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Boreas Pass

On a recent ride over the Colorado Trail and Kenosha Pass, I saw a historical sign on top of the pass, that makes disparaging remarks about the Denver and South Pacific Railroad. The sign called the railroad - a failure - because it did not win the "race" to build tracks to the destination Leadville.

But - thanks to this railroad with limited commercial success, we have today's form of the Boreas Pass Rd, which was for a very short time the highest rail corridor in the United States. Even if a wagon road existed over the pass prior to this, the gentle grade of the rail crossing makes this a bike friendly route for all kinds of mountain bikers, including loaded tours.

Measured in terms of time, that this route has been enjoyed by self powered travelers, the lifetime of the commercial venture of the railroad actually pales in comparison. Relative to one another, all the railroads, competing for traffic to Leadville went bankrupt, at more or less the same time. What is a decade when compared to the lifetime of a good cycling route ?

In terms of cycling routes left for posterity, I nominate the Denver South Park and Pacific railroad as the clear winner - never mind Leadville. Not only did their little engines with over sized, brightly painted balloon smoke stacks pioneer the route over Boreas Pass. They also chugged up to the Alpine Tunnel and were the cause for the Williams Pass Road to be built (today a much rougher MTB route). Just imagine - in a perfect world, a bike trail would follow the old DSP route from Denver up South Platte Canyon - a route never followed by a road, then follow the old railroad grade on today's dangerous US285 from Denver up to Kenosha Pass, where a new sign would stand, acknowledging the fantastic cycling routes created by the Denver South Park and Pacific Railroad. The route down into South Park and the connection to the Boreas Pass Road would then just be the missing last link in the Grand DSP trail

The Boreas Pass Road is also open to licensed motor vehicles, but they don't seem to go much faster that the bicycles.

Sure - the closeness of ski resort crowd in Breckenridge helps the popularity. But the scenery is special, and there are several authentic railroad artifacts along the route. The road itself is the result of a later army road building engineers in training project. Also - the lower part on each side, of what today is called "Boreas Pass Rd", does not follow the path of the rails. But that still leaves most of the road to follow this historic path.

1. (9594ft,mile00) START-END NORTH: Breckenridge
2. (10363ft,mile04) beginning of Boreas Pass railbed trail
3. (10854ft,mile07) Baker's Tank watertower for steam engines
4. (11481ft,mile10) TOP: Boreas Pass
5. (10093ft,mile17) continue to left downvalley
6. (9800ft,mile20) START-END SOUTH ALTERNATE: Como
7. (9681ft,mile21) START-END SOUTH: junction with US285


From North. Boreas Pass Rd intersects Co9 at the first traffic light south of town. There are also other ways to connect with it, through residential streets closer to the trailhead at the end of the pavement. Right after the junction of Co9 and Boreas Pass Rd, a railroad park displays an old engine and several other railroad artifacts from the Denver South Park and Pacific days. According to the signs the engine traveled within feet of its current resting place. But the rest of the road to the trailhead clearly does not follow anything that a train could travel. - It is much too steep, and by the time the authentic Boreas Pass rail route is reached at the trailhead, the biggest part of the climb and the hardest workout is actually over.

But 49 percent or so still remain.  Continuing from here, a roadcut (or is that a railcut) frames the Ten Mile range to perfection. The road traverses up imaginatively named Bald Mountain (13684ft) - passes an old restored watertower - and finally reaches the summit in a grand slice along the mountain.

One would never guess that up to 150 people lived up here on the summit to facilitate the operation of the railroad. The section house, a kind of hotel for railroad employees, has been or rebuilt. An old freight car waits on a few yards of track to be towed away. A number of tablets detail life up here on Boreas Pass, named by the DSP executive for its cold, "boreal" winds. It remains a moving place.

From South. (also described upwards). Leaving behind the US285 racetrack, the profile enters Como. Here the Denver South Park Railroad had a roundhouse, to house the engines for the climb to come. Even without getting off the bike, you can see remnants of the structure on the east side of the road at the edge of the vast expanse of South Park. Next to it you can spot another solitary buidling. Its symticallity and length give it away as a railway station.

Entering the foothills, the road passes the soul of South Park, the Tarryall tailings, the mining leftover, the historical waste product of the mining boom, something that would be ugly, if it were not so historical. Now it's historically interesting in a somewhat disturbing kind of way.

Signs lead the mountain biker to take the next right up a "steep section" (that's what the sign says), turning east. The profile does this, but there is another way up, that stays along Taryall Creek longer and with a much gentler slope. If I was train, I surely would have taken the latter. But the rail line followed a somewhat different route altogether, sometimes touching upon today's road. The two roads meet further up, roughly at treeline, and from here the route to the pass is obvious, not steep, and it compliments the bare breadloaf Boreas Peak wonderfully. The other side of the road shows off the steeper side of Mount Silverheels.


Colorado Gold Rush of 1859/60 (<Red Hill Pass|Georgia Pass>): In the late summer of 1859 the gold rush of Colorado was still in its first year. The major center of gold activity in this area was Clear Creek in South Park, centered around Tarryall Creek on the south side.

In the warm weather of late summer, gold seekers became more mountain happy and crossed over to the Blue River, calling the crossing Breckinridge Pass, after Buchanan's vice president. The time for choosing sides between the confederate slave owning south, and the union north was getting closer. The town's union Republicans learned that vice president Breckinridge had joined the confederate army. In an attempt to change the name of the town but keeping the recognition factor on their side, they renamed the town Breckenridge, replacing an i with e. By August of next year the route had been improved to a wagon road.

Railroads (<Cumbres Pass|Fremont Pass>) : The major markets to be served by the railways had already been divided amongst the victors. The DRG ( Denver Rio Grande ) ruled Leadville, Gunnison and Durango. The DSP ( Denver South Park and Pacific )  was now controlled by the UP (Union Pacific). After successful hasty construction to control a majority of the markets by the DRG, the DSP wanted to build something too. If nothing else it would generate business for the parent, the UP, on which the DSP was heavily dependent for construction materials

Furthermore, mining prospects were bright on the other side of the mountains, the area south of the rim around South Park. The Kenosha Pass page mentions how the DSP had conquered that pass, in what seems half an eternity ago. Now business was waiting on the other side of Breckenridge Pass. The new name Boreas Pass was instituted during the construction of the rail bed. It was chosen for the north wind howling over the top. The pass was also another step towards a competing railhead in Leadville. It was not too long ago, that the UP had helped the DRG to keep the DSP away from that source of income (see Weston Pass). Now that the UP controlled the DSP, it had to cross not only Boreas Pass on its way to Leadville, but also Fremont Pass.

cLiCk on image , arrows , or thumbnails to advance slideshow

Cycling.  An early mountain biking guide, first published in 1987, describes a one way ride from Como to Breckenridge over Boreas Pass as "ride rating: moderate, skill level: beginning/ intermediate, and approximate ride time: 2.5 hours".(William L. Stoehr's: Bicycling the Backcountry). Mountain bikes had no suspension at that time.

Dayrides with this point as intermediate summit are on pages:

French Pass
Georgia Pass (m2:95.9.17 (dt37_30-33)
Hoosier Ridge summit(u): North Tarryall Creek - Pennsylvania Creek
Hoosier Pass