August 28, 2013

Bear Creek Trail to Engineer Pass

Looking down into the Bear Creek basin from Engineer Pass

Today I hiked up to Engineer Pass from Highway 550 via the Bear Creek National Recreation Trail. The trail is a little over 7 miles to the pass and gains 4400 feet (starting at 8,400 and ending at 12,800). I really enjoyed this hike, as it gives you a great feel for the beauty of the San Juans and also an immense appreciation for how tough the old miners in this region were. The description on Summitpost sums it up best:
The Bear Creek Trail is a very spectacular trail just off Highway 550, south of Ouray, Colorado. The Bear Creek Trail now stands as a monument to the determination and perseverance of Colorado's nineteenth century miners. It was originally built in the mid 1870s, and rerouted to its present location 20 years later. The old trail follows an unlikely route up Bear Creek, through a canyon that is so rugged it is often impossible to reach the water without ropes. Miners were forced to dynamite horizontal shelves into the rock in order to traverse the vertical walls. The trail passes by the remains of two hundred year old mining camps along the creek.
The first couple miles climb steeply from the road, and then the trail is essentially blasted directly into the cliffs. I have no idea how they were able to pull this off over a century ago. After passing a few old mining camps (again, the amount of stuff they lugged up there is incredible) you follow the creek more closely. I love the color of the water in the San Juans (chalky blue, due to the abundance of minerals in the ground). Once above treeline, you hike the last few miles across an open tundra in the upper basin, eventually landing you at Engineer Pass.

Once you're within a half mile of the pass, you start to hear cars again. Since Engineer Pass is one of the main passes on the Alpine Loop, its very popular for people with tricked-out jeeps. I stopped for a bit at the top to talk with some of the jeepers... both crews were from Upstate/Western NY (Rochester and Syracuse!).

To start, here's a shot of Ouray in the morning. Easy to see why this town rocks.

Ruins of the Grizzly Bear mining camp
Mines all over the place if you keep your eyes open
Along the creek
Remains of the Yellow Jacket mining camp

Classic San Juans
Up to the tundra

I would NOT trust that road. Man, they would mine anywhere and everywhere.
Engineer Pass
I did my best ultra-runner impression and brought out all of my gear

Now heading back down...

Perfect ski slope
As I said above, the early miles of the trail cut right into the cliff...
I'll give props to the runners in the Hardrock 100 who run through
here without falling to their death

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