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Fremont Pass

Fremont Pass is the highest point on a popular loop ride, called the Copper Triangle. In spite of this, it is not a ridge line crossing, but meeting point of two high alpine valleys near treeline. It connects the I70 traffic corridor to Leadville and the upper Arkansas Valley. The road passes between the northern Gore Range and the Tenmile Range. The flanks of the Tenmile Range faces to the east are more precipitous, while the northern end of the Gore Range terminates in a series of rounded hills west of the pass. The dominant scenic feature along the route is not the Tenmile Range, but rather the lack of part of it. The Amax Molybdenum mine operation at the pass have cut away a good portion of two peaks. The series of settling ponds, where the erosion process has been speeded considerably over what nature would have done, can be seen all along the route.

1. (m00,10138ft) START/END-SOUTH : downtown Leadville
2. (m02,10165ft) turnoff to Tennesee pass is on left, stay right
3. (m12, 11320ft) TOP: Fremont Pass
4. (m23, 9706ft) turnoff to village of Copper Mountain is on left
5. (m24, 9726ft) START/END-NORTH: Copper Mountain ski resort


From South. The lowest point of the approach is several miles out of Leadville, still past the turnoff to Tennesee Pass. However, Leadville makes a convenient starting or stopover point on a biycle ride. The road to the highest part of the Arkansas Valley could be mistaken for just another little breadloaf hill on first sight, as you make your way up towards the molybdenum mine. But the last long meander up to the pass is longer and higher than it first appears from the bottom.

From North.  (also described upwards). Unfortunately the bike path spur, connecting with the Vail Pass path, only lasts a very short distance up Fremont Pass. After that the rider is alone with the traffic, albeit on a nice shoulder without rumble strips. The northern approach begins as a fairly steep, straight climb. Two lanes of traffic soon spread out to a climbing lane for cars and a wide shoulder, though it may be quite sandy for skinny tires.

The last unspoiled view up the jagged ridge line, making up the Tenmile Range, is from Mayfower Gulch (picture below). After the settlling ponds from the mine take over the scenery (last picture). Behind them loom the frosty molars of the Gore Range. The approximately 5 mile long series of rolling hills along the top technically belong to the northern approach. The entrance to the mountain top removal facility (or mine) is at the very top of the pass. Before that a mighty dirt boulevard tunnels under our road. This is actually a "mine freeway" without access for the general public. A few old mining carts are displayed in a small park at the summit. But this is little consolation for the mountain range turned to rubble.


The human story of this pass starts with a matter of enormous, theoretical importance, and hardly any practical importance. In 1803 the pass was used to define the western boundary of the Louisiana Purchase. The area west of the pass was still theoretically Spanish, which did not matter much to trappers and traders crossing this or any other of the many passes in the area.

Then came the military. One of the most famous examples of this second era of pass exploration is Col. Fremont, as can be seen by the number of objects that his name is attached to - towns, peaks, parks, and passes, like this one.

Col Fremont. was part of the Corps of Topographical Engineers, a part of the US Army. But as politics would have it, the corps was soon commanded by Senator Thomas Hart Benton. The fact that Fremont was Benton's son in law was Fremont's most obvious credential for getting the job.  The idea that nepotism is not an acceptable way to fill open federal positions is a concept that seems to have developed much later. Fremont went on to become a professional explorer and hero anyway.

That's a couple of sentences about Col. Fremont. The only thing left to mention with regard to this pass is, that he did not cross it. He crossed the pass north of here, Tennessee Pass, while looking for a way west from the Arkansas valley.

Leadville Boom (<Loveland Pass|Currant Creek Pass>) Fremont Pass came into heavy use during the time of the Leadville mining boom. During the summer and fall of 1878, every route to Leadville was jammed with wagons, stages, buggies and carts. Most of the Leadville traffic traveled from the Front Range communities to South Park over one of the Mosquito Range passes. A route from Denver over Fremont Pass became feasible after a continental divide crossing was achieved over Loveland Pass. At that time the Fremont Pass Trail became a rough road, and soon an integral part of the main "buggy arteries" between the Front Range communities and Leadville.

The pass continued to play an important role as the boom matured in the early 1880s, but a quite different role. Overflow miners from the Leadville area now started the settlements of Kokomo and Robinson on Robinson Creek.

Railroads : Fremont Pass was crossed by two separate railroads from opposing directions, all in the name of competition. Therefor this thread traverses this pass twice.

(<Trout Creek Pass|Tennessee Pass>) After Palmer's Denver Rio Grande Railroad (DRG) had monopolized rail traffic to Leadville, Fremont Pass saw rails being pushed over its top from Leadville to serve the mining outposts near the top of the pass, also part of the DRG empire.

(<Boreas Pass|Loveland Pass>)Years later the Union Pacific (UP) had taken over the  Denver South Park (DSP) and made another attempt to invade the DRG Leadville monopoly. The DSP reached Leadville from an entirely different route. Rather than the long southern bow through Canyon City and the Arkansas Valley, the DSP needed to cross two passes from its long standing roundhouse in Como, South Park. Fremont Pass was the final link in the DSP's route between Denver and Leadville. The Denver Leadville distance on that roller coaster crossing the continental divide twice was 150 miles. Compare that to 280 miles on the flatter DRG route and the plan begins to make sence. Not surprisingly DRG laywers delayed DSP progress for two years so that DSP trains did not cross the pass untill Sept 30/1884.

During the time when both rail lines were in operation, an observer could stand near the top of the pass and see an incongruous sight, trains "leaving" the Leadville area in opposite directions. A DRG might be taking ore from Kokomo to Leadville onwards to Canyon City and Denver. At the same time a DSP train might be crossing the top to carry Leadville ore onwards to Boreas Pass, South Park, Kenosha Pass and Denver. The DRG eventually won this cometition and even changed its operation over from narrow gauge to regular gauge in 1937. The pass is still reached by a railroad, but not crossed. The railroad exists just for Sunday tourists. The Leadville, Colorado and Southern started an excursion service in 1988.

The name Fremont Pass is also due to the railroad, in spite of what mister Fremont would have thought. Miners called it Arkansas Pass as late as 1872, federal agencies labeled it Tenmile Pass. But the railroad said it was Fremont Pass, and Fremont Pass it still is.

In the 1870s Fremont Pass was a way for people to come to the mines. More recently a really large mine has come, if not to the people, to the pass. A substantial chunk of the Tenmile Range has been cut away by the molybdenum mine on its summit. The history of a ore on top of the pass dates back to the mining boom days, when the molybdenum ore was mistaken for graphite. This mistaken assay analysis was only corrected after WW1, and only then did it have practical consequences.

The picture above is take on the slope above the pass, not the pass road itsself, while the picture below shows the scene above a settleing pond. The scenery along the top is dominated by tailing ponds, not alpine lakes. It's spectacular nonetheless, in an industrial sort of way.

Cycling - Ride the Rockies: (Loveland Pass>): One group that prefers Fremont Pass over Vail Pass is the Denver Post and its "Ride the Rockies". The reason is clear. Getting a thousand additonal riders over the Vail Pass bikepath would be like getting a pot of mashed potatoes through a needle's ear. Fremont Pass is the Ride the Rockies' most frequently crossed pass, while Vail Pass has never been used. The massively large group crossed Fremont Pass a full 10 times between 1986 and 2005: ( 86 88 89 91 93 94 97 98 2000 and 2003 ). The days stages were always Leadville to Frisco or Vail to Frisco, except 2003 when it was Buena Vista to Breckenridge. The link under this heading follows other "Ride the Rockies" passes in descending order of number of times that they were crossed.


elevation/highest point: 11320 ft

Southern Approach:
from Copper Mountain (9726ft)
1594 ft
13 miles
Northern Approach:

from Leadville (10138 ft)
1182 ft
12 miles