Mt. Wilcox is often over-looked because of it's higher neighbors or the few surrounding peaks that are more easily attainable. Peaks like the Fourteeners, Gray's
Peaks just to the west, Mt. Bierstadt
to the east usually grab people's interest for being in the Guanella Pass area. Other peaks like Square Top, Grey Wolf, Argentine or Mt. Edwards
lures people to their summits because of the ease of attaining them. I'm definitely NOT saying that Mt. Wilcox is difficult.
It would take a LONG stretch of the imagination to envision Mt. Wilcox as hard. But, it does involve a bit of an aggrevating bushwhack to reach it's summit and crossing Leavenworth Creek can be frustrating. Its willows are reminiscent of what Bierstadt used to have before authorities installed the wooden crosswalk through them.
Mt. Wilcox was named after a methodist minister by the name of John Edwards Wilcox who was a prominant figure in the Georgetown area and played a vital role in the development of the Waldorf Mine (and to some extent, the Santiago Mine located higher up)
The mountain was officially named as Mt. Wilcox on August 1st, 1948. John was also responsible for starting the Argentine Central Railroad which, ran from Silverplume up to the small mining town of Waldorf. At the time, it was the highest railroad in North America!
At one time, even the town of Waldorf was known as Wilcox.
Mt. Wilcox is the #315 highest (ranked) peak in Colorado. The easiest route to the summit doesn't exceed class-2 and it only boasts ~550' of prominance from its' neighbor, Argentine Peak.
In the annuals of mining history, there isn't mentioned of this peak. It blends in with the terrain as just another highpoint near the divide. The east aspect is fairly gentle providing good, safe routes to its' summit. The western side is rugged, loose and rotten. Although, a good loop hike exists that takes in both the south and northern gentle ridges with the possibility of attaining Square Top as well. The Leavenworth Ridge Loop
is also dog-friendly.
Mt. Wilcox is a great alternative from the 14er circuit and chances are, you'll have the mountain and environs to yourself. People gravitate to Grays & Torreys or Mt. Bierstadt instead.
From Denver, head west on I-70 for approximately 42 miles and leave I-70 at exit #228 (Georgetown). The mileage will vary depending on where in Denver one is leaving from. Take the right hand exit, turn left and pass underneath the highway onto 15th Street. Pass the visitor's center on the right and Valero gas station on the left. At the 4-way intersection, turn right and proceed south onto Argentine Street. Drive for a few miles to 11th Street. Turn left.
Take the next right onto Rose Street and follow this south through town heeding the occasional sign for Guanella Pass.
Turn onto CR #381. The road will immediately climb steeply and switchback but is paved. At mile 1.5, you'll pass the old site of SilverDale. Nothing really remains save for a couple headstones down near the creek. After mile 2.5, turn right onto FR #248.1 (Leavenworth Creek Rd.). This is also referred to as CR #352 on some maps. Simply follow this dirt road to its terminus, some 5.6-6 miles.
Mt. Wilcox from the north.
The road is mildly to moderately rough and I believe a car with high clearence or 4x4 capabilities would be a good idea to save ones undercarriage. There are numerous pull outs along this stretch and stray Jeep Roads criss-cross the area.
From the turn off #381, the end of the road (Waldorf Mine) is roughly 5.8 miles. The road does continue past the mine up to Argentine Pass but it becomes narrow and loose. Snowdrifts frequently block access well into late summer. The west side of Argentine Pass is now private property and cannot be driven. In the other direction, the road continues uphill past some mining structures and tailings to the summit of McClellan Mountain. This 'extra credit' Jeep Road is rough and seems to get rougher with each passing year.
Park at the mine
. This is effectivly the trailhead.
Mount Wilcox is the prominant peak southeast across Leavenworth Creek. From Georgetown, one-way mileage is about 9 miles. If you pass Green Lake (left side) while on #381, you've gone too far.
Silver Dollar/Naylor Lakes
Silver Dollar Lake is accessed from Guanella Pass Road, about 10 miles south of the I-70 Georgetown exit (#228). It's located above treeline in a hidden but pristine alpine valley framed by several mountains: Square Top Mountain (south) and Mount Wilcox (north). The Silver Dollar Lake Trail continues another half-mile to Murray Lake just below the continental divide (a worthy destination).
The trail climbs steadily through the vestiges of treeline to your first look at Naylor Lake (11,605ft). Naylor Lake is on private property. Just an FYI. The trail continues in a series of short, steep switchbacks through open tundra to Silver Dollar Lake (11,950ft).
Mount Wilcox is a moderate hike due north from this point. The trail is spectacular in late summer as wilflowers take over the valley. Both Square Top Mountain and Mt. Wilcox tower over you from the lake.
If approaching from this direction, just be aware if summer thunderstorms approach, there isn't much in which to take cover from lightning.
Mountain goat and bighorn sheep inhabit the valley's high walls and ridges while elk and moose frequent the luxuriant alpine meadows in its center.
Absolutely no red tape. Just remember to abide by Leave No Trace
ethics for future hikers and visitors. There are about 13 mining claims in and around Waldorf, so just be aware private property does exist.
Other than that, have fun!
When To Climb
Mt. Wilcox is chiefly hiked in the summer or in late spring as a snow climb. Since access can be had from either Leavenworth Gulch or Silver Dollar Lake, this is an easy peak to get in the winter season.
However keep in mind, once one leaves the relative shelter of the mine or pass Silver Dollar Lake, there is no place to take shelter in summer during thunderstorms. This is wide open tundra.
Just like Guanella Pass and the resident peaks, winds are and can be bad.
In winter, skis are highly recommended or good, sturdy snowshoes.
Because of the frequent winds, the slopes are usually blown free. Just beware of the eastern aspects.
Mining- A Local History
The Georgetown area has a very rich mining history that in every right, rivals that of other locations like Central City, Cripple Creek, the Denver area placers and Clear Creek. The key to Georgetown and Silver Plume was to have easy access to Summit County and Denver (Front Range).
For the small towns of Waldorf and Silver Dale, the chief barrier to grand development was transportation of the mined ore. Having the continental divide practally on their doorstep didn't help either.
In the mid-late 1870's, a new mining conglomerate started up, The East Argentine Mining Company (district). The company quickly rose to financial prominance taking its name from the fact that silver was the predominant ore mined in the vicinity. Plus, argentine is latin for silver!
What was once Sanderson Pass collequially became Snake River Pass and by 1878, everyone referred to it as Argentine Pass...as it is still known as today.
There was even the mining town of Argentine located on the west side of the pass in Summit County (originally known as Decauter). However, it was quite literally wiped off the face of the map by a massive avalanche.
Located only 1.5 miles up #381 south of Georgetown is the site of Silver Dale. In 1874, Silver Dale slowly rose from the earth in a loose, shot-gun birth of crude log buildings. Silver Dale never amounted to an actual town in the literal sense but it did manage to harbour a machine shop, general store and small hotel. It never had a post office. There were no formal streets and most of the buildings were arranged in haphazard fashion with no premeditation. Some were even located up Leavenworth Creek. The town only boasted 75-90 residents and according to an 1878 map, 52 structures are known to have existed. To make matters [worse] for residents, especially the women, a sever diptheria epidemic moved through the valley in 1879 killing almost 60% of the town's children.
There was an 'Upper Dale' and a 'Lower Dale'. Silver Dale unlike most mining towns and encampments simply had no formal center. This probably directly lead to its quick demise. In 1925, a major mudslide took out Upper Dale's cemetary and a couple buildings. Two boys perished in the slide. Fact, one of the boys wasn't exhumed (found) until the early 1960's!
However the confusion played out, mines such as the Leavenworth, Equator, Colorado Central, Big Blue, Robinson & Curtly and S. J. Tilden were serviced by Silver Dale.
The axe finally fell in 1893 when congress repealed the Sherman Silver Act. Since most of the ore mined in the area was silver, when silver prices bottomed out, these towns shrivled up and disappeared. As transitory and fickle as an industry like mining can be, especially in the early days of mining, it's no surprise that Colorado has about 1/3 as many ghost towns as it does living towns
Now-a-days, all thats left of Silver Dale are two small headstones and a foundation down by the creek.
The ghost town of Waldorf lies at 11,594ft at the headwaters of Leavenworth Creek. Waldorf was established in 1867 three years after a large silver vein was discovered on Leavenworth Mountain (I believe). However, it took those subsequent years to actually come up with the technology to extract the ore efficiently.
Waldorf had a slow start and never really attracted a large population. At most, the town could have been said to have a population of 300, depending on who you asked and how drunk they were. Both Waldorf and Silver Dale had problems with alcohol.
Waldorf had itself a large mill, a boarding house, hotel (ran by Ada LaMonte see below
), machine shop, general store and powerhouse. By 1906, the post office opened (in the early mining days, this was vitally important to a town's longevity). Fact, the residents of Waldorf boasted the highest post office in the United States at 11,666ft.
A local methodist minister by the name of John Edwards Wilcox
lived in the vicinity and reaslized the potential of Waldorf. Due largely to his tenacity and persistance, that he encouraged the development of the Waldorf Mine. He founded the Waldorf Milling & Mining Co. The ore was milled directly in town before being sent down to Silver Plume for further extraction. In addition to the town, Wilcox invested heavily in the Argentine Centrail Railroad
, (an adhesion railroad)
. The tracks originated in Silver Plume and ended in Waldorf. They were lengthed in 1898 by WIlliam Rogers up to the Santiago Mine some ~450 feet higher on Mt. McClellan. The odd name of 'Santiago' likely comes from the town of Santiago, Cuba as the US had just taken the town over during the Spanish-American War. Like many of the mines in Clear Creek County, the Santiago was operated seasonally. Santiago dried up and disappeared before Waldorf and almost no records can be found as to when.
The railroad was informally known as 'The Stairway to the Stars'. On an interesting side note, the train couldn't actually make the insanely tight switchbacks (some upwards of 320˚). So to get around this, the tracks were laid out past
the actual switchback. The train would then shift into reverse and continue up the mountain backwards! This afforded easy transportation to get the ore and supplies from Santiago down to Waldorf. However, since the ore being mined wasn't exceeding costs of putting in the tracks, Wilcox in 1905 opened up the railroad to tourists who eventually outnumbered trips (frieght) by almost 10:1. The catch phrase of the day was "A Lifetime in a Day".
During the summer of 1909, Wilcox sold the railroad to the Grays Peak Scenic Development Company for $44,000. Ultimatley, the railroad went bankrupt in 1912. That same year the post office closed its' doors. The tracks were removed in 1920 and Waldorf & Santiago began their long and slow denouvement to ghost status. Over the life of the Waldoref Mine, roughly $4 million in gold and silver was extracted. The hotel burnt down in 1960 and the boarding house was destroyed in 1962. The last building to remain was the post office which, saw its' demise in the early 1970's. The Argentine Central was North America's highest railraod to its day.
For its period in time, from the early 1860's up to 1918 (same year as the Russian Revolution)
, the most profitable mine in the area was the Colorado Central which produced $8-11 million in ore. All mines combined yielded about $20-22 million.
Mining was indeed, a hard tack life.
* The story of Ada LaMont is a story of true Shakespearean porportions. On a wagon trip out west with his somewhat recent young bride, Ada LaMont, at one point along the journey, her minister husband disappeared in 1858 coincedentially alongside a younger woman of ill repute. Emotionally hurt and scarred, when young Ada arrived in Denver, she famously swore to never walk the 'upright & pure' side of life again. She became a whore & madam and opened one of Denver's 'cleanest' and more reputable whorehouses...and was rather successful.
A few years later, her husband's bible was found on the prarie (Kansas I think) next to a skeleton with robes of a clergyman and a bullet hole through the skull. Turns out, her husband was not unfaithful all. He was ambushed and killed. The bible was a gift from Ada bearing an inscription made by her own hand. When the bible was returned to Ada later that year, everything came crashing down.
Completely wracked by guilt and remorse, Ada left Denver and wandered the minimg camps for a year or so before finally ending up in Georgetown and ultimately Waldorf. She owned and ran the hotel (mildly successful) in Waldorf before dying alone of massive guilt and starvation.
Arapahoe-Roosevelt National Forest
Clear Creek Ranger District
101 Chicago Creek Rd.
Idaho Springs, Co. 80452
Colorado or Bust -decent trip report
Lists of John -great statistical beta!!
A killer trip report from Matt. -Sweet pictures!
Trip Report from Bersteigen -14ers.com
More sweet pictures!