Ascent of Gold Hill on 2020-08-01

Climber: Rob Anthony

Others in Party:Rayleigh (dog)
Date:Saturday, August 1, 2020
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Start at Home
Peak:Gold Hill
    Location:USA-New Mexico
    Elevation:12716 ft / 3875 m

Ascent Trip Report

We were camping at Columbine Canyon campground and since Christina was injured, we decided Gold Hill from the campground would be a good day hike for me and the dog while she hung out at camp.

I got on the trail by 7:15, which conveniently started about 100 ft from our campsite. The first 1.6 miles of trail parallels Columbine Creek, crossing it 3 times on foot bridges. The terrain is gently rolling and gains elevation slowly.

I took the Dear Creek (Tr #69) turn off to head towards Gold Hill. The first 0.5 miles parallel a creek and are in dense/lush forrest. At 2 miles, the trail starts switchbacking up the hill side and I didn't see flowing water for the rest of the hike. The tread is fantastic and smooth. The trail continues switchbacking for several miles and around 4.2 I encountered the only other hiker I saw on the way up - a woman in her 50s who apparently does this hike 2-3 times a week!

At 5 miles the trail enters an Aspen forrest and continues switchbacking. Around 6 miles or so, the trail peters out as you cross a meadow - just keep heading straight for the old derelict cabin and regain the trail on the other side of the meadow.

At 6.5 miles, the trails pops out onto the crest and you have your first views of Gold Hill to the South-East as well as the Taos Ski Valley peaks. The trail follows the crest for a short bit before ducking back into the forrest. This forrest section is nearly perfectly flat (a welcome relief from the last 5 miles or so of climbing). In the forest reach the junction with the Gold Hill (#64) trail and start climbing again. The trail again puts you on the summit crest put now Gold Hill is closer and directly in front of you. Traverse the field to gold hill and make the final switch backs to the summit.

Today the views were spectacular with the Latir Peaks to the north, Wheeler Peak to the East, Lobo Peak to the SE, Big Costilla Peak to the NW, etc. I had the peak to myself for nearly an hour and studied my maps and decided to descend via the Willow and Placier Fork trails to make it a loop and hopefully find some water for my dog.

Heading south on the Gold Hill trail is easy to follow. At about 0.7 miles from the summit, I was supposed to turn west on the Lobo Peak trail - I totally missed the turnoff. I ended up going back uphill about 100 vertical ft and overland to find the trail again. This section of the Lobo peak trail seemed to come and go in the open meadows. I encountered several hunters looking for elk and Big Horn Sheep as I wandered in the correct general direction of Willow and ascended and descended small hills.

Eventually, I just relied on my GPS to take me to Willow Creek trail and jumped down into a drainage that I knew from my GPS must have the trail. The trail was invisible even when my GPS had me standing on it. The scramble down the wash was more or less class 2 and the hardest part of my route all day. Once down at treeline, You enter a large canyon heading off to the North-West. Here, I found a large cairn, but no trail.

Luckily it didn't take long to find Willow Creek, which was flowing and Rayleigh enjoyed splashing around and quenching his thirst in the creek. I decided to keep following the creek - doing some bushwhacking as necessary and occasionally checking in with GPS to make sure I wasn't too far off the "trail."

About a mile down the canyon, the trail became visible. It was unmaintained and we scrambled over numerous downed trees. Finally, at around 4.5 miles from the summit of Gold Peak we merged onto the Placier Fork trail which was much better maintained but had several stream crossings for my tired legs to contend with. Placier Fork had a fair amount of flow and a few times I slipped and dunked my shoes in the river.

At 6 miles, we met back up with Columbine Creek Trail, after which it was smooth sailing back to the campground - passing groups of Texans headed out to fish as we returned to camp.

This may have been the most elevation gain I have ever done in a day. I'd probably take Placier Fork if I were to do this route again....or better yet just get it from the Ski Valley. It was nice to pick a challenging route that required some route finding....but I probably would have struggled to drop into Willow Creek if not for my may be making me lazy...
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5706 ft / 1738 m
    Total Elevation Loss:5706 ft / 1738 m
    Round-Trip Distance:16.6 mi / 26.7 km
    Grade/Class:Class 2
    Quality:6 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Stream Ford
    Gear Used:
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:5006 ft / 1525 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 4756 ft / 1449 m; Extra: 250 ft / 76m
    Loss on way in:250 ft / 76 m
    Distance:8.5 mi / 13.7 km
    Route:Columbine Creek/Deer Creek/Gold Hill Trail
    Start Trailhead:Columbine Canyon CG  7960 ft / 2426 m
    Time:3 Hours 37 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:5456 ft / 1662 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 4756 ft / 1449 m; Extra: 700 ft / 213m
    Gain on way out:700 ft / 213 m
    Distance:8.1 mi / 13 km
    Route:Lobo Peak Tr/Willow Fork Tr/ Placier Fork Tr/ Colu
    End Trailhead:Columbine Canyon CG  7960 ft / 2426 m
    Time:3 Hours 16 Minutes

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