Red Mountain #1 from Route 550 in Ironton Park
Route 550 is arguably the most scenic highway in the United States. This 110 mile stretctch of two-lane road crosses the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado connecting the towns of Montrose and Durango. The road attains its maximum elevation of 11018 ft at the Red Mountain Pass where a series of bright red mountains can be seen to the east/southeast of the road.
The Red Mountains occupy an area roughly 3 miles long by 3 miles wide. A valley known as Corkscrew Gulch divides the mountains into two distinct groups. Red Mountain #1 is the highest point of the eastern/northern group while Red Mountain #3
(12890 ft) is the highest point of the western/southern group. (The 12219 ft Red Mountain #2 is just a point on #3's ridgeline. Although lower than other prominent points, it has probably been named because it appears prominent from Route 550) Route 550 and the Red Mountain Creek are to the north and west of the Red Mountains while the valley of Cement Creek is to the south and east.
Red Mountain #1 can be thought of as a one mile long ridgeline that runs NW-SE and rises above 12000 ft. On the crest of the ridgeline, elevation increases NW to SE, where the summit is located. Gray Copper Gulch separates Red Mountain #1 from the 13339 ft Brown Mountain to the NE.
Unlike Red Mountain #3 that is visible over a long stretch of Route 550, Red Mountain #1 can only be seen from the north end of Ironton Park, a small valley that is surrounded by mountains and sits to the south of the town of Ouray. When seen from this spot on a bright sunny day, the view can be absolutely stunning. Red scree and occasional cliffs cover the upper slopes of Red Mountain #1 above 11600 ft. Some of the lower slopes are covered by forests of Pine (which appear as dark green) and forests of Aspen (which appear as light green). In some places, streaks of red scree run through the forest all the way down to the floor of the valley. Blue sky and white patches of snow provide additional color.
To the climber, the endless scree slopes may appear very intimidating but one need not fear the scree. Thanks to Corkscrew Gulch Road, the scariest part of the climb will be the drive to trailhead. Corkscrew Gulch Road is a moderately rough four wheel drive road that starts on Route 550 in Ironton Park and climbs to a 12200 ft saddle at the base of the summit of Red Mountain #1. It then drops into the valley of Cement Creek providing access to the town of Silverton. The summit of Red Mountain #1 can be reached by going up the 400 ft pile of red/white scree that rises above the 12200 ft saddle.
Ironically, The summit of Red Mountain #1 can provide you with some of the best views of the Red Mountains: namely those around Red Mountain #3 across the Corkscrew Gulch. You will otherwise find yourself completely surrounded by 13ers in every direction (plus the 14150 ft Mt. Sneffels).
Although Corkscrew Gulch Road is popular with four wheel drivers, few people go the extra distance to the top of Red Mountain #1. The scree can be very tedious.
Corkscrew Gulch Road is a moderately rough 4WD road that will present no problems to the experienced driver who has a high clearance 4WD vehicle (Jeep rental available in Ouray and Silverton
).The book: 4WD trails of Southwest Colorado by Peter Massey and Jeanne Wilson will provide you with good information about this and many other 4WD roads in the area (this book does not provide any information about the mountains).
You can approach the 12200 ft saddle from Route 550 or from Silverton.
1) From Route 550
Drive 7.5 miles south from Ouray (or 15 miles north from Silverton) on Route 550 to Ironton Park. North of mile marker 85, you will find a sign on the east side of the road pointing to "Ironton Park". Turn onto this dirt road and cross the Red Mountain Creek over the bridge (elevation 9700 ft). After 0.2 miles, you will reach a signed intersection. Left goes to Brown Mountain and right goes to Corkscrew Gulch. 4WD starts here. Turn right and follow the road through a Pine forest and ocassional bare slopes that are yellow-colored. At treeline (11500 ft), you will find yourself in a big alpine bowl almost completely surrounded by red scree slopes. The road then makes a few switchbacks and goes up the scree slopes fairly steeply. Some of the switchbacks are tight and in some places the road becomes very narrow making it difficult to deal with oncoming traffic. The 12200 ft saddle is reached 3.5 miles from Route 550. You will find two small ponds on the saddle.
2) From Silverton (elevation 9700 ft)
Drive the left (and not the right) branch of Route 110, 8.5 miles to the ghost town of Gladstone (elevation 10500 ft). Route 110 is a well-graded dirt road that is passable by any car. Just before Gladstone, you will see a sign on the left for Corkscrew Gulch Rd and Hurricane Pass. 4WD starts here. Follow the road in a Pine forest going far above the creek until after 1.5 miles you reach an intersection (11500 ft). Right goes to Hurricane Pass. Turn left and go up the road above the treeline to reach the 12200 ft saddle 2.5 miles after Gladstone. This road will give you fantastic views of the impressive 13487 ft Storm Peak and the 13325 ft Velocity Peak to the south.
No fees. For Road Conditions and other information contact Uncompahgre National Forest, Ouray Ranger District (970) 240-5300
When To Climb
Easiest in summer. Corkscrew Gulch Road is open only in summer.
Red Mountain #1 from the slopes of Hayden Mountain
Lodging and camping available in Ouray and Silverton
Red Mountain #1 from the slopes of Hayden Mountain
Click for the forecast for the town of Silverton, CO
(L) Red Mountain #1, (R) Red Mountain #3