Note: Today's post will be light on photos due to slow internet and writer's exhaustion. I'll update with more information and photos later on in the journey.
Today's segments took us from Lake City Colorado (8,700') through three mountain passes. The first two, Cinnamon Pass (12,600') and Ophir Pass (11,789'), require steep, switchbacked ascents up rocky trails, often with oncoming vehicles on the one-lane trail. The trails wind their way alongside sheer rock faces and stomach-churning drops, all while surrounding you with constant, overwhelming natural beauty. These passes connect old abandoned mines and the remnants of mining towns sprinkled throughout central Colorado, and were easily the highlight of the trip so far.
The morning started with breakfast sandwiches from Lake City Bakery, a 50-foot walk from the North Face Inn. The motorcycle group staying next door had left early, likely to get a head start on the challenging climb at Engineer Pass (12,800'). After breakfast, we struck out for the Cinnamon trailhead a few miles South.
This trail was our first opportunity to really test the Forester's off-road performance. The ascent was relatively smooth for the first 2,000 feet, and consisted of mostly gravel and light rock trails. The OHV traffic was markedly heavy here, and often meant traffic jams of rented jeep groups, 4x4 riders, side by side tour groups, and individual drivers in jeeps. We were the only Subaru on the trail, which made running alongside the Jeep groups especially fun.
At around 11,000' the trail turned to large loose rock and required more careful wheel placement, though we were still able to maintain double-digit speed. The limiting factor here was the notably diminished torque delivered by the 2.5i Forester engine, which would have benefitted greatly from a turbo. This was most apparent when we hit 12,000', and at maximum power on a particularly steep section barely eked out a 6 MPH climb.
We finally crested the top of the pass and joined a cluster of Jeep drivers to take in the view. The descent ahead looked fun - and steep - and like a good opportunity to test out the Forester’s X-Mode. We had to press on for time - Ophir Pass awaited after the town of Silverton, and then an approximately 80-mile sojourn through San Juan National Forest to the Colorado-Utah border.
After a break in Silverton (9,318’) that afforded us some choice stickers and a fantastic pulled chicken sandwich from The Brown Bag, we pulled onto the trailhead for Ophir Pass, which connected the old trade center of Silverton with the mining town of Ophir. Almost immediately, it was clear that Ophir Pass would be a far more exciting challenge than Cinnamon. The sun broke through the clouds just as we began to climb between two towering 13,000+ foot peaks, affording us an unbroken view of the verdant valley and meadows below. The trail itself was far rockier than the Cinnamon ascent, but we had no issues keeping a quick pace, and our clearance (10”) was more than sufficient for the stray rocks in the way.
Partway up the ascent, we were flagged down by a deeply-tanned older man driving an aged Land Cruiser and warned against continuing, noting that he’d had trouble on the other side and we were liable to be unable to finish the pass. We pressed on anyways. Just above 10,500’, we ran across the only other Subaru we’d seen attempting the trails - a red early-2000s Forester. The driver was walking back from the upcoming switchback, crestfallen. As we stopped to chat, he remarked that an old man in a red truck had warned him against continuing, and he was turning around. We concurred - he had all-season passenger tires and limited ground clearance - but we let him know to keep an eye out for any news of Foresters ending up at the bottom of Ophir Pass.
We finally reached the summit and were greeted by stunning views across the mountaintops on either side of the pass. I sent the drone out for video, and noticed that our upcoming journey looked considerably rockier.
Once we began the descent, the route became far more technical. 60% of the descent consisted of large jumbled rock piles, with narrow spaces between large, tire-popping rocks on either side. The route meandered down steep ravines dug by the same rockfalls that had littered the trail, and meant a small margin for error between body damage on one side and a far worse fate on the other.
We took the descent slow - not in the least because we were filming most of it by close-follow drone (video to come), but were graced with spectacular vistas across the multicolored rock faces that lined the valley. Near the bottom, we inadvertently joined up with a Jeep group until we reached a collection of abandoned mineshafts near the small town of Ophir.
Ophir was our favorite pass - though slightly lower in elevation than Cinnamon Pass, it was a far more technically challenging route and boasted the most varied of vistas. The Forester handled admirably, with X-Mode and Hill Descent proving invaluable on some of the more intense downhill rock scrambles.
Out of the mountains, we joined the trail again after Lizard’s Head Pass to traverse the forest roads of San Juan National Forest.
San Juan National Forest
After five hours of challenging rock crawling, climbing, and descending between 8,700’ and 12,600’, we were thrilled to join the trails through San Juan National Forest. These forest roads were fast gravel routes with minimal obstacles, and we raced through densely wooded birch and pine forests, stopping for the occasional free-grazing cow standing in the roadway. Though far less technical, this two-hour journey was one of the highlights of the day, as we watched the mountains turn to hills and the mighty ridgelines of central Colorado start to fade into our rearview.
We pulled into the town of Monticello, Utah, late, around 8pm, and caught a bite to eat at the Gristmill Inn. Turning in now to prepare for tomorrow’s trip to Arches National Park, Canyonlands, and eventually overloading to Hite, UT for Day 4.