Texas Creek and Magdalene Mine
July 3, 2020 · Collegiate Peaks Wilderness
The hike to Magdalene Mine, also known as Magdalena Mine, was an interesting hike. This was my July Fourth Holiday hike, though I did this hike on July Third. I had my eye on this trail for some time and I am glad I finally got to do this trail. The weather was a mixed bag, but for the most part, the trek in was great weather, with occasional storms in the distance.
There are three access points to the Texas Creek Trail leading to Magdalene Gulch and onto Magdalene Mine. The first two access points are along Highway 306, also known as Cottonwood Pass. When I originally planned this trek, I planned on starting at the Brown's Pass trailhead. I have been on this trail and the views of the Sawatch Range from Brown's Pass are incredible. However, starting at Brown's Pass would feel like retracing ground I have already covered, and the "N" shaped elevation profile would grueling.
The second access point to Texas Creek Trail is from Cottonwood Pass itself, running along a portion of the Continental Divide Trail. The elevation profile from this access point is similar, but not as severe as the Brown's Pass access point. Given the holiday weekend, I figured there would be too many people along the trail to Texas Creek Trail. So, I opted for the third access point, on the West side of Cottonwood Pass. The elevation profile from this access point is up on the way in, and down on the way out, ideal for a long day on the trail.
The third access point required driving over Cottonwood Pass, which is a joy to drive since its been repaved, and onto Taylor Lake. From Taylor Lake there are a series of 4WD dirt roads to take to the trailhead. This 4WD drive in-itself counts as an adventure unto-itself. The first stretch of this drive is an extremely popular place for people to car-camp along the side of the dirt road and there are a lot of ATV's. It was a little concerning to see so many ATV's, but the trail I would be on was within the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. That means the ATV's would not be on the trail.
The 4WD road from Taylor Lake to the trailhead is less than ten miles and online maps show it as a twenty-minute drive. About the only thing that is accurate about that is the start and end points. The 4WD becomes so narrow and sever with large rocks in the road, it took about an hour to get to the trailhead from Taylor Lake. The Jeep paid for itself on this drive. The rocks in the road are not big enough that you need to lower the tire pressure, but it would help. This 4WD road is the road you take people on to convince them to buy a 4WD vehicle. Thankfully, I did not encounter any vehicles on the way in or out, making for an exceptionally fun 4WD experience.
Just before reaching the trailhead, I passed four people walking along the road to the trailhead. When I got to the trailhead, there was one vehicle there. This is an isolated, hard-to-get-to trailhead, so it was a little ironic that four other people would be stepping onto the trail at the same time as myself. I think that occurred to the group of four as well. They started just before me, and I never saw them again.
The morning started out clear, with some thick white clouds moving by quickly and the air smelled of rain; a sign of things to come later in the day. At the trailhead, on the other side of Texas Creek is a large abandoned cabin. Though I am not sure it was abandoned, it still had a roof, so it may still be in use. The groundcover has greened up and this area along Texas Creek has a lot of marsh areas. It seems like perfect Moose country.
The trail runs along Texas Creek and up until the cutoff to Magdalene Gulch is flat and moves quickly. The first part of the trail is in tall, thin stands of conifers, making for a nice, open, and airy hike. In the marsh off to the side of the trail, there are a number of Beaver ponds, some of them have been drained recently; not sure if that was due to the Spring Runoff, the Beavers breaking down the dams or something else, but it happened recently as the bottoms of the Beaver ponds where still wet and pitch-black.
Though I never saw the group of four people who started just a few minutes before I did, I did notice something strange about the tracks on the trail. I could see their boot footprints on the trail, but there were also a variety of fresh animal tracks on the trail. The tracks were so fresh that many of the animal tracks were inside the boot footprints of the group in-front of me. The tracks were from Deer, Elk and Moose.
Based on how fresh the tracks where and that many of them were inside the boot tracks of the people in-front of me, it was clear they were following the group in-front of me. I was always on the lookout for Moose, as I had an extremely close encounter with a Bull Moose when I was on the Brown's Pass trail. However, I never saw any Deer, Elk or Moose along this hike.
The trail runs along Texas Creek and just before the cutoff to Waterloo Gulch, the meadow and marsh are very green and there are large number of mosquitoes and exceptionally large bumble bees. Shortly after the Waterloo cutoff, there were two abandoned cabins. It looked like the area was a going concern when they were occupied. The ground had been leveled in the area and boulders removed. However, to show how quickly Mother Nature reclaims the land. In a little more than one-hundred and fifty years the roofs of the cabins had collapsed and in the center of each cabin was a large conifer tree.
From time to time the peaks of the Sawatch Range on either side would peak through the conifers. Shortly after the cutoff to Waterloo Gulch and just before the intersection with the Continental Divide Trail, the terrain and groundcover begin to change. You can tell you are ever so slightly pickup elevation gain. The mosquitoes and bumble bees fade away, the conifers start to get a shorter and from time to time there are boulders strewn about from glaciation.
The cutoff to Magdalene Mine is in a flat area near the end of the valley with an incredible view of a jagged unnamed portion of the Sawatch Range and to the right is Birthday Peak. From this vantage point at the valley floor the full effect of Birthday Peak is hard to discern. The trail leading up to Magdalene Mine fades almost immediately after the cutoff and relying on cairns to navigate the trail would become a theme for this leg of the trail.
Up until now, the trail has been a gentle stroll along the side of Texas Creek for the first five-and-half miles, from here onto the mine it would be a steep climb. When I started this last leg of the trail the clouds had moved in and turned dark and off in the distance on the other side of the valley you could see rain virga but it quickly changed over to deluge of rain over Cottonwood Pass. The thick rain clouds seemed to be forming along the Sawatch Ridge and releasing on the other side of the range, making it overcast on the side of the valley I was one.
As fast as the rain clouds would form and dump rain, they would dissipate and crystal-clear blue skies with random white clouds filled the valley. From here on to the mine the clouds would move in and out of the valley, but without rain. Everything is so very green right now and crossing over the magical 11,500-foot elevation mark where the treeline begins is a special place. When there are no clouds in the sky, the groundcover and trees are almost a florescent green and all the vegetation is extremely healthy.
There are two false summits enroute to the mine. After each plateau I would look back down the valley and the Southern edge of the Sawatch Range continued to get bigger and bigger and Birthday Peak, the only named peak on that portion of the Range is an impressive bookend on the wall that makes up the Southern edge of the Sawatch Range. Brown's pass looks like a small saddle in a massive range.
Looking up the valley towards the mine there is a pyramid shaped granite faced peak. Because of the grade of the trail here, this peak looks enormous from this vantage point. It seems that people call it a day at this false summit just below the mine, the trail fades and you must rely on sparely placed cairns. When this happens, I try to stay as close to the stream as possible. The ground is very soft and at this elevation the groundcover is very fragile. So, I try to make my impression on the land as small as possible here.
The maps show a nearly straight outlet from the lake by the mine. However, over time the stream has changed course and snakes its way down from the lake. As a result, it felt like it took an exorbitant amount time to go a short distance to the mine. When I reached the mine, dark rain clouds began to fill the valley again, I knew I would not have a lot of time here.
This mine is striking. There is one building left standing, its roofless and sits on a foundation of skillfully placed rocks on the highest-level point in this bowl. This mine struck me as a terrible place to work, though I suspect most hard-rock mines where terrible places to work. This mine, however, was well above treeline and I suspect that when the thunder and lightning rolled in, it must have been terrifying as it would be literally on top of you. In the Winter, I suspect it would be just as bad, the walls of this bowl are very steep and would pose a significant avalanche threat.
In reading through the Colorado mine registry, there is not a lot of information about Magdalene Mine. Like many mines in Colorado, there was a time where it did not exist, then it did, and then suddenly it did not. Based on what was left at the mine site, it seems like one day the order was given to abandon the mine and blow everything in place. The entrances to the mines are blasted closed, which is common for mines. There are large pieces of mining equipment strewn about along with old rusted tins and metal pipes. There are fragments of wood everywhere.
The cutoff to the mine was difficult, I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been to haul this massive equipment up to the mine. This mine was a Manganese mine. One of the most surprising pieces of equipment left behind was an intact steel Ore Bucket and what looked like the remnants of an Ore Skip. There is also a small lake right next to the mine, and to show were priorities where when the mine was in operation, you can clearly see an irrigation ditch leading from the mine to the lake. The lake has been salted; I doubt anything will grow in that lake.
Just below the mine on one of the plateaus of the false summits, it is clear there used to be a lake there as well. There is a large notch at the edge of this now-gone hanging lake. Based on the rock faces at this notch, it looks like the mine operators blasted the drainage of the hanging lake to drain this lake.
I decided to have a lunch here, just below the last standing building. However, partway through lunch the thunder started, it was on the same side of the valley that I was on. The other side of the valley was crystal-clear. I packed up and started to make my way down to treeline.
It took a considerable amount of time to get down. Not because it was difficult, but rather because of the astonishing views of the Southern edge of the Sawatch Range. It took so long to get back down to Texas Creek that you could watch the rain clouds form to the left of Birthday Peak and cover the Sawatch Range with a dark shadow and then heavy rain. Thus far, I had only encountered light and brief rain, almost like wind-driven mist.
The views from the last plateau on the way down the gulch where breathtaking, and it would have been nice to stay here for a day or longer. However, the forecast predicted rain later in the day and it was spot on correct.
Once back down on the trail that runs along Texas Creek and shortly after the cutoff to Brown's Pass it started to rain, heavy at times but consistent for the next two hours back to the trailhead. As if the rain itself obeyed the Wilderness boundary, which was only a few hundred feet from the parking area, the rain stopped at the Wilderness boundary.
This was an interesting trek; the first portion of the trail was quite easy and moved quickly. Even though it rained for the last two hours on the trail, it really was a spectacular hike in a very remote area of the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, the Sawatch Range is awe-inspiring. This trek came in at 15.7 miles roundtrip. The funny thing is, within this valley there is another lake, Lake Rebecca that is on my to-do list as well. Maybe that one will start from Cottonwood Pass.