Today we tried another high altitude hike. The Alpine Tunnel Trail starts at 11,000 feet and climbs 600 feet. It follows an old railway track so the climb was nice and gentle. We had no problem although it was an 11 km walk out and back.
The railway was used in the late 1800’s to move ore from the mine in Tincup on the other side of the continental divide. To cross the divide they dug a 1700 foot tunnel through the mountains. The trail follows the rail bed up to the eastern entrance to the tunnel, which has unfortunately collapsed.
I am told that the western entrance is much more interesting as there are still several structures and even a turntable. We unknowingly drove very close by it when we did our drive to Tincup during our stay near Gunnison. Oh well, we can’t see everything.
The hike starts near the end of the drivable road that goes up Chalk Creek Canyon, the one with the hot springs.
It is paved for a long way and then turns into a very smooth dirt road to the old mining town of St. Elmo.
From there we had to go about 5 miles south towards another old mining town called Hancock. The road was narrower and rougher but I think any car could do it. The road was covered in slightly protruding rocks which really shook the car so we just went slow.
There were only a few bad potholes.
Along the way we went by this old mine structure that seem to be slowly falling onto the road.
We didn’t see anybody as we drove in but when we got there the parking lot was full.
Altogether I would guess that we saw about 20 other people on the trail. I imagine it is busier because it is relatively easy to get to.
When we got up the sky was clear (as usual) but it got cloudier and cloudier as the day went on. After yesterday’s early morning we were a bit late getting up and with the 1 hour drive, it was about 10:45 before we got started so we missed the best skies.
Even though rail trails make nice easy hikes they are built for a practical purpose and not to be scenic. The first 2/3 of the trail were rather boring unless you REALLY like pine trees.
We got a few glimpses down into the valley.
There were still lots of rail ties in some of the more shaded places.
In other places you could see tree roots which had been forced to grow along the line of the ties but the ties were long gone.
Lots of little stream crossed the path.
The final 1/3 was much more interesting as we exited the trees and walked along a ledge blasted out of the mountain side.
Since the trail never reached the top of the mountain we just had a view to the east. No huge snow capped mountains but still quite beautiful.
The big bonus was that there were wildflowers in bloom everywhere. The wide pictures just don’t capture how many there were because the blooms are so small. I think this hike had the largest number of varied flowers yet.
Jennie had to vandalize this snow bank.
As usual some of the picture are from the return trip so the direction we are walking will be mixed up a bit.
Almost at the end there is another trail that goes up over the top to the other side. I wish we had the energy.
They had to build the rail bed out a ways to allow for the last curve into the tunnel.
Not much left on this side.
We headed back a short ways to have lunch on the nearest flat rock.
Back we go.
And into the tunnel of trees.
Jennie is always watching the trailside. A weird bit of moss or lichen.
Even though the trail was not steep, at 11 km it is one of the longer ones we have done this year. It sure felt good to sit down in the car.
There are a lot of ATV trails that continue from where we were parked. On the way down we met a line of about 8 blasting up the road.
Since we go very slowly over the rocks, I just let everyone that catches us go past.
For most of the afternoon we had been under some rather dark clouds but we escaped getting rained on. As we drove down in the valley it was obvious that they had not escaped. They roads were very wet and we ended up with a muddy CRV.