Telluride July 2011 Day 5
Our fifth day in Telluride was a wild one. It consisted of a lot, I mean A LOT, of hiking. We woke up early to drive down toward Bridal Veil Falls (at the East end of Telluride). There is a road the goes up the 2000 vertical feet to the top of Bridal Veil but with our impeccable timing we arrived just as the closed the road for two weeks to install a new pipeline.
The good news is we were the first people to arrive so we parked at the base of the road, gathered our goods and began to hike. A cool 2000 vert. later we arrived at the top. What a view! This had turned out to be our most rewarding hike by far.
We were told of a few high alpine lakes at the top of Bridal Veil which were the lakes that fed the Bridal Veil river so we decided to go ahead and hike to the lakes. We hadn’t bothered to by any back country hiking maps since I clearly knew everything being from Telluride and all. False, this was my first time to hike past the falls so I was just as new as Ashley was in this case.
We hiked, and we hiked, before we knew it we were above the tree line and were running on miniscule amounts of oxygen. No lake even in sight at this point. Surely it was only a big further so we continued to hike. Once we reached about 13,000 ft. we had had enough. Plus the afternoon storms began to roll in and in an alpine meadow at 13,000 ft. is not where you want to be when lightning is in the area.
I knew we were close because we had just reached the point where we could see the plumbing pipes that fed some of the old mines coming out of Blue Lake but we never made it. Once I got home and was able to look at the map I realized we only had about another .5 miles and 400 vert. to go but with mountain climbing nothing ever works right the first time.
The views from the top were unmatchable and it was especially neat for me because it was a completely new hike for me which is rare in a town I pride myself on being an expert in.
Make sure to read below the photos for a quick history on Bridal Veil Falls.
Bridal Veil Falls is a 365 foot (111 m) waterfall at the end of the box canyon overlooking Telluride, Colorado. It is the tallest uninterrupted waterfall in the state of Colorado. Hiking and off-road trails pass by the falls and the power plant at its top. In winter the frozen shape of the falls forms an imposing challenge to intrepid ice climbers.
Bridal Veil Falls is a two pronged waterfall. The trail past the falls continues on to mountain meadows and mountain lakes above 10,000 feet (3,000 m).
The house/power plant atop the falls was restored, operated and lived in (1991-2010) by Eric Jacobson. The power generated now provides about 25 percent of Telluride’s demand for electricity. The plant was originally used to power the Smuggler-Union Mine and in winter requires an aerial tramway for access. It is the second-oldest operating AC generator in the United States, the first being the nearby Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant by Ophir, Colorado. The Idarado Mining Company now owns and operates the power plant.
The falls were opened briefly in the 1990s to ice climbers, but the area is private property so climbing has been legally prohibited since. Referred to as a “mega classic” and “the most difficult waterfall ice climb in North America” some climbers have trespassed to take a crack at the imposing and dangerous climb, but a land purchase proposal and an insurance deal may change the situation. Climbers were excited by the proposal in 2008 that would reopen the falls to climbers. Legendary climbers Jeff Lowe (climber) and Mike Wiess were known to have been the first to summit the falls in 1978, the effort having been broadcast on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
The area around Bridal Veil Falls is subject to avalanche and controlled shelling to create controlled slides is an event popular with spectators and photographers. Reaching the top of the falls in winter can be a precarious venture, even for the experienced family that calls the plant home.
Bulkeley Wells is the man responsible for building a power plant of such a tantalizing stature. Wells was a fierce leader for the Colorado National Guard during Telluride’s labor strikes of 1899 to 1908. Wells married the daughter of the Smuggler-Union Mine’s owner and quickly became the business’s manager in November 1902. Wells is the man responsible for switching a the miners payment system from the day’s wage to a “fathom” which consisted of being paid for distance mined rather than the time put in.
After realizing he had been being over charged for fuel from the high country he proposed building the power plant on top of Bridal Veil. He built his 12 bedroom dream house and decorated it with mission-style furniture of the Arts and Crafts Movement. In 1907, he moved in. 1907 was the pinnacle of Wells fortune in Telluride which slowly slid away from him causing him to permanently leave Telluride in 1923 for Nevada. In 1931, he shot himself in despair.
Smuggler-Union Mine was shut down in 1928 due to the price of ore flattening out and the great depression looming. The Idarado Mining Company bought the mine and power station in 1953. The next year the shut down the power station and the home went dark, slowly fading into demise.
In 1988, Eric Jacobson bought the power station and began its restoration. The Energy Act of 1978 is what spurred Jacobson into action on Bridal Veil. The act stated that anyone could file a permit to restart idle facilities; they didn’t even have to own the property. In 1981, Jacobson filed for a permit and, after seven years of legal resistance from Idarado, Jacobson was granted a 99-year lease to operate the hydro plant.
Unfortunately, Jacobson faced upwards of 30 lawsuits from the Idarado mining company in his 30 years of residence. The last settlement terminated his lease and handed the daily operations of the power station back into the hands of the Idarado Mining Company. To this day Idarado has yet to make a statement whether they will keep the power plant in such pristine condition.