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The Engineer Mountain Trail No matter which direction you travel on highway 550, Engineer Mountain dominates the skyline all the way from Durango Mountain Resort to the top of Molas Pass and the trail to its summit is a local favorite.  It offers easy access to some of the most breathtaking scenery in America. Fields of wildflowers, lush forests, lakes, incredible views and air so clear distances become difficult to judge.  The trail to Engineer Mountain is one of the "must do" trails in the area and is a great spot for outdoor enthusiasts of all levels. Have you ever wondered what gave Engineer its unique shape and why many of the other mountains have such steep cliffs? Well, this involves a little bit of geology study of the area. During the Pleistocene era (approximately 2, 588, 00 to 11,700 years ago)                            the most recent episodes of repeated glaciations took place along the     Animas River Valley. The glaciers began their formation from Silverton all the way through Durango and they were the driving force behind the geography we see here today. The ice was more than two thousand feet thick in places but Engineer Mountain was high enough to stick out and become what geologist call a "nunatak'. As the glacier slowly plowed its way to the south it smashed into the mountain carving out the tall cliffs and shaping the sides as it went along. What we see today is the aftermath of what the ice and water did ages ago. There has also been some questions regarding how the mountain got its name and that involves a bit of a history study. Starting in 1873 the Army Corps of Engineers began a geographic survey of the area for mapping and headed by Lieutenant E.H. Ruffner. The Lieutenants topographic assistant H.G. Prout was the first person to ascend to the mountains 12,968-foot summit. Prout originally wanted to name the peak "Mount Ruffner" but he declined and it was decided to name the mountain in honor of the Army Corps of Engineers, to which it still holds as its name today. Finding the trail to the mountain is very easy. Head north out of Durango 33 miles to the summit of Coal Bank pass and look for a small dirt road on the west side of the highway. Coal Bank has a pull off spot with restroom facilities and the dirt road to the west has a small parking area near the trail head. This website also provides a detailed map and pictures that can assists visitors. Activities include: hiking, backpacking, wilderness camping, horseback riding, mountain biking, snowshoe, Nordic skiing, and even kite skiing! The hike to the bench below the peak is easy to moderate and the final push to the top is rated moderate to difficult. The reason for the change in difficulty is because of the very steep ascent across talus stone and a small exposed face that must be climbed that will give people afraid of heights some trouble. Advice for the climb. There is a squeeze point in between some rocks that you need to climb up and out to the southern face (to the left as you are climbing up). At first it appears that you can go out and up to the right (north) but this is very much NOT the preferred route. The southern scramble is a more viable option and is the most frequently used. Ropes are not mandatory but many climbers use them as a precaution and as always use good judgment and do not attempt activities beyond your ability.  The round trip is about five miles (to the summit and back) with an approximate altitude gain of 2400-feet which makes it great for a quick hike in hike out.  Mountain bikers can do a fun shuttle from the trailhead to the Pass Creek Trail Junction down to the cascade creek turn off on hwy 550 which is an awesome high mountain ride. The climb is at altitude and is fairly steep in places which give it a rating of moderate to difficult for cyclists but way worth the effort.  When to visit? This depends on what you like to do and people go all year round.  The best time for warm snow free activities is from July through September and winter fun starts October through June. Hunting is big during the fall along with color changes of the trees and there are usually fewer people on the trail during this time period. Late July through August are absolutely amazing for wildflowers and is a photographers dream. Winter (November through April) brings back country opportunities to experienced enthusiasts that like to winter mountain climb, cross country ski and snowshoe. Be aware that in the winter the parking lot at the trailhead sits right under an avalanche release zone and so does much of the first section of trail. It is advisable to enter further to the north in the tree line. Back country in the winter is an amazing experience but can be extremely dangerous so it is advisable to have adequate training before going into this area very far. The trail to Engineer Mountain is an all around great hike that will keep you coming back year after year and has something for beginners and pros alike. So lace up the boots, pack the camera and Go Outdoors! References A BRIEF GEOLOGIC HISTORY OF THE PRECAMBRIAN ROCKS OF THE NEEDLE MOUNTAINS,     SOUTHWESTERN COLORADO. FRED BARKER  U.S. Geological Survey 1969. USGS Engineer Mountain Folio 171 published 1910. History of the State of Colorado, Frank Hall 1889.
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