Farther Ventures on the Gold Dust Trail

16 Jul
The ditch portion of the Gold Dust Trail

The ditch portion of the Gold Dust Trail goes through the forest, following an old placer operations ditch leading from North Tarryall Creek to Tarryall Creek

Hike with Karen and Sunday T. Dog on September 4, 2008

Trailhead: 39º21’36”N, 105º57’9”W, 10,332 feet
North Tarryall Creek Crossing: 39º23’7”N, 105º57’55”W, 10,649 feet
Farthest Point: 39º24’7”N, 105º57’47”W, 11,301 feet
Hiking Distance: 7.2 miles

Last year Phil, Cheryl, Sunday and I walked the southern section of Gold Dust Trail, from the trailhead near Como to Tarryall Creek. This year, Karen, Sunday and I joined up to tackle the next segment of the trail, starting at Tarryall Creek.
The walk on the southern portion had been an easy forest walk. The name of the trail fits in with its historical significance, being near the first gold camps in Park County, Hamilton and Tarryall. We found a number of pits along the trail, probably dug in the hopes of a big strike. That trip ended when we weren’t able to cross Tarryall Creek, as the stepping stones were under water.
We began this trip on the north side of Tarryall Creek, and headed north from there. We got to our trailhead by turning onto Boreas Pass Road, Park County Road 33, from US 285 near mile marker 192. The road takes you into Como; stay on the pavement, and take the second right. The pavement ends before you get out of town. At 3.9 miles, turn left onto PCR50 (you actually go straight, as PCR33 takes a sharp right turn here). The Gold Dust Trailhead is 5.7 miles from US 285, just past a newer log cabin on the right. There are Forest Service signs that say “Trail 698” on both sides of the road. 1/10 mile past the trail, you’ll find a small parking area on the left side of the road.
The trail was well-worn, as it was south of Tarryall Creek. We had a clear, warm day, with light breezes. It seemed like only yesterday I was on the other side of the creek, walking through the same spruce and lodgepole forest. We enjoyed the easy walk up a narrow drainage, although it got a little steeper after 0.3 mile. At 0.4 mile, there was a switchback, which seemed odd, as it wasn’t that steep, and the trail was almost level after the switchback.
The trail itself was a little odd. Usually trails that traverse a hillside, as that one did, are cut into the hillside almost flat, so water will drain over them. This one was cut deep into the hillside, with a pile of dirt on the downhill side. This would keep water on the trail. Then it dawned on me: It wasn’t originally a trail, but a ditch.

 

Sunday liked walking the ridge along the old ditch

Sunday liked walking the ridge along the old ditch. From up there, she was as tall as a real Newfoundland

There is one reason but two purposes for ditches in Park County: All redirect water, some for agricultural use, and others for placer mining. When all the easy gold was panned out of Tarryall Creek, prospectors brought in more water to do the work of digging up the gravel out of the creek beds, and exposing the gold hidden beneath it. This ditch, too far from ranchlands to be agricultural, must have been used to get gold.
We walked this ditch for over two miles. It is very gently sloped – Karen and I actually disagreed on which way was uphill. A later look at the topographical map showed that the ditch and trail go uphill to the north, rising about 25 feet in 1.6 miles. Sunday, the Teacup Newfoundland, liked this trail, as she could walk the ridge while we walked the ditch. That gave her a 2-foot height increase, taller than a full-sized Newfoundland.

 

The logs are the remains of one of two cabins

The logs are the remains of one of two cabins along the trail

As with the southern bit of the trail, there were occasional views through the trees to the east. In places, we could see the Boreas Pass Road as it followed the old railroad bed, winding up the lower elevations of Volz Mountain. In other places the side of the ditch had washed out, and the trail leaves it briefly, winding through the woods on the uphill side. Sunday was more often bumped off her path, as trees and bushes had grown on the wall of the ditch.
At 2.5 miles from our trailhead, we came to North Tarryall Creek. Apparently the ditch brought water from here down the ditch to placer operations on or near Tarryall Creek. There would have been a modest dam here, but I didn’t think to look for its remains. A sign announced the name of the creek, and a thick timber provided us a stable bridge across the creek.
We continued on, and found ourselves in another, smaller ditch north of the creek It ended when we reached the east side of the valley, where the trail crossed Forest Service Road 101 and continued up the hill. We found two more “Trail 698” signs there.

Alpine foliage

Alpine foliage has grown luxurious along the little stream

This road crossing signaled another change in the trail. According to my topographical map, we were walking the Old Boreas Pass Road, probably a road that was in use when the railroad tracks ran on the path of the current Boreas Pass Road. We found that we’d gotten spoiled by the gentle slope of the ditch trails, and the steeper road seemed an imposition. Also, the valley was narrower, and the forest thinner, giving us views of Mount Silverheels and her neighbors to the west, and Boreas Mountain to our east.
Along the trail, we found a few modern campsites, and the remains of two small log cabins. The meadows grew and the trees withdrew as we climbed higher. At 3.6 miles, though, it was time to go back. Looking up the hill, I could see a culvert under the Boreas Pass Road, maybe 100 yards above us. Had we continued on, we’d have ended at the Section House on Boreas Pass. There are stories of trains tumbling down the hillsides on icy winter days. I found a piece of coal along the trail soon after we turned around, and wondered if it came from such a spill. Our return trip was any easy one, all downhill or level.

Bald Mountain

Looking ahead, we could see Bald Mountain towering above Boreas Pass. We got great views of the surrounding peaks on the northern portion of the Gold Dust Trail.

The Gold Dust Trail has three distinct sections: The southern forest walk past prospectors’ attempts at finding a vein; the central ditch walk, where other gold seekers diverted water to find gold in the gravel; and the northern old road, which went over Boreas Pass to the gold camps in Summit County. I’ll look forward to walking the road and completing the trail, and maybe someday stringing them all together.

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