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Engineer Pass Road, CO
mini location map2020-09-30
23 by photographer avatarOregon_Hiker
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Engineer Pass Road, CO 
Engineer Pass Road, CO
4x4 Trip avatar Sep 30 2020
4x4 Trip13.00 Miles 3,279 AEG
4x4 Trip13.00 Miles   3 Hrs   50 Mns   5.49 mph
3,279 ft AEG   1 Hour   28 Mns Break
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I decided to drive this route up to Engineer Pass because I needed a break after my hike on the Horsethief Trail the day before. My plan was to find a place to camp for the night somewhere along the road from Engineer Pass to Lake City. Then from Lake City drive to Montrose to meet up with an old friend. I had a gps driving route downloaded from another hiking web site with waypoints marked for points of interest in this area that is rich in mining history. I'd read that this road which follows the Uncompahgre River gorge up into the mountains has some rough 4x4 sections. I should have heeded the warning. A sign at the turnoff from HW550 warned that only vehicles with 4WD, high clearance and a short wheel base should take this road. Again, I should have heeded the warning. But hey, my FJ Cruiser with a modest lift sort of fits that description. The road starts out OK with no clearance issues although long narrow stretches with no turnouts had me nervous about meeting someone coming from the other direction.

After passing the remains of the Michael Breen Mines the road started getting progressively worse with serious clearance issues. I had to walk ahead several times to scout out the safest track. That's usually a @Grasshopper job but he wasn't along on this adventure. Inevitably the safest track required driving with the outside tires within inches of the outside edge of the road where one minor lurch in the wrong direction would send my vehicle plummeting into the chasm below. The FJ kept bouncing around as it lost and regained traction scaring the H** out of me and causing me to curse my decision to drive this route. At one point the FJ completely stopped when two diagonal tires were off the ground. Engaging the rear differential locker fixed that problem and also significantly reduced the side to side lurching that was threatening to throw it off the side of the cliff. I didn't pause to take photos because I wanted to get through these rough sections before encountering a vehicle coming from the other direction. Fortunately the only two times this occurred there was a nearby pullout. The road got much better as it approached the abandoned site of the Mineral Point mining camp where I stopped to take some photos and calm my nerves. The only damage to the FJ was another ding in the skid pan and a strange rattle from the undercarriage which I later attributed to some gravel scooped up by the skid pan. My advice, NEVER DRIVE THIS SECTION OF ROAD! There is a less hazardous route to Engineer Pass from HW550 which starts out in Silverton. For other routes consult the linked guide [ Alpine Loop Scenic Byway ] . That guide states "The upper Uncompahgre River tangent going past Abrams Mountain is said to be extremely rough." That has now been confirmed!

The road was much better for the remainder of the drive and had spectacular views as the road switchbacked up to Engineer Pass at 12800 ft. As I started down the road towards Lake City I started smelling gasoline fumes which was quite unnerving until I attributed it to an ATV about a 100 ft ahead of me. I warned the driver who laughed, confirmed it was coming from his vintage vehicle and was caused by the old carbureted engine running way too rich at the high altitude - he and the ATV were from Texas.

After dropping below the tree line I started looking for a place to camp for the night. A short exploration down a side road found a secluded spot by a beautiful beaver pond on Henson Creek with nice views of Aspen covered slopes in full Fall colors. It was a peaceful night only disturbed by some loud splashing in nearby Henson creek which I later attributed to several deer I saw hanging out near camp the next morning.
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