Sunday, November 2, 2014

Darling Creek

Distance: 4 miles round trip out of a possible 12 miles
Elevation: 8,740 ft - 9,601 ft
Elevation Gain: 642 ft
Bathroom at the Trailhead: No
Dogs: Off leash
Date Hiked: 28 September, 2014

While Darling Creek Trail is named after the creek, it is the Aspens that steal the show.
Darling Creek is an obscure trail on the east side of the Williams Fork Range near Silverthorne, Colorado. It wasn't until I took a fall color drive on Ute Pass Road that I even knew the area existed. While the upper slopes of the Williams Fork Valley are mostly dead Lodgepole Pine, there are several small groves of Aspens and it looked like this trail might go right through one.

A small sign points the way. The trail travels around the Henderson compound.
Williams Fork in Autumn glory
Interestingly, the trail starts near a tunnel where the world's largest conveyer belt, connecting the Henderson Mine (think molybdenum) in the east and the Henderson Mill in the west, comes out from beneath the Continental Divide. The belt is 15 miles long! Who knew? Molybdenum is used in the making of steel alloys. You will have seen the Henderson Mine if you hiked Butler Gulch or Vasquez Pass.

Some junctions are well marked. Much of the trail is indistinct.
The first half mile of the hike travels around the Henderson compound and up the Williams Fork River. Here too Autumn was evident. The willows were a rusty brown and I kept expecting a bull moose to wander into view all "geared" up for the annual rut.

The first mile of the route is the prettiest.
At 0.4 miles the trail splits with the South Fork Trail going straight along the river and the Darling Creek Trail doubling back up the hillside. This segment is very rocky but filled with Aspens. The trail then travels above and behind the Henderson compound (at 0.7 miles) and heads up the Darling Creek drainage.

Could not resist another Aspen shot
Be warned that the trail is often indistinct and hikers will need to be comfortable trail finding. On the way back we got sucked off on social trail that ended up on the east side of the fenced compound and had to back track, never a fun prospect, to find where we had gone wrong.

The blue sky belies a winter storm that was barreling down on us. By the time we returned to the car it was raining.
After the mine, the trail weaves up and down the drainage never straying far from stream. At one point (at 1.3 miles) the trail crosses the stream on a bundle of round, slick tree trunks. I hate such water crossings. My balance standing on pavement is poor. My balance on such a contrivance is non-existent and I am practically paralyzed with indecision on how to move. My preference is to ignominiously scramble on all fours over such obstacles. My hiking partner was disgusted with my timidity and zipped back and forth in a vain attempt to show me how easy it was. It is at times like these that I feel that a good wallop with a hiking stick is good for the soul. 
The trail wound around several hills filled with Aspen debris.
Since a winter storm was brewing, we only went 2.0 miles up the trail. At our turn around point, the Aspens had receded and only the stark skeletons of dead Lodgepoles remained so we did not feel guilty about turning around. The trail does continue for another 4 miles.

The perilous, at least to me, log crossing
 You get to Darling Creek from Silverthorne by traveling Ute Pass Road (County Road 3) west past the Henderson Mill (where the conveyor belt ends up) until it intersects with County Road 30. Take a right and travel south through the lovely Williams Fork Valley. Just before the road dead ends at the Henderson compound, it splits and travels under the conveyor belt through two tunnels. Take the tunnel even though it looks like private land. On the other side, brown signs point the way to a nearby campground and the Darling Creek trailhead. Parking is plentiful but right next to the compound, so don't get confused. A small wooden sign points the way.

The Aspens receded and soon a mixed coniferous forest cut off all view of the sky.
Darling Creek Trail is not a pristine wilderness experience and the trail is indistinct. It will appeal to those who like to leave the crowds behind and want to experience a wide variety of scenery.


Paulina said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
sylvia murphy said...

Give me your email.