Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Route Profile: Engineer Mountain, standard winter route

Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, which are situated in the Southwest portion of the state near Ouray, offer some of the finest winter conditions in North America.  The combination of excellent snow and ice, aesthetic peaks and accessible high alpine valleys create an almost unparalleled winter sports playground.  Engineer Mountain, situated at the heart of the region just off of the “Million Dollar Highway” (Highway 550), exemplifies the climbing opportunities of the region.

Climbing Engineer Mountain in the winter is an ideal outing for technical winter mountaineering or ski mountaineering training.  The relatively short route, which gains roughly 2,400’ over 2.3 miles, starts on Highway 550 near the Pass Creek Trailhead.  From there, climbers wind their way north and east into the low spruce forest before cutting back southwest and beginning to tackle the mountain in earnest as they pass tree line.  

Engineer Mountain's summit stands high over its broad North flank.
Decio Nascimento.

The broad shoulder of Engineer’s north face is quickly gained, and the relatively low angle climb continues up to the base of the summit ridge.  The final climb up the narrow, exposed ridge requires both surefootedness and confidence in one’s technical abilities, while rewarding those who have made the climb with breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.

The low angle bench reached just before the approach to the summit ridge begins in earnest provides an excellent place for base camp on our Colorado Winter Mountaineering programs.  A competent winter climber needs to be able to evaluate snowpack stability and avalanche hazard, mountain weather, route find effectively, create and maintain suitable shelter, and attend meticulously to the details of climbing technique and protective systems.  Our base camp provides the ideal place to hone these skills, in addition to working on ski technique before making a rewarding final ascent. 

The standard Winter route leaves from Highway 550 for the summit.

A climber works on skills at Camp Bird Road during a Winter Mountaineering Course.
Decio Nascimento.

An AAI guide skins South toward Engineer Mountain.  Decio Nascimento.

A climber, psyched to be on the summit after a rewarding climb.  Decio Nascimento.

What goes up, must also go down.  A climber gazes back down the ridge on Engineer.
Decio Nascimento.

Engineer Peak is the perfect culminating climb for our Colorado Winter Mountaineering program; we hope to see you all there!

--Casey O'Brien, Program Coordinator

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