On the Trail: Imogene Pass
Imogene Pass looks like the sort of place where you'd run into orcs while you and eight friends seek to destroy Sauron's ring: misty, mountainous, and ripe for exploration. It's what a national forest would be like if it were made by Peter Jackson. But how surprising is it when you find out Imogene Pass is located near Telluride, Colorado?
Tap that Pass
The pass crosses a ridge connecting the towns of Telluride and Ouray. It’s also the highest mountain pass in the San Juan Mountains. This was gold rush country and there are a couple of ghost towns in the area that were once thriving mining settlements back in the day.
Collin Coates from Built2Wander hosted our mountain adventure into Imogene Pass. He and the company are full-on off-road enthusiasts first and foremost so we knew we'd have a great time. Mel Wade of Evo Manufacturing and Matt Thompson of 3D Offroad came along as our guests for the day. We got out and about on the Tomboy Road in the morning. Ultimately, the climb would take us to about 13,000 feet above sea level before the drop down into Ouray.
Rather than rush the trip, the crew opted to take its time. That way, we could get to know not just the terrain but also the mining history of the place. Our three Jeeps for the day were Collin's Triton JL on 40-inch Nitto Trail Grapplers with Bilstein coilovers and 1-ton axles, Matt's 2020 Gladiator (aka “Blaze JT”) with a 3-inch lift and Rockjock arms on 40-inch Trail Grapplers, and Mel Wade (daughter’s) Jeep JL on 37-inch Trail Grapplers. Mel had been on the pass before and he provided some good tips for anyone looking to tackle it. Like, say, looking out for its many loose slick rocks as you navigate the steep switchbacks. Also, be aware that uphill has the right-of-way when the road gets really narrow.
All of the basic essentials apply before you get started, though. Food, water, and a spare tire for sure. But this is high altitude four-wheeling. You'll also want a recovery kit and cold weather gear since temps can drop in a hurry up here. After airing down to roughly 10 PSI, it was time to get busy.
As Mel told us, tire placement in this terrain was critical. It's easy to get off-camber on the rocky hillsides and roll downhill if you're not careful. Pick your line and try to crawl in order to keep your vehicle as level as you can. If a line isn't working for you, though, don't worry. There are plenty of established alternates for you to take.
Part of the history of the roads goes all the way back to the late 1800s when the gold mines opened up. From Telluride, the path goes passed the ghost town of Tomboy and Savage Basin to the summit. Speaking of which, we stopped about a mile and half before it to take in the breathtaking views surrounding us. Mel highly recommends hitting the trail early in the morning in order to beat the traffic. We'd already encountered about half a dozen other vehicles out here and we weren't even at the summit yet. Just pay attention to the trail and watch out for drop-offs.
Today's Forecast: Widely Scattered Awesome
From there we came into fresh snow, switchbacks, and more drop-offs as we approached the summit. It didn't disappoint. The views were tremendous. However, that also makes it the favorite rest stop for other drivers. Jeeps, UTVs, and more were here alongside us, all enjoying the views at 13,000 feet above sea level. Just be aware that the weather changes faster than a Magic Eight Ball's mind. It can go from sunny to sleet in no time.
Once break time was over, we started the downward run to Ouray. It's a combination of the same sort of obstacles we faced going up, but with treeline terrain and river crossings to boot.
Collin risked life, limb, and bladder control at Poser Rock for a killer photo op on this leg of the trip. Our own Randy Wilcox gave him a spot to get Collin right up to the cliff's edge for the best view (and photo) possible.
From there, we wound down into Ouray. Everyone loved the epic vistas and panoramic mountain views; the gold rush history was an added bonus and if you get out here, it's definitely worth bringing a camera.