Susan Kees Celebrates Hiking and History
by Jesse James McTigue
Aug 05, 2012 | 2481 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print

For Telluride Hiking Guide author Susan Kees, hiking around the Telluride region is about much more than exercise. It’s about exploration.

Kees has explored the surrounding basins, ridges and trails for over four decades and continues to share her routes, and their history, with locals and visitors alike in the third edition of the Telluride Hiking Guide, available at Between the Covers and online at

Kees, who has lived at the top of Oak Street since 1972, began hiking not to set records or train for races, but to explore Telluride’s mining history. As a writer and teacher she became intrigued with many of the mining characters who still lived in Telluride  in the early 70s.

Kees visited the miners and wrote short biographies for the local paper, which at the time was The Telluride Times.

“Mrs. Clemente lived next door,” Kees recalled of a little Italian, woman who worked in the mines and lived in the house in front of the house she shares with her husband, Bill Kees.

“She was a cook at the Sheridan Crosscut Mine and worked at the Black Bear Mine. She was five feet tall and walked around town with coal bucket, and filled it with scraps of wood from the construction sites to heat her home. She had a thick, Italian accent and she and her daughter would tell me stories about living at the Sheridan Crosscut.”

After hearing about off-the-beaten-path places like The Sheridan Crosscut Mine and the Ballard House, and stories from the people who had lived and worked in these places, Kees wanted to visit them. The only way to get there was to hike.

Even now, getting to many of these places is tricky, but back then even if there were trails, they were overgrown. So, as Kees explored, she would write notes to herself, so she could remember how to get home.

“I got lost everywhere I went,” she said, laughing at herself. “I remember being up Bear Creek for nine hours on the way to Ophir – and I never got there. So I wrote notes to help myself on the way back.”

To find some of the places that she wanted to explore, it would take her multiple attempts, but for Kees, the effort was always worth it. Especially when her path led to mining ruins.

“I’m interested in the stories, the things that happened in these basins,” Kees said. Then unable to resist, she told the story of Bulkeley Wells.

According to Kees, Wells, who was a superintendent of the mines, had a hunting camp in Deer Trail Basin where he would take different ladies for high-end picnics.

“It was asuumed he was ladies man,” Kees said, “and it was assumed he had these luxurious picnics in and around Deer Trail Basin. In fact, there has been findings of fine china high in these basins, probably left from his picnics.”

She paused, eyes wide, and added, “Stuff like that fascinates me.”

In her hiking guide, Kees gives routes that reveal hard-to-find places like the Marshall Basin-Liberty Bell Ridge Loop, as well as directions to places you may have passed 100 times without noticing.

One such place is the Stillwell Tunnel and Liberty Bell Mine, a turn you’ve probably overlooked every time you’ve done the Jud Wiebe. If you continue toward Liberty Bell Mine, instead of diving into the Jud Wiebe from Tomboy Road, you’ll end up at Stillwell.

Kees’ description of Liberty Bell Mine in the hiking guide is as follows:

This was a fairly sophisticated place in those years with a well-stocked commissary that had a pool table and lockers for miners. The miners turned 12-inch sided banquet tables upside down and hung them from the ceiling to be used like playpens where children observed their parents below. Take the time to walk up there and see where men worked for less than $3 a day.

In Kees’ mind, her hiking guide is first “a tribute to the Miners,” and second a great resource for those adventurous enough to explore the places where she has been, so many times.

“My sense is that we wouldn’t be here if the miners hadn’t been here,” she said. “They made the roads and the trails possible. Nobody has really thanked them.”

This spring, Kees finished the third edition of her hiking guide. The first edition was published in 2000 and  morphed from all of those little notes she used to take; in the 2012 second edition, she improved the directions. Now, in 2012, with the third edition, she believes she has, with help from her husband, greatly improved the directions and expanded the scope of the hikes.

Kees explained that she and Bill spent the last two summers hiking and re-hiking the routes, using a GPS to track coordinates and to map each route.

“One year we did the Sheridan Crosscut eight times,” she said, “because we argued about the directions. Bill made me be more accurate and kept me accountable. He’s very thorough and precise; he didn’t care about the grammar, but was more interested in the precision.”

For Susan, hiking around Telluride and writing her hiking guide have always been a labor of love. At 70, she’s still going, and it doesn’t look like she is planning to stop in the foreseeable future, despite a few broken bones. She has broken three bones in the last five years, in her wrist, her ankle and her leg.

In her guide she calls the traverse on a hike called Valley View “Bone Breaker Traverse,” because that is where she broke her ankle.

And her wrist?

“I was at the top of the pass beyond Lewis Mine, up Bridal Veil Basin,” she said. “I looked up at Columbine Lake. You think you’re in the Bahamas when you look at it – beautiful turquoise that comes from copper. I looked at it, wowed at it and tripped with my pack on and crunched my wrist.”

She paused and added, laughing, “I’m not sure if I broke my wrist before my ankle.”

After each injury, she has been back hiking as soon as she can. In fact, we held our interview during her first hike since breaking her leg this past February. We did Owl Creek.

The hike was as good for her soul as it was her leg. Ecstatic to be back on the trail,  she answered, “My favorite hike? Whatever one I’m on.”

Look for Telluride Hiking Guide at Between The Covers and online at Kees encourages anyone using her guide to comment on the hikes and current conditions at the website.

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