Saturday, September 23, 2018
Rollins Pass WEST

There is an old railroad line that traveled up and over the mountains between Rollinsville and Winter Park. It operated for about 24 years (1904 thru 1928) before being detoured via the Moffat Tunnel. Major portions are still open for travel by motor vehicle as well as pedestrian traffic. Early after being abandoned it was a through trail for automobile use. It is currently closed for through traffic due to instability of the short Needle Eye tunnel (falling rock). Efforts were taken to bolt and net the rocks but it's still closed with falling rock issues. It'd be great if it could be opened for through traffic! Perhaps work to remove the roof and make it into a 'notch'? So, today will be a day to visit the more-difficult-to-visit western side (more difficult as the trailhead is farther from home).

I'll meet up with one other 4x4 member at Rocky Mountain National Park's Beaver Meadows visitor center. We found out that today is a "free day" for the park. It's appreciated as I won't have to pay the $25 entrance fee to be able to drive through the park (up-n-over on US-34). We'll meet the rest of the group (six vehicles total) at the trailhead. Those folks are taking I-70 into the mountains and north on US-40 over Berthoud Pass.

We'll trek up the trail to the eastern end and then take some time on the way back to stop at sights. At the eastern end we'll park and walk east to the Needle Eye tunnel and then walk west a tad over some of the trestles (that are also closed for automobile traffic but open to pedestrian traffic). We'll also make a stop at the Riflesight Notch trestle that is closed to pedestrian traffic. That trestle is also over a now-closed tunnel where the rail line spiraled above itself to work up the mountainside.

Heading out from the trail it was a "mostly" backtrack back to Fort Collins. The park was PACKED with visitors on this beautiful weather "free day". A time or two traffic was near full stop with a line of 30+ vehicles inching past elk visible from the road.

Out of the Big Thompson canyon, near The Dam Store (of which there no longer is a dam) I traveled CR 22H and found it has been reopened since flood damage. It's a curious one-lane, two-way, blind-corners, no guard rail, shelf-road with 40' drop-off short cut for a slow paced scenic route between Masonville and The Dam Store.

Of curiosity is that weather predicted a high of 90F in town (5000 ft elevation). When I left home temps were in the mid 40's. With no top or doors on the jeep (I'm holding out!) I wore a winter coat, hat, gloves. I was curious how cold temps would be crossing over the park - getting into the rather uncomfortable range of cold. Down the western side, still in some shadows (but about 9:30am with warming temps), I asked the jeeps heater, on high, to try to warm my feet. At the trailhead the coat came off - until I again jumped up in elevation and it went back on - in the middle of the cloudless day. Back down from the mountain it came off for the drive north to the park where it again went back on as I trekked up in elevation with a cooling evening approaching. Life with elevation change...

It was a long day - but a good one.



Leave FoCo (one 5 min stop)


Arrive Rocky Mountain N.P. Beaver Meadows (one 8 min stop)


Leave RMNP for trailhead (one 10 min stop)


Arrive Rollins Pass West trailhead (Corona Road @ US-40)


Leave trailhead to start the trail (one 11 min stop for pictures)


Travel straight to the end of the trail, no other stops, we'll make stops on the way out


Arrive end of trail. Walk to Needle Eye Tunnel (80 min trail travel time)


Leave Needle's Eye Tunnel to walk back to trestles


Leave the end of the trail for the kiosk we passed on the way to the end (includes perhaps 30 min chatting at trail's end)


Arrive at Rollins Pass kiosk (western intersection of trail 501 and railroad bed)


Leave kiosk for Riflesight Notch trestle


Arrive Riflesight Notch trestle


Leave trestle to head out (one 12 min stop to pull downed tree to block cut-thru trail)


End of Rollins Pass WEST trail


Start the drive to Fort Collins (one 10 min stop for fuel, heavy RMNP traffic / full stops)


Enter RMNP


Leave RMNP (1h 18m morning trip; 1h 26m evening trip)


Arrive FoCo (heavy / slow traffic through park and down US-34)

For the day: Elapsed Time 12h 16m & 231 Miles
For just the trail: Elapsed Time 4h 46m & 31.1 Miles

Fuel. Start full. Fill at Granby on the west side of the mountains, ride the trail, fill at Granby before heading back over. Fill at Fort Collins.

$56.37, 15.537 Gallons, 14.8MPG
The jeep complains / pings with low grade fuel pushing up mountain roads so it was a premium day.

The "Hill Route" for our day along with the existing Moffat Tunnel.

US-34 heading into Estes Park

In the park - morning-ish sun.

Windblown trees

The only traffic slow-up for the morning. Folks getting out to watch a couple elk.

In the near valley is the dirt road up to the summit - Fall River Road. At the summit is the Alpine Visitor Center - barely visible even in the 1:1 scale original photo.

Cold wind was WHIPPING up the slope. Winter coat, hat, gloves trying their best to keep me warm.

Looking northwest.
Near the top of this photo is clear blue sky. Between that and the mountain scene is haze from the Ryan fire northwest of Walden CO - zero percent contained at this photo time.

Looking southwest - clear sky over the Cache La Poudre River in the valley.

On the trail. We'll have a mix of original railroad bed and re-route forest road.

Some nice colors today!

I believe this is Winter Park

Railroad Radius - reminds me of snowmobiling old railroad rights-of-way in Wisconsin & Michigan

Winter Park ski runs

US-40 snaking south up to Berthoud Pass

US-40 left with the ski runs.

Riflesight Notch

The off-limits to pedestrian traffic trestle up top and the collapsed tunnel entrance below it. The rail line spiraled around the mountain knob af the left of the photo.

The current trail will turn right, leaving the original railbed and travel in the trees to the right and pop out at the right end of the trestle.

Nearing timberline. Center of photo, between tree tops and ridgeline is the just visible railbed - the straight line on the mountainside.  Two photos lower is a closer shot.

Right at timberline. The views will open!

Another group of bicyclists. This is a popular route for higher clearance automobiles, motorcycles, bicycles, and hikers.

Looking back at the Riflesight Notch with the horizontal railbed visible. US-40 and Winter Park ski runs in the background.

A closer photo of above.

A curious sight with a helicopter scooting over the divide - fairly low. I wonder what its service ceiling is? It looks to be an Sikorsky Skycrane.

Odd - a sign I wouldn't have expected to see - but yes - a pipeline is here (photo of it attached to a trestle in a bit). I'd like to see the trenching machine cutting through the rock!

Ahhh - the first view looking over to the east and out to the plains.

Near the pass, the rail line has at least two trestles which are closed to motorized vehicle traffic. Trail 501  (an old wagon road) jumps over the mountain vs. hugging the side with a trestle or two that the train route needed for a flat-ish route. We'll meet up with the rail line (visible bottom left) where the vehicle is parked. From that vehicle we'll walk to the right to the Needle Eye tunnel and to the left to the first two trestles.

Walking to the tunnel - looking down at the Rollins Pass EAST trail / rail line. That section, and the next two photos, are close to us but the tunnel cuts the trail in two for everything but pedestrian traffic.

Rail line visible in gentle curve tree cuts

The tunnel - west portal.

Blocked for all traffic. Copious bolting and netting activity.

Looking back from the tunnel - to the north - snow from last season that'll be around for this season to fall upon it.

Walking the trestle portion of railbed

The high pressure gas line - not original equipment for the trestle. So, the trestles need to be maintained sufficiently to carry the pipeline...

Off of the eastern end of the trail we jumped up and over the mountain via the wagon road - bypassing the closed trestle portion of the trail which put us back at the Rollins Pass - this is at the pass, riding the rail line in its subtle cut. Right about 11,660 feet elevation.

Info Sign
(click for a larger size)

Of note, at the bottom center of the sign - a good web site with information of the route for today:

Mentioned above are the two portals of the tunnel started under Dartt Pass.
Image via Google Maps, Satellite view.

Up high, remains of a foundation.

Looking easterly. Rail bed and wagon road visible at the right.
(click for a larger size)

Trestle at Riflesight Notch.

Heading out - a nice day with good folks.

Lake Granby or Shadow Mountain Lake

Heading into the park, the haze became thick. It smelled of forest fire - though at the time I did not know of it. The Ryan fire on the CO/WY border northwest of Walden CO. Sunday night has it at 19,000 acres.

Down at CR22H short-cut. The dam at the Loveland Water Works.