Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Alpine Loop

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After tackling Ophir Pass with relative ease, I finally felt ready to give the Alpine Loop a try.   The Alpine Loop consists of 2 long 4WD trails over two very high 12,000ft passes (Engineer Pass and Cinnamon Pass) that connect the ghost town of Animas Forks just east of Silverton to Lake City.  It’s a 50 mile round-trip and takes a full day, so with the weather forecast calling for zero percent chance of rain, I figured today was the day to do it!

It was a 20 mile drive on the bumpy gravel country road to get to Animas Forks.  The last 8 miles of which was single lane and rather steep in some sections.  Certainly keeps the tourists away!

The old mining ghost town of Animas Forks has a large parking area where ATVs were congregating en force.  As I headed for Engineer Pass, about 50 of them began driving along with me and a few other Jeeps.

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As I reached the trailhead for Engineer Pass, the road narrowed even further (no wonder this was more popular with ATVs than 4WD cars)!   I decided to let the faster little buggers zip around me and make their way up the switchbacks while I waited for the trail activity to quiet down (note to self, don’t drive the Alpine Loop on a Saturday in the summer if you’re looking for a nice quiet peaceful drive!)
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Finally, I started my climb up the switchbacks.  This was certainly the steepest trail I’d been on as of yet and I nearly got stuck on a large rock at one of the switchbacks, but thankfully, I had 4-wheel Low that let my tires slowly crawl up over the rocks.
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Amazing to think I’d just been on those roads that now seemed so far beneath!






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At this elevation, true alpine tundra exists as well as tundra flowers.  Simply amazing!

After a few more switchbacks, we finally arrived to Engineer Pass, elevation 12,800 feet!  A couple from Minnesota (who had been driving a rental Jeep behind me and took our picture) said they were amazed I made it up the hill—“you’re one gutsy lady!”   Either that, or I’m completely insane.  Millie was surely thinking the latter!  Her smile was more of a nervous “get me off of this damn hill” kind of smile!
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The ATVers had made their way up to a perch just to the left of us, and the older trail of switchbacks going even higher was to the right of us.  Thank goodness we didn’t have to drive those!

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Millie and I continued down the other side passing some lovely wildflower fields and an old cabin.
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We then came across this unusual sight!  A newer cabin with it’s own suspension bridge that happened to be For Sale!
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I later checked out it’s online listing here.  Wow, only $649K for a 2 bedroom, 1 bath cabin with no electricity, and 20 miles on a 4WD trail from the nearest town!  But what a spectacular piece of property!  No other neighbors for miles either!

The rest of the drive from Engineer Pass to Lake City was fairly easy and passed some more pretty scenery—a waterfall, an old farm village called Capitol City, and lovely Henson Creek canyon.
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We arrived back into Lake City in the early afternoon.  Amazing to think it was a nearly 200 mile drive from here to Silverton via highways, but only about 40 miles via 4WD trails!

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After a short rest, we headed a few miles south of town to Lake San Cristobal to start the second half of our loop, the Cinnamon Pass trail.
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Cinnamon was a bit bumpier trail in spots, but still fairly easy until reaching the pass towards the western end of the trail.  Once again we climbed to above 12,000 feet and saw more alpine tundra. 
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Cinnamon Pass was “only” 12,700 feet, so a bit less than Engineer, but it too had a steep elevation change back to Animas Forks and some pretty amazing views as we descended.
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The Cinnamon Pass trailhead looking back at the road we’d just come down:IMG_5262

Thankfully, the ATVers all seemed to be back to their camps and finished for the day so we could enjoy the gorgeous scenery all to ourselves as we drove back to Silverton.  The little Tracker had really proven itself today that it could indeed keep up with all the other Jeeps!
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