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Mt. Antero - Mountain Of Gems

Posted in Events on October 1, 2010
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Since the late 1800s, Mt. Antero has been known as a mountain of gems. At 14,269 feet in elevation, it is the highest known source in the United States where gem deposits can be found. It is also the 11th highest mountain in Colorado and one of the few places where a vehicle can be parked at an elevation normally reserved for airplanes.

The first prospectors to explore the mountain were looking for gold and silver. Instead, they found aquamarine crystals in a variety of colors including sky blue and sea green gems. They were found in isolated pockets described as cavities within granite rock. In the early years, precious gems could be found lying on the ground; left there as ice, snow, wind, rain, and even bolts of lightning eroded the land and uncovered hidden pockets of gems.

Of course the easy treasures are mostly gone. Every once in a while a story will surface that someone found something that was uncovered in the early spring by melting snow. Finding a gem and knowing what has been found takes some expertise in rock hounding.

The road used today was built in the 1950s by a Texas-based company that intended to mine the gems buried within the belly of the mountain. Their efforts were short lived due to numerous problems. First of all, there are only a few months out of every year that Mt. Antero can be climbed. Secondly, the gem deposits were only found above the tree line. The biggest reason for the failed mining venture was the pockets containing aquamarine crystals were scattered all over the mountain. Once a pocket was found, it would produce some profits but once it was depleted, finding another pocket was a needle in a haystack.

It is fair to mention that Lone Writer would not know a gem from painted rock, so finding anything of value on Mt. Antero is not likely in his future. For him, the mountain is all about the scenery, the raging mountain stream, and the 360-degree view of the Rocky Mountains from the peak.

The trail begins a few miles east of St. Elmo. The climb in elevation begins immediately by following the banks of Baldwin Creek. The waters of that creek are most spectacular in the springtime but the road all the way to the top is not open until late summer. In June or July, the trail can be followed to Baldwin Lake, which is located near tree line. To follow the trail to the top of Mt. Antero, it will be necessary to wait until August or September.

Once the trail ascends above the tree line, it becomes a narrow cliff route. Passing another vehicle is not possible along much of the trail, but the switchbacks have been widened enough for one vehicle to park on the edge while another passes. Remember that uphill traffic always has the right of way.

The trail switches back and forth until it tops out at a level that separates Mt. Antero from Mt. White. The elevation at that point is about 13,000 feet. Either mountain can be accessed on different branches of intersections. Another road is also available at that level. It goes down in elevation into a forest with access to some lakes. There may have been a road going beyond the lakes at one time, but it no longer exists.

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The second level of the Mt. Antero trail is the most challenging. It is extremely narrow and the switchbacks have no room to spare. The road ends at about 13,800 feet in elevation. A rock pylon has been built to mark that spot.

Be especially watchful of storms moving through the mountains. We have been there at times when nylon jackets created sparks by simply moving them. When lightning bolts hit at that elevation, they create a deafening explosion. Being anywhere near the point of impact can be life threatening.

The third and last level is the peak of Mt. Antero and can only be reached by those who are healthy enough to hike a steep mountain trail to 14,269 feet. The air is thin and the climb is nearly vertical even though it can be done standing up. It's not a place Lone Writer will ever visit.

Our camp site was located in the forest west of St. Elmo. There are numerous primitive places to set up a tent along North Fork Chalk Creek. When camping, always use existing fire pits and be sure the fire is out before you leave. When camping in that area, be aware of everything around you. We have been visited late at night by local wildlife of the bear kind.

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Trip Meter - Latitude (N) - Longitude (W) - Comments

0.0 - 38 42.2108 - 106 20.7029 - St. Elmo store.
3.3 - 38 42.6012 - 106 17.4984 - Right on trail.
5.9 - 38 40.9540 - 106 16.3673 - Left to Mt. Antero. Right is to Baldwin Lake.
9.2 - 38 39.7071 - 106 15.4779 - First level. Take the left fork. 13,119-feet elevation per GPS.
10.5 - 38 40.0420 - 106 14.9730 - Level two. 13,784 feet. Hike from here.

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