Engineer Mountain Short Scramble in the San Juan's
Trail Head: Pass Creek Trailhead at the top of Coal Bank Pass
Mileage: 5.5 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: 2540
Technical Difficulty: Class 3
Engineer Mountain is the iconic volcanic looking peak that dominates the skyline as you drive north from Durango on 550. All the locals, but few out-of-towners know what a fun little half day climb this peak is. In the summer it is a romp at Class 3 with beautiful wildflowers in the upper meadow; in the winter, the nature of the ridge route makes it a pretty full-on snow climb with continuous serious exposure – I will do a trip report on that in a few months.
The trailhead for the Pass Creek Trail, is right at the top of Coal Bank pass (the first mountain pass you hit heading north out of Durango). Once at the top of the pass, look for a dirt road heading east off the east side of the pass. This road is only about 100 yards north of Coal Bank Pass proper. There is plenty of parking here and although the sign for the trail is tiny, the trail heading north out of the parking area is obvious.
Engineer Mtn looking north from Hwy 550
About 1-2 hours of hiking brings you to treeline and the upper meadows of engineer. In mid to late July and early August the wildflowers are usually striking here. You can also see the route which follows the ridgeline in front of you. It ascends first up grass, then through some red rock, and finally up along the ridge through a big band of grey rock. Head for the grassy skyline to the lookers right of the peak first.
Engineer Mtn from meadow at treeline
Once here stay on the top of the ridge on a progressively steeper and loose trail until you come to a small tower of blocky red rock (easily seen in the previous photo). You can bypass this tower on a very loose trail to the climbers right or just head right up it at class 3. A couple of easy moves brings you to the top of the ridge where you can see the next leg of the route.
Climbing the first red tower
A bit of mellow ridgewalking takes you to the crux of the route. A chimney that you have to stem out of and then get out on the east face of the mountain. There is some real exposure here and a lot of parties have turned around at this point.
Above the red tower
Approaching the crux
Another mistake people make is to climb to high in the chimney and try to get out and up on the north face. This is really not recommended – the exposure is much more and the climbing quite difficult.
After stemming out of the chimney climb the steep but short pitch to the top of the ridge. From here it is mostly easy walking with just a few more scrambling moves along the way.
Climbing out of the Chimney
On the ridge above the chimney
Reverse your route to descend. The downclimbing is all perfectly manageable if you take your time.
I took my daughter up this route a few years ago when she was 6 and kept her on a “short rope” to ensure her safety. There is a technique to this, and if you have someone in your party that might like the security of a rope through the short exposed sections – check out this video my business partner nate and I put together. If you understand its limitations, you might find it useful!
UPDATE September 27, 2013
Over the last week or so we have gotten several big storms dropping temperatures and some snow in the high country. I was up in Chicago Basin this last week climbing sunlight peak and will post about that soon. Meanwhile here is what engineer looked like on Friday.
Engineer Peak on Friday September 27, 2013
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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