Saturday, June 20, 2009

Gold Hill Trail (the one near Breckenridge)

Distance: 5 miles round trip to the summit
Elevation: 9,100 to 10,315 ft
Elevation Gain: 1,215 ft
Bathroom at Trailhead: No
Dogs: Off leash
Date Hiked: 16 June 2008

Views of the Tenmile Range at the beginning of the trail

Gold Hill is an easy trail near the Breckenridge ski resort that I do whenever I go up for our annual climate conference. I have never made it to the summit because I am invariably doing this trail in the evening after work. I have a general idea of things, however, and feel I can describe it sufficiently.

Clear cutting

The clear cut area was filled with log piles and heavy equipment. That is Mt. Baldy in the distance.

The photos in this post are actually from 2008. I have held off blogging this trail because it is too disturbing for me. Like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand, I am trying to ignore the fact that that vast majority of the Ponderosa Pines in Summit County, and the rest of Colorado for that matter, are dead and or dying. The cause of this destruction is the Pine Beetle. This diminutive little creature, no larger than the nail of one's pinky, is responsible for the death of over 7 million acres of prime forest and it is not done yet.

Looking back down the trail to the east

Standing in the clear cut looking south

While a natural part of the forest ecosystem, drought and overly dense forests have added to the beetle's potency. Huge strands of forest along all the major road ways, throughout the ski resorts, and deep into the wilderness are now a sickly brown. The beetle, sometimes thousands of them, burrow under the bark. The feed, live, and breed there. This chokes off the nutrient supply for the tree, quickly killing it. Since the beetles prefers live trees, they quickly move on, only to kill again.

A close up of the Tenmile Range

Downed trees from a previous attempt to thin the forest

Management of the beetle is impossible over the many acres affected and may not even be a wise choice considering the natural aspect of the outbreak. Restoration now seems to be the main effort. Gold Hill is a prime example of what I have been observing in other parts of the state. The first portion of the trail takes the hiker through a clear cut area in which every tree is being removed. The bare hillside is stark, foreboding, and cluttered with piles of logs. When I hiked this trail in June of 2008, I could not help but ask myself if this was the future of all of Summit County. If so, the future is dire for the locals who live there and the transients who come and spend a lot of money to enjoy Colorado's bounty.

One of the few places on the trail with a view

After transiting the clear cut zone, the Gold Hill trail winds its way through thick forest. Tree trunks litter the ground in droves. These dead trees are not beetle kill but are the results of an earlier attempt to thin the forest. Even with that effort, the forest is like a wall. Only occasional glimpses of peaks can be seen from the dark, sinister interior. The trees still standing are visibly dying, however, like all the others in the state. Their crone-like branches droop, lifeless and austere. A good wind, and they will be flattened, or so it seems.

Crossing a slight open area in the forest. You can see how tightly packed the trees are

We wandered continually upwards through the dark forest until we ran out of time and had to turn around. I am guessing we were within a quarter of a mile of the small bump that is the summit of Gold Hill. It was actually a blessing to be able to escape from the darkness and back out into the clear Colorado evening.

A clear view of Mt. Baldy

While Gold Hill is considered a classic Colorado Hike, there are so many other incredible hikes that I am hesitant to recommend this one. Its primary advantage for me is that it is snow free in June, while other trails like Quandary Falls can be a soggy mess. I have also done this trail as a hiking interlude while biking between Breckenridge and Frisco. The trailhead is right on the bike path. Certainly the earlier downed forest is interesting to see.

Heading back down the logging road and returning into the light

1 comment:

Tina said...

You certainly are one busy girl!! How do you keep up with all this hiking and bike riding through all these mountains and hilly country side?? Great captures of your visit..I'm not use to seeing such vast open spaces..a nice break from my backyard and suburban views!!