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Sunday, June 28, 2015
Summit Hiking: Mohawk Lakes Trail
Kim Fenske / Special to the Daily
Lower Mohawk Lake is located in the Spruce Creek Trailhead south of Breckenridge. The lake is nestled in a deep amphitheater formed by Pacific Peak, 13,950 feet, and Mount Helen, 13,165 feet, in the Ten Mile Range. The hike is an intermediate ascent of 1,400 vertical feet, with a total distance of 6.6 miles from the Spruce Creek Trailhead. The elevation of Spruce Creek Trailhead is 10,400 feet, a thousand feet below tree line, while Mohawk Lakes are surrounded by rocky tundra and krumholz. The Mohawk Lakes Trail provides access to an area with dramatic waterfalls, rich fields of wildflowers, and relics of the mining era.
Allow at least five hours to explore the area and plan to descend in early afternoon to avoid the frequent thunderstorms that tend to form over the mountains later in the day. Carry two bottles of water to remain hydrated during the hike or pack a water filter to take water from the stream. Be prepared to find a crowd of hikers on this popular trail, accompanied by many free-roaming hunting dogs.
From the Wheeler Trail junction, the hike to tiny Mayflower Lake is only a mile, with the spectacular spray of Lower Mayflower Falls located near the trail switchbacks a half-mile farther at 11,100 feet. Above the switchbacks are a miner’s cabin and the remains of an ore cart tram wheelhouse.
The Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of 1858 brought miners to placer gold in the plains waterways surrounding Denver. However, miners quickly discovered that larger concentrations of precious minerals could be found in the streams of the Central Mountains. The first settlements in the Blue River Valley formed to exploit gold deposits in the Breckenridge area. Within a decade, placer gold recovery declined and hard rock silver mining became more important to the economy of the area.
Silver rose in value due to federal legislation that authorized the United States government to purchase and coin silver under the Bland-Allison Act of 1878. With the increase in the value of ores, mining operations expanded. Federal government purchases of silver nearly doubled under the mandates of the 1890 Sherman Silver Purchase Act. However, the repeal of the Act caused the collapse of the silver market in 1893, leaving many mining camps in ruins.
On the western shore of Lower Mohawk Lake, at 11,860 feet, the walls of one mining cabin remain. A trail leading from the southern shore of Lower Mohawk Lake leads to the larger Mohawk Lake, 300 feet higher in the gulch.
As you wander among the wetlands, look for alpine wildflower species. You may find artic gentian, inverted bells of white with blue stripes along the sides of its petals. In boggy areas, look for the red elephant figwort, white bog orchid, king’s crown, and queen’s crown. On drier slopes beside the trail, rosy paintbrush and columbine clusters may greet you. Among the rocks, look for alpine forget-me-not, sky pilot, and moss campion. Descend slowly from the lakes and absorb all of the beauty, from gigantic rocky ridges to the tiny blossoms of tundra flowers.
HOW TO GET THERE
From Frisco, drive south for 10 miles to the Peak 8 gondola in Breckenridge. Continue for another 3 miles south to Spruce Creek Road, across the highway from the pond called Goose Pasture Tarn. Turn right and ascend west 1.8 miles to Spruce Creek Trailhead. Since the road above the trailhead is not well maintained for low-clearance vehicles, park here. Either continue driving up the road if you have a high-clearance vehicle or hike west for 1.3 miles to the junction with the Wheeler Trail. Hike 0.5 miles down the Wheeler Trail to a large beaver pond where the trail meets the Spruce Creek trail. Turn west on the Spruce Creek Trail to its terminus, then cross the road to find the trail to Mohawk Lakes.
Kim Fenske has written extensively on hiking trails throughout Colorado. His writing includes Greatest Hikes in Central Colorado: Summit and Eagle Counties; and Hiking Colorado: Holy Cross Wilderness, available from Amazon Kindle Books.