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Engineer  Pass

Lake City was once a center of Colorado mining activity, more prominent than Silverton or Ouray. Today this is one of the more removed and sleepy-in-an-idyllic-sort-of-way towns, that are still allowed to exist that way in Colorado. But for a short period in summer, Lake City is also a big touristic draw for jeep tourists, who want to cross the generically named "Alpine Loop". This loop also makes a scenically fascinating mountain bike loop, if you don't mind some walking on the rocks.

There are actually two Engineer Passes. The old original one is located at point 4, and also often called North Engineer Pass. The modern road touches that point and climbs a little higher to the summit point described here, also called South Engineer Pass or Ivonne Pass.

This is the highest point on the "Alpine Loop" circuit, which also goes over Cinnamon Pass. The landscape here is unique because of the Molas Caldera, a big volcano that exploded many moons ago, and left a set of high plateau like surfaces with peaks sitting on top of them.

click on profile for more detail
01.(8660ft,mile00) START-END EAST: Lake City
02.99710ft,mile10) Capitol City site, turn left
03.(11130ft,mile16) right goes to Schafer Gulch and Ivonne Pass (North Engineer Pass).
04.(12800ft,mile18) Engineer Pass
05.(12970ft,mile19) TOP: point of highest altitude
06.912560ft,mile21) route from Ivonne Pass joins from left
07.(12030ft,mile21) hard right goes down Mineral Creek to Ouray, which is the traditional approach. But profile continues straight to Silverton
08.(10980ft,mile24)START-END WEST ALTERNATE:  hard right joins from Animas Forks. Continue down valley in Animas Gorge.
09.(9850ft,mile27) site of Eureka
10.(9300ft,mile35) START-END WEST: Silverton


From East. The turnoff to Engineer Pass is near the southern end of the Lake City business district. At the corner is a cafe named the Confluence, where Brit specializes in restoring deraileurs to a functional state, many of which have impaired functionalty, because of the rocks on the nearby Colorado Trail.

The lower part of the Engineer Pass road is a smooth hard surface. It follows a small and narrow narrow incised canyon, carved by Hansen Creek into a vertical lava layer. Remnants of mill buildings, belonging to Lake City's major historic mine, flank the lower part of the road. Past that the road passes two signed jeep trail turnoffs to trailheads of "14er peaks" Uncompagre Peak and Wetterhorn.

At one point the valley widens and vertical mountain peaks enclose a picturesque grassy park. It makes sense that this would also be the historic site of the mining town Capital City. There is more room here - and what a magnificent setting. A few picturesque old looking ( and therefor small) .wood structures remain. But they look slightly out of place surrounded by a forest of real estate agency signs, and two or three displays of modern otstentaciousness, when it comes to private buildings. Signs indicate, that In modern times of climate change this wonderful large meadow also searves as "Temporary Wildland Fire Refuge Area".

The road to the pass diverts before the western end of this idyllic park. A sign shows the way and indicates that the road is going to become rougher, and for motor vehicles 4 wheel drive is recommended. A rocky road with variable rolling slope finally breaks out above treeline, On the other side of the valley a water fall tumbles down in a string of water. Its source above is out of view.

The last section starts, again with a drastic crease upwards in the road. The area of transition is known as "Rose Cabin", and I don't think this refers to the modern vacation cottage that stands there today. A hike to the north quickly leads above treeline and onto the high surface of the old Molas Caldera. From up there the local 14ers and Matterhorn look like encrustations on top of petri dish.

The road now continues in steep switchbacks up the lower side of Engineer Mountain, and for me walking my bike becomes the norm instead of a common exception. There are several false summits above treeline before North Engineer Pass is reached.

On the other side the viewshed not only includes Uncompahre Peak and company, but also the enitre San Juan Range west of Siverton. They form a unque set of high mountains, comprised of multiple pedestals, [1] upon which sit peaks and more pedastals, up which .. go to point [1].

This is the original Engineer Pass. Today books refer to it also as Yvonne Pass or North Engineer Pass. To find the original steep descend on the west side into Ouray you have to look harder than some books would indicate. Today's popularly traveled route travels another 170ft higher and continues to around the northern side of this mountain, and reaches a highpoint at a short turnoff to a spur road, labeled with the sign Oborn Point. No idea who he is.


From West. (described downwards). The upper descend of South Engineer Pass has the best continued views along the trip because of its exposure above treeline and a spaghetti salad of switchbacks below, backgrounded by mountains of different character and forms. It is actually difficult to believe that this part of the descent only looses about 900ft of elevation.  But then the track has parts that climb a little bit along the descent.

At the bottom is a junction. The "Alpine Loop" sign at this spot allows different interpretations on which way "the loop" continues. Going right goes to Ouray via Mineral Creek. The lower part of this road has some incredibly rough and rocky sections.

Instead the profile stays left on a relatively short connection - at least it seems that way in a downward direction, compared to what went before. This is known as the Cinnamon Pass cutoff. This seems like a low shoulder point, compared to the surround peaks and passes, but it is actually at around 12000ft in elevation. Marshall Sprague in "The Great Gates" also attaches the name "Denver Pass" to the nearby high point. It is actually a short distance away from the profile, direction Mineral Gulch and Ouray. No other sources seem to use this designation. Both Marshall Sprague and other sources identify (a second) nearby Denver Pass, located on the adjacent ridge separating Cinnamon and Engineer passes. But there are also two possible nearby road shoulder summits in the area: See Denver Hill -1 and Denver Hill -2

Further down an incredibly steep road below a face of Handies Peak (14048ft) comes into view. Please let this not be the route to Cinnamon Pass, ie the route back to the other side of the Alpine loop. It is not. The actual turnoff to the Cinnamon Pass does not come into view before a quarter mile of reaching it. The beginning is torn up, rocky and steep that it leads to doubts about the general course of civilization.

But this profile continues downwards towards Silverton instead. A few hundred feet lower lies Animas Forks, one of the most extensive collection of old mining remnant buildings, ruins and historic garbage in the San Juan Mountains. Below here real bicycling becomes more feasible again. Soon a good dirt road leads through a majestic valley all the way into Silverton

Dayride with this pass as highest summit:


Engineer Pass , Cinnamon Pass : somewhere between Silverton and Eureka > Animas Forks > Cinnamon Pass > Lake City > Capital City <> out and back detour because of a wrong turn >> Engineer Pass > Cinnamon Pass Cutoff(shp) > Animals Forks > back to starting point between Silverton and Eureka: 73 miles (mech Odom1:91.9.26) [pics:t91`_6]
Notes: I reached the top of  Engineer Pass at sunset. Great pictures at that moment but I had to pay for it with a return in the dark. The 3 three pictures at the top are from that ride.

( < FR744/748 Trail Creek Rd s(u) | Colorado Trail m374.2: Spring Creek Pass - Wager Gulch s(u) > )

same summit points: just outside of Lake City > Capital City > Engineer Pass > Cinnamon Pass Cutoff > Cinnamon Pass > back to starting point in Lake City: 50.6miles with 6120ft of climbing in 7:3hrs (garmin etrex30 m5:18.5.30)
Notes:; Along the way I met a single other cyclist, a bikepacker, and also about a dozen friendly jeepers who made sure I had enough water to get back home in hydrated fashion.

cLiCk on image , arrows , or thumbnails to advance slideshow



The Leadville Mining Boom (<Slumgullion/Spring Creek Pass|Denver Hill -1(sh)>): It is the time when the Leadville mining boom reached into the San Juans, In 1877 the towns of Silverton and Ouray already existed, but Lake City was the real center of activity. The mines of Mineral Point were really closer to Ouray. But in order to serve them from Lake City, Otto Mears constructed a toll road over Engineer mountain, following the route of today's North Engineer Pass. Considering today's torn up road it is difficult to picture, yet true, that not only freight wagons and Mule teams used the old North Engineer Pass crossing, but in 1880 even a daily stage coach between Lake City and Animas Forks.

Cycling. An early mountain biking guide, first published in 1987 mentioned Engineer Pass as being suitable for mountain biking in its appendix, without describing it any further (William L. Stoehr's: Bicycling the Backcountry).