|Miles||16.95 (mile 27.1 through mile 44.5)|
|Character||Long, steady climb|
This section is a climb up a historic narrow-guage rail route that has become a road in modern times. The route largely follows the Chalk Creek drainage between the 14ers Mt Antero (to the south) and Mt Princeton (to the North) and then approaches the Continental Divide at the site of the Alpine Tunnel, completed in 1881 by the Denver, South Park and Pacific (D,SP,&P) Railroad. The tunnel collapsed a number of times and was useful sporadically, last used in 1910.
At the same time in the 1800’s, the Denver and Rio Grande railroad was quickly building a competing line up and over Marshall Pass, both trying to be first to the rich Gunnison Valley.
If you’re interested in the history of this particular canyon, which played an important role in Colorado’s history, you’ll find quite a bit of information. This site http://www.st-elmo.com/townhistory.html has more old pictures and stories about St Elmo.
The end of this section is your first of three approaches to the Continental Divide. If you are at a finisher’s pace, chances are you’ll get to this summit in the dark.
NOTE: For 2016 the Gunnison Ranger District asked us to use Hancock Pass rather than the Alpine Tunnel, because of a road blowout below the west portal of the tunnel. For 2017 it looks like we’re stuck using Hancock again.
What’s the difference? The approach to the divide at the tunnel is more gradual (RR grade) with a 10 minute hike-a-bike to Altman Pass (above the collapsed tunnel) then a sharp brief desent followed by a long gradual descent. Farther, mellower. The climb to Hancock Pass begins abruptly and continues for 1000 feet gain in roughly 2 miles (oof).
We’ve used the Alpine Tunnel route every other Vapor Trail 125. We hope the road damage is able to be repaired and we will be allowed to return to the traditional course route.