Treasure Vault Lake Loop
~White River National Forest~

This hike was a loop to Treasure Vault Lake. The loop goes by a number of different names including The Missouri Pass Loop, Treasure Vault Loop and Fancy Pass Loop. Additionally, depending on which map you read the loop is either in Eagles Nest Wilderness or The Holy Cross Wilderness, but both are in The White River National Forest. Which ever trail you want to call and whichever mountain area you want to place it in, it is a spectacular trail. I have been to both Missouri Lakes and Fancy Lake before. The area is very lush, and the granite peaks of the Savage Peak Range are breathtaking. The trail sees moderate traffic, so you're not always alone, but you feel like you have the place to yourself.

One of the reasons why this area doesn't see a lot of foot traffic is the road to the trailhead, Homestake Road is a washboard dirt road, and as such is unkind to sedan-type vehicles. You won't bottom out on the road but will do a number on the suspension of the car as it can take about an hour to drive Homestake Road. But the reward of the views are well worth it. For me, this loop came in at 9.8 miles roundtrip.

I had also planned on making the short trip from Treasure Vault Lake to Blodgett Lake, but the weather was questionable. When I started the hike, it was a balmy 38 degrees and it must have rained very heavy the night before; the trail was soaked. I started at the Missouri Lakes trailhead which is just a couple hundred feet from the Fancy Pass trailhead - a very convenient loop. They say it is best to do the trail counter-clockwise, meaning start at the Fancy Pass trailhead and work your way back down to the Missouri Lakes trailhead. The reason for that is: do the hard part first. The trail to Fancy Lake is much steeper than the trail to Missouri Lakes and Fancy Pass is much steeper, in both directions than the Missouri Pass by Treasure Vault Lake. For some reason I chose to do the loop clock-wise starting at the Missouri Lakes trailhead.

While there are some steep parts of the trail to the Missouri Lakes, it's not too difficult, it's a Mother-in-Law type of trail. Meaning, it is probably something you could bring your out-of-state Mother-in-Law on and not get too much grief. It's just over 3.5 miles to Missouri Lakes from the Missouri Lakes trailhead. I was talking with a guy on the return trip at Fancy Lake about the Mother-in-Law trail and he asked what that was and when I told him he laughed and laughed and said "I'm gonna bring her here."

Although it is late in the Alpine Summer and some of the grasses are beginning to turn, this area is so green and the pine trees are very healthy. It makes for a very pleasant, and quick trip to the Missouri Lakes. It's at Missouri Lakes where you get the full visual effect of the Savage Peaks Range. They are massive and the bright green groundcover on the sunbaked granite with the Missouri Lakes at the foot of the range; it is breathtaking and awe-inspiring.

From Missouri Lakes the Missouri Pass is just a short distance away and an easy trek. From there you see the infamous Treasure Vault Lake, Blodgett Lake, Middle Mountain and parts of the Holy Cross Range. The views are spectacular, though it was a little cloudy at times and the clouds where low and sometimes dark on the bottoms. Since you are above tree line by this time, weather plays a big factor in how long you stay. I wish I could have stayed longer, Blodgett Lake was close, but a good couple of extra hours on the trail. With better weather I would have gone to Blodgett Lake. It's still on the list, and now that I've seen it from a distance, it's a must.

On the Treasure Vault Lake side of Missouri Pass there is evidence of mining everywhere. There are abandoned mine shafts and abandoned mining equipment everywhere. When you look out over the mountains you can see what drew the gold miners here. There are huge swaths of quartz veins in the granite, gold can often be found on the contact zones between the quartz and granite. The story goes that the majority of the gold in this area remains locked away in the mountains - due the terrain. So, with some luck you might come across some placer gold or if you knew where to pan, you might come up with something. Whenever I see evidence of gold and silver mining I wonder if the miners were able to take in the awesome visual spectacle nature of if they walked - head down back and forth from the mining camps to the mines. For me, there is a familial connection I feel when I'm in this region and I see abandoned mines; part of my family worked these very mines, perhaps I am walking or standing on the same spot they did.

The return trip goes over Fancy Pass which is much steeper and rockier. The story goes that the owner of one of the mines in the area would take the gold from the mines and temporarily store it at Treasure Vault Lake - hence the name. But the crossing over Fancy Pass was too difficult so he took a load of dynamite and blasted a path to create a notch in Fancy Pass. Easy crossing was not the goal from the blasting, passable was the blasting goal, it's a bit rough and very steep in both directions and there is evidence of how they moved the gold over the pass, an old sled fashioned out of a slab of steel and cut rail ties.

From Fancy Pass it's a b-line down to Fancy Lake and a noticeably steep drop from Fancy Lake all the way back down to the Fancy Pass trailhead.

This is the third time I have been to this area and I plan on returning, I will make it to Blodgett Lake next time, that will need to be a multi-day trip. Can't wait, it's a beautiful area. Check out my GPS tracks here.

August 19, 2018