Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Silverton Weekend: Black Bear Pass & Columbine Lake

The last weekend in July was my last available weekend for a long training run in the mountains before Pikes Peak Marathon and so I knew I had to do something good! I had tossed around the idea of doing the Grand Mesa 60K, but ended up deciding a little bit shorter of a run than that (60K is 37 miles!!!), but with more elevation gain would really be better training.

There entered the idea to run Black Bear Pass - a 4-wheel drive road that starts half-way between Ouray and Silverton and ends in Telluride. When I first started running with Vale (who lives in Ridgway - this was before the move to Grand Junction), we had talked about running Black Bear Pass (as training for Pikes Peak for me, and Imogene Pass Run for her). With the move and summer being CRAZY (it always is, isn't it?), I was afraid it wasn't going to happen. But luckily...it worked out! We decided to meet at the start (right after the top of Red Mountain Pass on Highway 550) on Saturday morning at 7:00am, to do 8 miles one-way towards Telluride and then back for 16 miles total (to run all the way into the town of Telluride would've been about 10 one-way - I had wanted to do the whole thing, for 20 total - but was still feeling the effects of Aspen Valley Marathon from the weekend before).

Another nice surprise for the weekend was that Scott didn't have to work! So, since I was going to be headed south anyways, we decided to make it into a weekend getaway and stay in the mountains from Friday night through Sunday. After trying, with no luck, to find a hotel in Ouray, I ended up finding one in Silverton that wasn't too pricey and allowed dogs - we could even bring Argie! We were all set! We headed down Friday after I got off work and got into Silverton around 8:30. For the first time ever, we stopped at the little turn-out/overlook right off of the Million Dollar Highway and I was surprised to find out, there's this huge waterfall, just right underneath the road...(I've driven this road how many times and never know this!?!).

We stayed at the "Benson Lodge" in Silverton - which was interesting. It was a historic building and very cute, but definitely not your typical hotel, and not what I would consider a "lodge." It was essentially a room in an old building. No front desk, no receptionist. There was a keypad next to the door with a code I had been given over the phone which would supposedly open to give me the actual key. Yeah...it didn't work. I had to track down the lady in charge of the hotel, who I found out worked at the bar across the street. Haha...the good news is, we did get everything figured out and I was able to get some sleep before waking up at 6 the next morning for my run!

After eating a nutri-grain bar, I left Scott and Argie, and headed up towards Red Mountain Pass. It ended up being a quicker drive than I was expecting, so I took a few pictures while waiting for Vale to meet me there.


We started on time, and headed up towards the pass. Since you're already starting close to the top of Red Mountain Pass, it's actually only about 3 miles and 2000 feet of elevation gain to the top of Black Bear Pass. Since we hadn't seen each other in awhile and were chatting a lot, this part went by pretty quickly and we were at the top of the pass in no time:

Then it was time to start the descent towards Telluride. The wildflowers were incredible - I seriously couldn't get over it. I wish I had had my good camera, although if I had, I would've been stopping A LOT! I did have my iPhone though, and got some decent pictures:

First views of Telluride way in the background!

Getting closer to Telluride!

Around 6 miles in (3 down from the Pass), the road gets rough. I do not know how people drive this in a Jeep - I would be freaking out! This one fairly short section was all rock, but crazy steep:

Shortly after the 7 mile mark, we reached the top of the famous Bridal Veil Falls, and the hydroelectric plant. You can see the falls from town, and Scott and I drove to the base of the falls back in 2012, but I had never been to the top yet - so this was new for me! They have the road blocked off from cars a ways away from the hydroelectric plant, but you can walk in and overlook the back side of it:

If you look closely you can see Bridal Veil Falls in the distance!
The Hydro-electric plant from the back.

I was surprised that you couldn't really get that good of a view from here though, so I headed down a little further on the road to get a better shot before Vale and I decided to go ahead and start heading back. It had taken us a little longer than expected to get here and the weather was sounding iffy.

So pretty!

This was the part that wasn't so much fun. We had 4 miles of constant uphill to do. And it was pretty steep - especially the first 2 miles back up, over the incredibly rocky section. We were also having to constantly get over to let more and more jeeps pass by. As we got closer to the pass, the weather started to look more and more worrisome. We continued on, until finally reaching the top! This meant it was all downhill from here!

So many Jeeps!
We ended up finishing with 15.5 miles in a little under 5 hours!

I headed back to Silverton, grabbed us some lunch and then met Scott and Argie back at the hotel for a bit. Later that afternoon, we stopped by the Visitor's Center to get some idea's on where to hike the next day. I already had 2 hikes picked-out and wanted to know which they recommended: Highland Mary's Lakes or Columbine Lake. The guy at the Visitor's Center recommended Columbine Lake because there would be significantly less crowds. We wanted to start early the next morning while it was still dark, so we decided to go check out the trail that afternoon to make sure we knew where we were headed the next day. There were still more wildflowers (so pretty!), so got several more pictures:


We were up at 4:30 the next morning to make so we could start right around dawn. We ended up parking about a mile from the actual trailhead - as we weren't sure if the Subaru could make it all of the way there. There was no one else out, so we decided to let Argie off the leash to see how we would do, and he was SO excited! It was adorable.

Just as I had found out the day before when talking with the Visitor's Center, the first 2 miles (once we actually got on the trail - so it was actually miles 2 & 3) were very steep. The first mile was switchback after switchback until we made it above treeline for the first of the incredible views!

Argie loved being "Free"!!! (He also was my model for the day - I think he's in at least 10 of my pictures)
I like including people in the pictures because it just shows the scale and how grand these places are!
We had about 4 snow crossings to go through and Argie loved every single one!
At about 3 miles in, the trail, while still going uphill, flattens out a little - however we spent just as much time doing this last mile as the first two, because we were both taking lots of pictures!

At about 4 1/4 miles we finally reached the lake! And it was gorgeous (of course). We took turns taking pictures:

Family picture! It was too bright out though, we're all squinty eyed :)
The Amazing Argie Dog!
After spending a solid 45 minutes or so at the lake, we started the hike back. We didn't see a single other person on the trail until about 1/2 mile back down. After that we saw several more groups - it was pretty sweet to have the trail to ourselves for the several hours!

We made our way back down enjoying the views along the way:

SO many wildflowers!
Overall, I loved this hike! It was gorgeous and had barely any crowds. The trail isn't well marked and there isn't much parking though - so if you're not planning on starting super early, that could be an issue.


  1. Where is the trailhead for Columbine Lake? Is it near the Ice Lakes one?

    1. Kind of, but not really - that's what makes this trail neat - it's not very well known. So to get to it, you turn off of 550 at the signs for Ophir Pass (this will be a ways south of Red Mountain Pass, but before the turn for Ice Lake) - go about 1/4 mile or so - over the bridge, and then the first right hand turn will be a dirt road (semi-4WD - I wouldn't do it in a low clearance car - but any small SUV could handle it). Drive about 3/4 of a mile along the dirt road and the trail is just off to your left - not marked very noticeably, but there is a small sign for it. There's barely any parking though if you do drive - 2 small pullouts - that fit about 2 cars each.

    2. And if you don't want to drive the 4WD road - you can part down by the bridge I mentioned and walk to it - which is what we did for a round trip distance of about 8.5 miles. It's only 6.5 miles if you drive to the trail head.


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