Monday, July 09, 2007

Skagway Power Plant Found!

Hydroelectric Turbine
Originally uploaded by gamp

Some of my friends have been trying to get to an old abandoned hydroelectric powerplant in out in the wilderness for years. This place was built in 1901 and was used until 1960something when flooding knocked if offline permanently. They have conducted about 14 trips looking for it, unsuccessfully. On recent trips they followed the penstock, the old wood and metal hoop water pipe, but could only get so far as sections of it were washed away and bridges were missing or unstable. This was my third trip, and second one when I had some idea where it was supposed to be. Last time I took a route on the canyon floor along the creek. There is a sort of "trail" here so it should be easy, but in many places the trail disappears and you're stuck between a fast flowing creek and a 600 foot high wall of rock. I've opted to climb over the rocks most times, and it was grueling. Last time I ended up getting stranded with thunderstorms, soaked, in the dark, and it took me six hours to get back to my motorcycle, where on the way home I ended up with hypothermia. This time similar things happened, but I was smarter and camped and took my new AWD vehicle which can handle the dirt roads that get near the location nicely. As it turned out it was right off the creek about 75 feet up and only 5 miles down the creek. Considering I still couldn't figure out how to hike along the creek without making severe climbing detours, it was by far the most grueling hike I've ever taken. Hazards included; slippery wet rocks and trees, a boulder that came loose and pushed me down a hill, temporarily pinning me against a tree, water way above my boots, trees across the creek, and apparently a christian fundamentalist camp somewhere. I made it though, battered, bruised, and tattered. Hooray! I don't think I'll be doing more hiking soon.

edit 9/23 I have now created a group on flickr if you've also been to or are looking for skaguay

edit 7/7/08 The Colorado Springs Gazette wrote an article about a trip to Skaguay. It has a great slideshow and video documenting the trip, a previously unpublished memoir of life at the plant, and is overall a great article. It looks like they had a better and safer time making the journey then me too.

edit - 2nd trip to the plant


Anonymous said...

Hey there, I am working on old hydros too, and had even set up a meet with the DOW to look into Skaguay, and may still do it. Who are your buds that were thinking about it, maybe we can get it rolling.

There is some amazing history about that site.

Get in touch, I'm in Glenwood -

Anonymous said...


105° 2'55.04"W

An accurate coordinates for the plant?

John said...

Check the Colorado Springs Gazette, for Sunday, July 6. There was an entire article on the power plant.

Guy Mason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
~m~ said...

Thanks for your insight. I went down there this week. Tough trip.

Kendal said...

Don't know if anyone is still paying attention to this thread, but as a kid I spent many summer days in nearby Victor and have been to the power plant several times--albeit not since the 1970s. As a young teen, my first solo backpack trip was camping out with my dog on Beaver Creek at the end of the flat part of the road/trail below the reservoir. (Until the 1960s flood, this was a developed trail that went all the way to the power plant.)

Back in the day, we would usually drive in as close as possible on the power plant road, which is still listed as a county road on some maps. Don't know if this road is still open due to private property issues, but it's a beautiful drive during aspen time. The road is fine for cars for a while but turns increasingly rugged and finally becomes 4WD fare as it drops toward the canyon. We would often just park and hike the last mile or so. The road takes you to a sort of landing between two rock spires where you get a fantastic view of the canyon, the plains, and the seemingly tiny power plant about 1,000 feet below. This is also the top of the old inclined railway that they used to get the equipment down to the plant. A shaky descent on wooden stairs bolted to a cliff brought you to the top of the railroad grade. (Might need a rappel to get down that now, now sure.) Then it was a steep slippery stairway of gravel and railroad ties dropping the 1,000 feet to the plant in less than a mile--including a creepy tunnel that we always imagined was full of bears. Coming back up was a real chore.

(NOTE: you can see a picture of the inclined railroad on p. 97 of Robert Ormes' "Tracking Ghost Railroads in Colorado", which has a wealth of information about obscure places around the state.)

I also hiked the pipeline (technically called a penstock) grade from the reservoir to the top of the incline several times before the grade degraded so much. Beautiful hike that stayed fairly level as the valley floor dropped away below you with a final "up" where the pipeline goes through a tunnel before reaching the top of the incline. (The pipe was buried under the railroad tracks.) Some of the bridges were a little shaky even back then, but most were intact. There was one fairly clever suspension bridge. The last bridge was shaky enough that it took a short bit of Class 3 climbing to get around. Even back in the late 70s, though, the wood slats of the pipeline were starting to collapse, leaving a maze of metal turnbuckle hoops like booby traps in the thickets of brush, which seemed to get denser every year.

Hardest hike I ever did there was to start at the reservoir, follow the penstock to the top of the incline, descend the incline (always bone jarring), then hike/climb back up Beaver Creek--again with spots of Class 3 climbing to get around waterfalls and with lots of flailing through dense brush. That was a long rough day that earned me a wrenched back, throbbing knees, sore legs, barked shins, and sore wet feet. But ultimately it was a very satisfying grand tour of this special and beautiful place. I'd do it again!

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