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FR811 Washington Gulch(sh)

When I approached Crested Butte from Gunnison on Co135 in July of 2011, a solid wall of snow was still behind Crested Butte. The view was of the northern faces of peaks in the Ruby Range. The winter of 2010/11 brought a lot of snow to this area, but for July this still was unexpected. But when high passes like the Paradise Divide and famous trails like TR403 are still snowed in, this dirt road summit point, located on a shoulder of the Paradise Divide, still offers more scenery than many states have in their entirety.

1.(8890ft,mile00) START-END EAST 1:  jct Slate River Road - Gothic Rd, just north of Crested Butte
2.(9100ft,mile05) route turns left onto Washington Gulch Road
3.(10460ft,mile08) Elkton
4.(11030ft,mile09) TOP
5.(10710ft,mile10) turn left down FR734, right goes to Paradise Divide
6.(9260ft,mile14) Pitsburgh
7.(8890ft,mile21) START-END EAST 2: same as point 1


From North. leaving Crested Butte towards the north, a fork in the road forces you to make a decision. Shall I go to the ski resort, or up Washington Gulch ? For me this is usually easy: Washington Gulch it is. The road remains paved with very little traffic, two ingredients for a good road ride, till it reaches a sort of "Ober Crested Butte", located in the area of Meridian Lake. Now the road becomes more rustic and dips through patches of forest, rolls ever higher to alpine meadows. Looking back, Mount Crested Butte is a small mountain in the company of all these white giants. But it has an unmistakable characteristic shape. With some imagination it is a sharp, pointed tooth of an imaginary world-eating shark in the gums of the Ruby Range. It is interesting to think that downhill skiers are limited to this in-comparison small mountain.

Climbing ever higher, the road passes a new Ober Crested Butte: Ober-Ober Crested Butte, named Elkton. Just one more switch back and the road passes what's left over from a small mine, and crests in a knoll of trees, with fine views in three directions. the Washington Gulch Trail TR403 takes off from the summit to connect with the Gothic Road ( leading to Schofield Pass ).

From South. (described downwards) There is more snow on this side, or at least more water that used to be snow. The road traverses along half height of the ridge, periodically offering fine views, framed by patches of pine forest. It is less than 300ft of descend before the road merges onto FR734 to the Paradise Divide, and therefore I'll call this a shoulder summit on the Paradise Divide.

Descending on FR734 leads to a series of steep switchbacks that give a viewing angle onto the Paradise Divide, making it look like it sounds. Up there in ice and snow, still closed, but oh so beautiful. The road descends to Slate River, then parallels it. Here the river still tunnels through ice in July. Surprisingly the road too is blocked with snow, for the first time on this ride - much lower than the summit. But it's no problem walking across the hard ice. The road passes Pittsburg, no sign of smelters or even obvious close signs of mining. Trails from other passes merge, Daisy Pass, Gunsight Pass. Finally the road leads over a final, shallow descend back into Crested Butte. 



FR811 Washington Gulch(sh), additional out and back: Cement Creek campground > Co135 north > Crested Butte > FR811 Washington Guch(sh) <> out and back on TR403 Washington Gulch over the summit and down 200ft on the other side in two different areas, until the snow became too much >> down FR811 north side > down FR734 Slate River Rd > Pittsburgh > Crested Butte > back to starting point: 50.4miles, with 4220ft of climbing in 5:40hours (VDO MC1.0 m3:11.7.7).


  An early mountain biking guide, first published in 1987, describes a traversal of the loop, pictured in the profile in the reverse direction, calling it "Slate River/ Washington Gulch Loop". The author rates this ride as "ride rating: moderate/ strenuous, skill level: intermediate, and approximate ride time: 4 hours".(William L. Stoehr's: Bicycling the Backcountry). Mountain bikes had no suspension at that time.