Colorado 2010 pt.1 - Gilman

Eagle County, Colorado (Map)

Summer 2010.


The first part of my Colorado trip seemed like it was going to be the most serious. Nailhed had been to Gilman before & he sent out a stern warning about the cold nighttime temps, rigorous hike & general danger of the location.

His words did not go on deaf ears & therefore back in August, I stopped at the Kittery Outfitters in Maine. I wasn't suddenly becoming a gear wanker, but not being much of an outdoorsy type, I believed I needed a few things & dropped $300 on gear in anticipation...sleeping bag rated to 20°F (-6°C), another 15°F with a thermal insert, actual hiking shoes, padded/wicking hiking socks, 2 extra powerful flashlights, camp pillow, gloves, camp towel.

Our group slowly trickled into Drew's house from several states and one province. We would set out for Gilman the next day, so the first day was all about catching up, cold Strohs & packing our gear.

Some drinks were consumed in Drew's Lounge, but since I suck such an unbelievable amount of ass when I'm hungover, I was one of the first to slip upstairs to bed. It was alright though, as I had been consuming plenty of the Nailhed-allotted Strohs throughout the day.

Leaving Drew's, I was surprised at just how far Gilman was from his house - it seemed like we were going to drive all the way to Utah0.

I put "Rocky Mountain High" by John Denver on during our drive, as I thought it would be appropriate...until I remembered how terrible that song is. Yrvelouria and Junix were skeptical of my music selections after that point.

We continued along and after stopping in Frisco, CO for religious A&W (I had Taco Bell), we drove for a bit more & quickly found ourselves walking on an abandoned rail line towards Gilman. The steep-sided valley quickly brought us out of sight of the road as our large group moved forward. All of us looked like pack mules with our gear & I was amazed at just how much stuff we were managing to bring with us.

0 - Surprisingly we only drove about 1/3rd of the way across sizable Colorado

The reason we could have such a large group was because Gilman was supposed to be cake. We strolled up, brought most of our stuff and made our way into the powerhouse. Noticing a pair of 50-something women walking their dogs next to a nearby abandoned building, we were all at ease & prepared for a great day popping in & out the various buildings like groundhogs from dry prairie ground.

This wasn't meant to be though, as we noticed the women walking away and a truck driving towards us; the truck moving into the area which is gated off & normally wouldn't see any vehicles.

I already had my tripod out & was taking pictures as a few others hid behind machinery & a few others talked to the truck drivers.

Apparently it was time for us to leave.

Now if it was just my pussy-ass, defeat loving self...maybe I would have went home, but today I was with some tenacious, determined folk; so we simply retreated up a hill and accessed the situation.

It was frustrating to not be checking out the lower Gilman buildings, but we made the best of it by relaxing in the shade. A little Maker's Mark bourbon didn't hurt either, but I was definitely taking it slow after multiple altitude/dehydration warnings from the locals.

Eventually we grew hungry and retreated to a nearby train tunnel to make dinner. Instead of pre-made sandwiches & fibre bars, the Colorado boys were doing it big as Drew had a butcher connection and got us some fine steaks (along with corn, cheesy garlic bread & vegetables).

As we lit the charcoal which was admirably carried into the site by Nailhed, Drew told us about how his butcher let him go into the back and punch cow slabs to figure out which cow he wanted steak from - that's some attention to detail.

Admittedly, with a modern grocery store 5 minutes from where I write this update...I look at this picture and long for the meal from Gilman more than anything.

The entire group of us sat back afterward, testing our waistbands as we smiled contently towards the sky.

Eventually it was time to get back to business.

We ruled out the lower Gilman buildings because of this newfound security, but we were going to explore the mine once it was dark.

The sketchy part of this is that you need to climb up Darwin's Ladder to get to the mine entrance. You see, Darwin's Ladder is that perilous wood contraption you see at the top centre of the above picture. It has been decaying since the 1980s, but people still climb it to get into the mine. I realized it would be sketchy beforehand, but I was also thinking about this in terms of doing it in the daylight & at my own pace - not racing up it in darkness as we tried to avoid using flashlights.

Thankfully we paired off & I was assigned to Drew - he had been here two-handfuls worth of times & he certainly knew his way around Darwin's Ladder.

Night fell quite suddenly as we were at the bottom of a 600-foot valley. There were a couple of people who sat out the night excursion by choice & unfortunately Arntz had to sit out because of gastrointestinal issues.

The first portion was like a staircase, with thick railroad ties pieced together to climb up the hill. Away from the 25 foot drop to the side, it wasn't that bad.

What was really bad, was the rickety, ramshackle "bridge" which connected the staircase portion to the flat area outside the mine entrance. There had been a landslide below this portion previously, so the entire bridge section closer to the hill was gone & only the outside, further-away-from-the-slope bridge section remained. Drew instructed me to stay close to the handrail as I watched him lead the way and step precariously on the wood & train rail which remained of the bridge.

I honestly wouldn't have believed the bridge would support a man's weight without seeing Drew cross it.

Nailhed has a great picture from a previous visit.

As for Gilman history...

The town site of Gilman and the nearby mines were bought up by developer John Clinton in the 1880s. Nearby mines produced gold & silver and the Eagle Mine we were inside, produced copper-silver ore.

There was a brief problem in the early 1900s where the ores from Eagle Mine contained too much Zinc, but a magnetic separator was constructed and the mine shifted its focus to Zinc (although it still produced most of Colorado's Silver at the time).

Zinc was the primary focus until 1931 and then from 1941 until the mine's closure in 1984 (low Zinc prices from 1931-1941 made them refocus on Copper/Silver for a short period of time).

The closure in 1984 was the result of an order by the EPA & also because of falling mineral prices. The order from the EPA was a result of contaminated groundwater and toxic pollutants - the soil had large amounts of Arsenic, Cadmium, Copper, Lead and Zinc present.

1 - This information is ALL from Wikipedia. I didn't put much work into this history.

There was so much inside the mine that I had to remind myself that I was actually underground & not in a building's basement. It was incredible to stand there and think this was all blasted out of the rock wall & built underground. To think that I was actually inside a mountain.

It was even more unbelievable as I explored the extensive tool making shops.

Gilman was either the first mine, or the only mine, to have their tool making shops built underground inside the mine like this.

The tool making area had to be my favourite section of the Gilman/Eagle mine. While the ore carts were an interesting sight & the giant machinery was impressive, it was interesting to take my time roaming in & out of offices, picking through small hand tools, drill presses, pickaxes & various other miscellany.

I should also point out how incredibly dark it was underground. The group knew about this before coming & most of us prepared by purchasing powerful flashlights. Arntz even bought some ridiculous $150 flashlight that came in its own carrying case, which was so big that it made him look like he was carrying a cordless drill around.

...but then he felt sick and didn't even get to test out his crazy flashlight.

Personally, I bought two new flashlights, one small hand light & a large spotlight. While I know those spotlight ones can be mostly useless, I was only planning to use it underground. In addition, I bought 4 extra camera batteries for all of the long exposures I would be doing with my hacked Canon point & shoot.

It was as I was taking these 2 and 3 minutes exposures that I realized I hadn't seen anyone for a while. While that's normally not a problem inside a building, it was a bit more unsettling down here.

Thankfully I found the group sitting at a hillside opening where the mine opened outward beneath an incredibly starry sky.

I was happy they didn't leave me & I returned to my 3 minute exposures.

I didn't go through my 4 camera batteries as I was drained before they were.

I joined the group at the cliff balcony & relaxed for a bit before we concluded that it was late enough & that we were content with what we saw.

Leaving the mine, the five of us navigated over that damn bridge again and over to the staircase portion of Darwin's Ladder. It was a bit less nerve wracking this time though, as every step brought us closer to safe Earth...and also because we used our flashlights a bit more, since we figured the security probably had fucked off for the night.

Returning to camp, we found most people sleeping but there were a few of us who wanted to celebrate a bit. We moved down the railway to drink some whiskey & bourbon, while enjoying some morsels and making shadow puppets on a nearby cliff wall.

When we eventually went to sleep, it was cold & I was glad I had my crazy sleeping bag. My face would become uncovered during the night & I'd wake up to a frigid nose/cheeks/forehead...which made me dive back into the sleeping bag. It forced me to ponder just how cold it was outside my cocoon.

I have used this sleeping bag several times since Colorado...and Colorado was the only time I've used it where I didn't sweat during the night.

Since we were in a valley, it remained dark and incredibly cold for a few additional morning hours. It was nice when the sun finally reached a height where it illuminated (and heated) our valley floor.

We hiked out of Lower Gilman, excited to head into nearby Minturn for breakfast.

I had the ungodly 'gringoburrito' - a breakfast burrito smothered in country gravy & cheese, which Cavemonkey leaned over and assessed as a 'heart attack on a plate'.

I was also amused to declare "I'm the Gringo!" when we were claiming our food on the group bill.

On today's docket was Upper Gilman - the town site where the miners lived.

Our Upper Gilman path involved climbing down a hill - and as we wanted to see the ghost town & not get popped by security - this climbing down a hill quickly turned into running down a hill.

This would be all fine & dandy, but it was funny as I was second in line & speeding down the hill...this was when I noticed Arntz putting on the brakes ahead of me & trying to turn right - which meant me trying to put on the brakes to avoid barreling over poor Arntz.

I very narrowly avoided him & it was a good thing, as it took me another 5 or 10 feet of land to stop. It wouldn't have been very smooth to have had him in the trolley tracks and body checked him down the grassy hill.

The first few buildings included houses & the town hotel.

Checking out these buildings, I remembered Drew telling me how he found the exterior of the abandoned town more interesting than anything which we would find inside.

Things got a bit more interesting as we went into the specialty buildings like the bank & the infirmary.

Inside the bank, we laughed at the site of the old safe, as Cavemonkey had told us a great story about how some dopey Colorado guy thought there would be something left inside - so he spent 5 hours smashing through the cinder block wall, only to find, gasp!, no gold bullion or silver coins! Only an empty safe! Shocker!

The bank offices...

In the activity building, in addition to a bowling alley, there was also a small skatepark built atop the old basketball court.

It was pretty impressive what these kids managed to build. I'd bet it was a great way to beat the harsh Colorado winter (although you would have to carry your bike into Gilman by snowshoe).

I know I wish I had a building like this to build some wintertime ramps inside.

We moved over to the garages, saw the old ambulance car & continued on to the hospital building.

The hospital building was interesting, but it wasn't like a typical abandoned hospital with medical equipment and such. It was more of a cottage hospital than a large, typical town hospital - which was still alright, but it meant that only claw foot tubs and mattresses were left behind.

Across the street from the hospital building was a small neighbourhood with 20-25 houses.

This was outside of the road's view, so it was fun to amble along the street & pop into various open doors and windows.

I was particularly amused when I saw a piano in one house & needed to get inside. I got into a second story window by climbing a clothesline post, only to discover as I was trying to leave, that the front door was simply shut, not locked shut.

We finished up with the headstock building, which was an interesting change after exploring 15 empty houses.

The headstock building gained a lot of points when I noticed that the locker room had those caged valuable baskets.

You see, the miners pull the chain to lift their basket to the ceiling and then lock them in the air with locks between a chain link & their locker.

I've always wanted to see a room full of these, but only knew of a room in Germany and another in Pennsylvania. It was a nice surprise, as I didn't know Gilman had them.

(Unfortunately the roof had holes, so I couldn't get a good picture with hundreds of the baskets in one shot).

We made our exit and emerged from a forest onto a road. As I was walking along, I was suddenly terrified with the sound of sirens and a roaring engine - but thankfully this fear quickly subsided, as the police blew right past us and onto somewhere else.

What a f'in coincidence. We didn't know what was going on, but more cop cars went by & fire trucks as well.

We eventually moved along and stopped at the religious A&W again - and I had Frisco, Colorado Taco Bell again.

After another couple hours of driving, it was time for some celebratory Jooses.



1 - Wikipedia - Gilman

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