Hike with Lynn, Pete, Steve and Sunday T. Dog on June 7, 2009
Our trailhead: 39º33’0”N, 105º43’12”W, 10,269 feet
Mill: 39º33’20”N, 105º43’41”W, 10,720 feet
Duck Creek Campground: 39º31’45”N, 105º43’56”W, 9,756 feet
Hiking distance: 4.6 miles
Lynn Keyes grew up on the Tumbling River Guest Ranch, a few miles up Geneva Creek from Grant. She spent many summers guiding city dudes and hunting parties on the back woods trails along Geneva Creek and its tributaries, and she was more than happy to go on a hike in her old stomping grounds.
This hike had two objectives: First, to scout out a cross-country ski trail that Lynn had gone on in years past, to make sure it was still a good path to use in the coming winter. Second, to find the remains of an old saw mill site.
We started on Guanella Pass Road (Park County Road 62), 8.8 miles from U.S. 285 in Grant, just west of mile marker 211. We found ample off-road parking to the right (east) of the road, about a half a mile below the second set of switchbacks on Guanella Pass Road, and just above where the road crossed over Duck Creek. We found a sign at the top of our trail on the west side of the road; it’s one of those skinny signs on the narrow posts, and says “Survey Marker.”
We didn’t find the survey marker, but we did find a dim trail leading down the valley on the right (west) side of the creek, a bit up the hillside from the water. This kept us out of the bushes and in the mostly spruce and lodgepole pine forest. Lynn promised us that we’d find an old road to walk down, and it wasn’t long before we found it after the trail grew nearer to the creek. Snowmelt and runoff was at its height, though, and the creek was running in the road. We just stayed up in the trees and walked parallel to the road until we found a point where it drained, and we could walk it and keep our feet dry.
There are two “unofficial” campgrounds between Guanella Pass Road and the creek, and we could see into each as we walked by on the opposite side of the creek. A few big rocks had tumbled down onto the road, but proved no obstacle to us. Below them, the creek again ran onto the old road, so we moved up the hillside again, finding animal trails to walk along.
Next came a little excitement: We heard gun shots down the valley and around a corner. I yelled, and Steve blew his backwoods whistle. The shooting stopped; “They’re just reloading!” said Pete.
Soon the road emerged from the creek, and we moved back down to it. We all agreed that on a winter trip, with its lower water levels and coverings of ice and snow, that the road would be fully accessible, with the stream under snow and ice.
Duck Creek began moving away from Guanella Pass Road, and the old road began moving away from Duck Creek. We found ourselves walking over the low south end of the ridge to the west, and then into a small valley. The small valley expanded into a wider valley, and another valley joined from the west. This second valley was Mill Gulch, where we expected to find the old sawmill.
The stream coming down Mill Gulch joined Duck Creek in the bigger valley, somewhere in a tangle of bushes. Old roads joined there, too. The one we were on continued down Duck Creek, and the other came down Mill Gulch, emerging from a tunnel through an aspen grove. We headed into the tunnel, and up the gulch.
In crossing the valley along Duck Creek, we left the conifer forest and hiked into an aspen forest. Being early in the growing season at around 10,000 feet, the aspen were still leafing out. The road went north up the creek for a half a mile, then crossed to the west side and moved steeper up the gulch. At about a mile up Mill Gulch, we came upon the remains of a log building, probably an equipment shed, as it appeared not to have had a wall facing the road. Farther up, on a bank overlooking the creek, were walls for a long, narrow building that probably held the saw, as slabs from the logs cut had been thrown into the gulch below it.
Above the saw building there was an easy creek crossing and more remains, of a cabin and a smaller log building that looked as though it had been built into the hillside. It may have been a root cellar. Turning around, we saw the reason they chose the spot they did for the cabin, and the only long view on our hike: The tops of Blaine Peak and North Twin Cone Peak rose above the ridges to the south of us.
With the mill site scouted out, we headed down the hill. Lynn told us that the mill was near the bottom of one of the lifts at the old Geneva Basin ski area, and some hearty souls used to ski to the bottom of that lift, then down to the mill, and followed the road down to Duck Creek Picnic Ground. As if to evoke the memory of those skiers, the clouds above began to sprinkle snow on our heads. Thankfully, they didn’t drop enough for us to ski on.
We went back down the Mill Gulch road to the valley of Duck Creek, and discovered we had an obstacle: We had to cross the Mill Gulch stream in order to go down the Duck Creek road. In retrospect, it would have been wise to go back upstream a ways, and cross the creek where it ran fast and narrow, but instead we braved the swamp and bushes near the confluence of the creeks. Oh, well, Steve had new boots, and they needed breaking in.
Once across the creek, we found our road again, and had a leisurely stroll down to near Duck Creek Picnic Ground, where we had left another vehicle. Note that we parked near the picnic ground, not in it. The Forest Service charges a fee for using the picnic grounds, and parking there is a use.
Our hike’s objectives were achieved: We found the mill, and we’ll be ready to follow the road along Duck Creek next winter on snowshoes or cross-country skis. On our way home, we looked back and saw that snow was still north of Geneva Park. Things that don’t happen can be considered accomplishments, too, so we counted two more: We avoided travelling through the snow sooner than we wanted, and we didn’t get shot