapered at its western terminus to a steep, narrow ridge.

The traverse meant losing and regaining 1,000 feet of elevation, and traveling three extra miles, adding hours of toil to the journey.

What possessed them to embark on this fool’s errand? Well, Mount Oxford happens to be over 14,000 feet. 

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My Introduction to the “Joys” of Winter Hiking

By Maisie Ramsay

It was about this time last year that Adam, Aaron and I decided November was a perfectly reasonable time to hike up Mount Yale.

Adam is my husband.

Aaron is a guy who knows a thing or two about cold weather, having spent the summer on an Alaskan glacier.

I’m an idiot.

“I’m an idiot,” I thought to myself, as I leaned into a frigid gale with all the cooling power of liquid nitrogen. The wind sucked the heat from my body until my teeth chattered like a wind up desk toy. My fingers, stuffed into flimsy gloves with all the insulation power of tissue paper, were bone white and immobile with cold. I kept imagining myself as a human popsicle, blown off the mountain and permanently iced to a boulder some thousand feet below.

To my horror, I began to cry.

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