I had a good breakfast in Ouray before I took off for the day. I had to buy some sun cream first as it was obviously going to be another very sunny day. Only on one day did it rain in Telluride during my stay and then it was stuff for the first page in the local paper! (Home in Sweden they apparently had a very rainy and cold Summer.)
I took a photo of Ouray as I left town. Ouray has special significance in a well-known novel by Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged) although not named in the novel. The conference I attended in Telluride had its focus around the philosophy (called Objectivism’) of this novelist and it was now 50 years since her novel was published. The town is really nestled in between huge mountains and the road south was very difficult to build, from what I have read.
Now, since I did not get back to Telluride the day before, I had a chance of getting even further east up to a few more spectacular passes, I thought. So I asked (wisely enough this time) at the hotel which of the 4WD pass-roads east would be easiest to get up with the mtb. I had thought to get up to Engineer Pass, but was advised to get up to Corkscrew Pass (3726m) instead. I later understood that this was good advice. So, I had to climb back up the hardest part of the Red Mountain Pass to Ironton Park (a flat higher valley floor). From here I took a gravel road up the Corkscrew Gulch to the pass. This jeep road was somewhat decent, but the problem was that it was often too steep to cycle – at least at higher altitude, partly because of the altitude and a steepness much above 10%. Lower down I managed to cycle a lot and could cycle most of the way back down.
I did not dare to try another road back down as I could end up having to stay the next night in Ouray also. It also took quite some time to get up and back down again. The views from Corkscrew Pass was really great though, so I cannot say I regretted getting up there! It was steep, as I said, and even a trial motorcyclist fell on his way down (not too badly), so care was needed in the descent!
I was down in Ouray a little before 3 pm and thought it would be easy getting back to Telluride over the Imogene Pass (3997m) before the end of the day. –Only one pass, I thought, should not need to take longer than around 3 hours to climb at most and 2 hours to get down. Even though it is not even 2000 height metres to climb, it is still more than one expects. It turned out to be an even worse road than I could imagine from descriptions. It starts out just fine with a little wobbly, but wide and well maintained gravel road in nice scenery.
I only had a coffee and milkshake in Ouray before starting on this climb. The road has some steeper parts, but is generally not too difficult up until where you turn off the road and go over the Sneffels Creek. I managed to fall once on the easy road and started to walk some a bit before this turn-off as it was getting steeper and harder for me given the altitude (I am sure many others could easily ride these stretches though and I would have had no problem if it was not for the altitude).
After you cross the river the road becomes really bad and goes downhill or flatly for quite some time until you reach the point above the Camp Bird Mine that you saw lower down (one is not allowed to go through Camp Bird Mine). You will have to get over huge boulders on the road and through deep waters here. Further up, the road gets more stony and is practically impossible for most of the time to bicycle uphill (I thought so anyway or maybe it is only me … ). I met someone running down from the pass, maybe just to prove what a weakling I was! They actually have a running event here over this pass every September. I also met one other mountainbiker on the bad previous section, where we both happened to be on our bicycles.
Further up one has to ford the Imogene Creek and you cannot get across there dry! At the next crossing of the creek one could use a bad little bridge nearby. Then the stony and mostly steep road continues. I could only occasionally cycle, but every now and then I was back to walking again and even walking became hard.
When I eventually reached a false summit above the place where I took a photo of the bicycle leaning against a snow wall and saw some hefty ramps still ahead up to the true pass, I almost thought of giving up. The last ramps were so steep and it was so high that I had to stop walking at times to catch breath. It felt humiliating having to stop even walking up – did I not have any fitness or what? (I guess it could have been better, but I had been exercising quite some beforehand.)
I was very happy to reach the pass summit while the sun was still up, but I had to hurry down in order to be able to cycle down as much as possible before I could not see the road and maybe would have to walk down like the day before. The views from the top were impressive and the first serpentines down to the Tomboy Mine were also impressively steep and narrow. Believe it or not, but I managed to bicycle down the steep parts! (I guess it is no problem for experienced riders.) But then in the Tomboy area the roads were quite bad again and I could not always cycle.
I hurried down the somewhat adventurous road, especially so in twilight! There was one place where the road was almost gone from the rock wall and it would have been easy to fall down the deep ravines on the side if it had been even darker. I could occasionally see the lights far down the valley of Telluride. In the end I had to walk again, mostly because the road actually turned less good lower down and I was close to falling a few times, which made me jump off and try and walk quickly down instead. (It was slightly difficult to walk in the dark too.)
I came down to Telluride at 10:30 pm and managed to have a pizza at the only pub open to serve something to eat at this time. It thus took me over 7 hours from Ouray to Telluride! (In a brochure I picked up at the hotel in Ouray, they say it takes 3-4 hour with a jeep.) I felt like mountain-biking was not for me! I were happy to leave back my bicycle the next morning!