Finally, we can get high. The south-facing slopes of the big mountains in southern Colorado have shed their snow and are ready to climb.
Ascend to Oscar’s Pass and Oscar’s Peak on non-motorized Blixt Road near the historic mining town of Ophir. This is the Chapman Gulch segment of the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run with an average grade of 23%. Head-high and densely-packed flowers give way to a continuous evolving vantage point of the surrounding exalted stone wilderness. This is a straight-forward hike – just follow the old wagon double-track as it makes giant switchbacks to the pass. The peak is a short walk west.
The Ophir/Iron Spring Mining District peaked in the late 1800s when more than a thousand people lived in town. Ore was transported to smelters in Silverton over Ophir Pass. Blixt Road linked the Ophir mining district with Bridal Veil Basin. Brothers Oscar, Gator and Harry Blixt were sons of a Leadville miner; the three worked the mines outside of Telluride. Blixt Road was built by Oscar. Both Oscar’s Pass and Peak were named for him.
From the parking pullout at Iron Spring, walk steeply east up Ophir Pass Road. Midsummer, lanky delphinium, cow parsnip and osha cover the shady floor of the old aspen forest. Continue past the first side road on the left at 0.15 mile. It swings northwest off-route. Unsigned Blixt Road is in another 50 yards, 0.2 mile from the parking area at elevation 10,330 feet. Branch left at an acute angle onto Blixt Road.
The two-track heads north up an established avalanche path. At 0.35 mile, the road briefly peters out. Notice a green gate lying on the ground. Turn east onto a trail.
After a couple hundred feet of climbing, the path transitions back to the original roadbed that remains a two-track to the pass. Cross a stream in the center of another slide path at 0.7 mile. Leave the aspen forest behind at 11,200 feet. Climbing consistently, Ophir drops away, and on the western horizon are Lizard Head, Gladstone Peak and Wilson Peak, a fourteener.
The track swings parallel to Chapman Gulch while keeping the drainage to the east. Break out of the conifers at 11,700 feet and soon the broad pass is revealed. On a previous trek in July, a large elk herd flowed across the road just ahead of our group. We took a break to allow them to move on unhurriedly.
Blixt Road was cleaved into a brick-red, ultra steep talus slope with scant vegetative cover. Oscar laboriously built talus berms using native rock to stabilize the road. Were it not for his masterful engineering, the wagon road would have sloughed off and disappeared some time ago.
Top out on Oscar’s Pass, elevation 13,130 feet, at 2.7 miles. Before taking in a whole new world, swing around and locate the infamous Ophir Pass Road 1,500 feet below. The bright blue dot just above Ophir Pass is Crystal Lake, a short and highly recommended hike from the pass.
Blixt Road goes up and over the pass and heads down into Bridal Veil Basin. The Hardrock 100 breaks west and descends through the East Fork basin to Bear Creek and down into Telluride. The three summits of Wasatch Mountain form the divide between the Bear Creek and Bridal Veil Creek watersheds.
From the pass, ascend northwest on a broad ridge of broken rock for 0.2 mile to Oscar’s Peak, elevation 13,432 feet. Strong hikers will crest the roomy flat summit in under two hours.
Looking south, the town of Ophir resides beside the banks of the Howard Fork of the San Miguel River. The luminous block of peaks rimming the cavernous space, all of which are over 13,000 feet, include South Lookout Peak, Ulysses S. Grant Peak, Fuller Peak, Vermilion Peak, Pilot Knob and San Miguel Peak.
Trotting down Blixt Road, it’s hard to imagine maneuvering heavily loaded burros on the steep path. Perhaps equally impressive, the road now hosts the swift and ultralight runners of the Hardrock 100.