Old mining shacks are becoming backcountry ski huts in Colorado’s high country
As the skiers approached a century-old mining shack in a clearing, views of the wind-ravaged slopes below London Mountain and Mosquito Peak emerged through the trees.
“Anyone see anything that concerns them?” asked ski guide and avalanche educator Abe Pacharz, waiting for someone to point out recent avalanches on the flanks of the peaks.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” said Jeff Crane. “We are all about education.”
Crane and his partner, Kate McCoy, are mingling historic preservation at the site of Park County’s North London Mill with recreation on their mission to restore the antiquated mining structures in Mosquito Gulch and manage them for backcountry travelers. It’s yet another Colorado example of mountain recreation being tapped as an economic pillar in regions where the extractive industry has long dominated.
The North London Mill started processing ore from dozens of mines bored into London Mountain in the 1880s and lasted almost 70 years before falling into disrepair. The monument to one of the richest gold strikes in the state is now a shell of creaking timber and stone, a relic of Colorado’s gold rush.
But what remains from Colorado’s rich mining history are two lasting legacies: hundreds of miles of mountain tunnels spewing heavy metals into watersheds and even more miles of roads crisscrossing the high country, delivering access to remote peaks. Innovative approaches to both those legacies are on display below London Mountain.
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Wolves were a problem for ranchers when Kip Gates’ great-great-grandfather homesteaded in the area. He doesn’t want the problem to return.